What's in a name?

To call it Town of Bath or Berkeley Springs ... that is the question

To call it Town of Bath or Berkeley Springs ... that is the question

November 15, 2004|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.VA. - What is the Town of Bath?

Sometimes confusing to visitors, locals living in the Berkeley Springs area answer that the Town of Bath is the local government inside Berkeley Springs. Town of Bath Mayor Susan Webster said the official name has always been the Town of Bath.

About six miles south of Hancock, the town is less than a mile long and about one-third of a mile wide, said Bob Knight, Morgan County West Virginia University Extension Agent. Thanks to property annexation into the town, the size is now about 200 acres, said Webster.

The Town of Bath has many small businesses, including spas, shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts, as well as historical buildings and beautiful town homes. According to the 2000 Census, the population of the town is 663.


The population of Morgan County is more than 15,000.

Created in December of 1776 by the Virginia Legislature, the name Town of Bath - the area around the warm springs - was chosen for the renowned English spa town in Bath, England.

According to the Web site of Travel Berkeley Springs, the town tourism center, "First noted as Medicine Springs in 1747 on a map drawn by Thomas Jefferson's father, the waters for many centuries have drawn visitors seeking health and relief from the stress of everyday life...The waters flow at a constant 74 degrees F from the base of Warm Springs Ridge... In 1776, George Washington's family and friends drew up a plat of 134 lots, named the streets and incorporated The Town of Bath."

The size was about 50 acres, said historical researcher, Jeanne Mozier.

Berkeley Springs got its name in 1801 when Virginia established a post office system. Since a town called Bath existed in Bath County, Va., and Berkeley County was formed in 1772, the post office address became Berkeley Springs. Many towns with springs were named after a county, said Mozier, and people started calling it Berkeley Springs.

"Berkeley Springs is a postal address and a state of mind," said Mozier.

West Virginia did not become a state until 1863.

After the town was established in 1776, most likely the Bath Trustees ran the town, said Mozier. Webster said documents before Oct. 25, 1893 were lost through a town hall fire.

Webster, who said her great-grandfather served on the town council in the late 1800s, said she is devoted to the town and active in the town.

"I would still be active with town things," even if she were not the mayor. "It's a labor of love."

She has served as mayor since 1996. When former mayor Tom Jackson resigned, Webster was the town recorder and became acting mayor at that time. She was elected in 1997 and has been on the council since 1993.

All three mayors previous to Webster resigned - Jackson, Matt Lyman and Ronald Reeder.

Webster said some people are highly critical still.

"What (the town does) is very valuable. We are an important part of the community. We work very hard for the residents and the businesses," Webster said.

Financial problems

Because of budget problems, the town considered imposing a 1 percent Business and Occupation tax on town businesses about two years ago. It was only in a discussion stage, said Webster, but the business community strongly voiced opposition to the tax and the matter was dropped.

This past spring, council members discussed a B&O tax on the three town banks. The ordinance was to impose a tax of .25 percent - or one-quarter of one percent - on the yearly gross income of banks. Again, town business owners opposed the tax and voiced their concerns at the council meeting before the members voted on it. The six-council member vote was tied, and Webster broke the tie against the tax.

The town started this fiscal year on July 1 with a $27,000 deficit, but steps have been taken to reduce budget problems. New garbage rate increases went into effect in October that made the service self-supporting.

Another headache for the mayor is the traffic and the lack of a bypass, which "causes great stress on the town," she said. U.S. 522, which accesses Interstates 68, 70 and 81, runs through the town. Tourism also brings more traffic, which is good for the town, she said, but the town then must provide additional police services.

"Being the county seat brings more traffic and there is an ongoing parking problem in town. But what town has enough parking?" she said.

Attempt to dissolve town

The most serious problem Webster faced as mayor was the attempt of the dissolution of the town in June 2003. Only 13 people voted in the town council election. Webster said all council members were running unopposed and "people vote if something is wrong," she said. She said she didn't believe the lack of turnout was a negative response.

"There were no burning issues for the community," she said.

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