1822, September 4: Spencer Roane dies in Warm Springs, Virginia. When I first read that fact in early research, I kept wondering, why was he also buried there? Why was he not brought back to Richmond? Only later did I learn the connection of Warm Springs with his lifelong ally and cousin. This article makes the issue much clearer:
Tiptoe through the Tombstones Bath’s oldest marked graves are in Warm Springs
By Margo Oxendine, Staff Writer / February 14, 2008 / The Recorder
WARM SPRINGS – High on a knoll in Warm Springs Cemetery stand the oldest marked graves in Bath County. Clustered as they are, one can stand there and see how the cemetery – also Bath’s most populous – took shape. Once one knows a little about Warm Springs history, it is easy to understand the evolution.
First, perhaps since time began, there were the Warm Springs Pools. Legend has it, the first man to discover those was a weary Indian brave. Footsore from his quest, whether for game or enemy tribes, the brave lay beside the waters to take a drink, and discovered their warm temperature. Thus, this Native American – although no tribes were native to Bath itself – was the first to “take the waters.”
By the mid 1700s, though, pioneers and surveyors and settlers had arrived. By 1800, a hotel of sorts had been built beside the curative waters. What became the Warm Springs Hotel was, in its day, the premier destination along the Virginia Springs circuit. Remember: until 1863, that circuit included what is today West Virginia.
The hotel, with its grand ballroom and colonnade, its wide veranda and charming adjacent cottages, was quite simply the place for the wealthy and socially prominent to gather. Sadly, nothing remains today, save for the Gibson Cottage and, of course, the pools.
The first grave in Warm Springs cemetery is that of Alexander Byrdie, buried in July, 1800. His stone, flat on the ground and covered with two centuries of moss, tells us he was a merchant of the city of Richmond, born in Scotland, and died at the age of 56.
What is he doing buried in Warm Springs? Well, common sense tells us he must have died while reveling at the “new” Warm Springs Hotel. The rolling green pastures across what is today U.S. 220 – though it did not exist at the time – were also owned by the hotel. What better spot to bury Mr. Byrdie than way across on that hill over yonder? Certainly, in 1800, the body was not going to be hauled 175 miles back to Richmond, in a buckboard carriage, across the mountains, in the July heat.
From 1814 until his death in 1844, the proprietor or manager of the Warm Springs Hotel was one “colonel” John Fry. By all accounts – and there are many – Col. Fry was quite the bon vivant and excellent host.
In the Bicentennial History of Bath County, published in 1991 by the Bath County Historical Society, Jean Bruns wrote a chapter on “Taking the Waters.” Here is what her research unearthed about Fry: “Many raved about John Fry’s establishment and wondered why anyone bothered to move on. Staying at Warm Springs at the beginning and end was a cherished part of the summer circuit. He had a scale on which he weighed visitors on their first arrival, and at the end of the summer as they passed through at the close of the season.”
While this may remind some of a modern “fat farm,” the opposite was true: Guests were supposed to gain weight while taking the waters at The Warm.
When Fry died in 1844, after 30 years of prominence at the hotel, he was buried in a plot that still commands attention. His monument stands taller than any other in the cemetery. It is not known whether he made these grandiose arrangements himself, or whether it was done by adoring family and friends. It is, indeed, a testament to a wellloved, well-known man; one who today is almost forgotten.
In fact, the oldest graves in Warm Springs cemetery hold no natives of Bath County, no patriarchs or matriarchs of families still here today. They are all those who had a connection to the Warm Springs Hotel.
Sitting forlorn and rent in half, just beyond Col. Fry’s monument and Alexander Brydie’s large, flat stone, is the crypt of Spencer Roane, who died in 1822, also while visiting The Warm.
Roane is a fascinating character. He was born in 1762 in Essex County, Virginia, and entered the College of William and Mary at age 15. By 1780, at age 18, he was studying law under the famed George Wythe. Roane went on to become a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, and in 1789, at age 27, he became a judge. In 1794, just five years later, he was appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, where he remained until his death here on Sept. 4, 1822. He and Thomas Jefferson regularly corresponded, and indeed, Roane sat on the commission that, in 1819, helped establish Jefferson’s University of Virginia.
Judge Roane was married to Patrick Henry’s daughter Anne. They had at least seven children, by some accounts nine, at least two of whom, Patrick and Elizabeth, died in infancy. Another son, Patrick Henry Roane, was born two years after the first infant Patrick, and went on to live into adulthood. Yet another son, William Henry Roane, their firstborn, grew up to serve in the United States Senate.
Roane County, West Virginia, and its county seat, Spencer, were named after the Virginia jurist. According to the Roane County Web site, “Local folklore indicates that the county was named for Judge Roane because of an act of kindness. According to the story, when he was a young boy John P. Thomasson’s wagon became stuck in the mud. Judge Roane helped him free the wagon. Thomasson never forgot the kindness and decades later, when petitioning to form the new county before the Virginia General Assembly, he recommended that the county be named in Judge Roane’s honor.”
Immediately adjacent to Roane’s crypt is that of Dr. John Brockenbrough Jr. Here is where things really get interesting. Brockenbrough, like Roane, was a native of Essex. Brockenbrough was a leader of the Republican Party, along with Judge Roane and a man named Thomas Ritchie, a noted editor. Ritchie was Brockenbrough’s nephew, and went on to become, in that era, one of the nation’s leading publishers.
Brockenbrough enjoyed a timeless link to American history; he served as a juror in Aaron Burr’s conspiracy trial. Brockenbrough was also on the board of the Bank of Virginia when it was established in 1804. He lived in Richmond and, in 1818, built a grand home in the most fashionable neighborhood of the city – at the corner of 12th and Clay streets. Perhaps you are familiar with this house: It served as the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, and is today the Museum of the Confederacy.
It is not known when Dr. Brockenbrough retired; he sold his mansion in Richmond to James M. Morson, though, and moved to Warm Springs, where he bought the grand hotel.
Brockenbrough was married to a by-allaccounts beautiful woman named Gabriella. She was the daughter of Col. John Harvie of Richmond, and widow of Thomas Mann Randolph of Tuckahoe, a Jefferson relative. The Brockenbrough’s had no children of their own, but history tells us they had two lovely nieces, who would spend the summer social season at The Warm. The girls married well. One, according to the Bicentennial History, wed a member of the Spanish legation; the other the Italian Prince Pigniotelli.
John Brockenbrough died in 1853. Gabriella buried him in splendid style, in a crypt that dwarfs that of his friend, in life and death, Spencer Roane. Gabriella’s grave is beside her husband’s; it is far less grand.
Today, the earliest graves in Warm Springs sit in a commanding spot, yet command perhaps the fewest visitors. The souls are very much like the grand old hotel: Once fabulous and famous and well-loved, now gone and forgotten by all but the occasional visitor, who likes to imagine how things once were.
via Tiptoe through the Tombstones | www.therecorderonline.com | Recorder. (“The Recorder is the newspaper of record serving scenic Bath and Highland counties, and the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia.”)