Coolfont marks 40th anniversary

June 21, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Nestled in the woods a little more than three miles from downtown Berkeley Springs is Coolfont resort, known for its lodging, a spa and wellness center, conference center and recreational facilities.

Travel Berkeley Springs calls the town of Berkeley Springs "the country's first spa" and it is known for its healing mineral waters.

Coolfont is marking its 40th anniversary this year. It was founded by Sam Ashelman in 1965. He is in his early 90s now and still can be seen around the resort.


His former wife, Martha Ashelman, said Sam Ashelman, who had an economic development background, was a man of vision and saw the potential for developing a place where people could come from the city and enjoy the outdoors.

Martha Ashelman said Sam and his son, Randall, came to Berkeley Springs from the Maryland suburbs in 1961 on a camping trip. A snowstorm kept them from camping and they stayed at a hotel in town, known then as the Park View Inn.

She said that's where Sam saw the real estate sign that the historic Manor House, built in 1912 by humanitarian and novelist J. Herbert Quick, and the surrounding property was for sale. She said "he made a ridiculous offer and it was accepted."

The Manor House still is a big part of Coolfont. It is used for free chamber music concerts and recitals by guest artists throughout the year. Pat Springer, a Berkeley Springs music teacher, who also has performed at the Manor House, said "this offering of first-rate performances of classical music is a unique and wonderful opportunity for the Coolfont guests and the general public."

In June 1965, Sam Ashelman established Coolfont ReCreation on 1,300 acres. Martha Ashelman said within the first five years of purchasing the property, he built the 13-acre lake, which is spring fed by Sir John's Run.

He had "a vision of the future for Berkeley Springs," she said.

The 1,300 acres originally had three campgrounds with bath-house facilities and a snack bar. The dining room was built in 1966, she said. The chalets and log cabins were built in the early 1970s, so "people could come in the winter."

The resort continued to expand with a full kitchen, dining room and bar. In 1977, Sam and Martha were married and became a team, she said.

Martha Ashelman, a former schoolteacher from Montgomery County, Md., started developing "Health Happenings" in 1978 and offered health retreats at Coolfont that featured a diet and exercise program. Ten years later, the swim and fitness area was built. She said it was her idea to heat the pool with solar energy.

"The solar-heated pool won many awards and worked for many years," she said, but it was not maintained and was changed over to a "more-conventional heated pool," she said.

She said, "we were the first to offer massage therapy other than in Berkeley Springs State Park," in 1979. In the early 1980s, they had four massage therapy rooms and now have 22, she said.

Sam Collins, Coolfont's general manager, praised his team of massage therapists.

"We have superb massage therapists. We are the largest, and we offer a full one-hour massage, not a 50-minute one," Collins said. "We offer a variety of services in the spa and salon. No one has the variety like we have."

The large conference room, which is still expanding, was built in 1981. Coolfont started with 10 conference meetings and now there are more than 200 a year, Collins said. The spa, leisure and conferences complement each other well, he said.

Martha Ashelman said, "Sam was into construction and selling lots. I wanted to do everything to get the spa booming," she said.

She said she teaches her smoking cessation program, Stop Smoking Naturally, four times a year at Coolfont. It was offered for the first time in 1981.

Collins said, "Sam was the visionary for the development and Martha was the visionary for the health aspects."

Sam Ashelman meets once a week with Collins and George Haynes, the president of Coolfont, Collins said.

Coolfont also hosts the International Water Tasting event each winter, which is marking its 15th year. Jill Klein-Rone, producer of the event, said, "they have great facilities and everyone in conference services is terrific, especially Steve Havermale, who runs the department."

Klein-Rone said she uses the Coolfont hot tubs and sauna, and loves swimming in the pool.

"Our 25th anniversary was a bit of a splash," Martha Ashelman said. "On the 50th, we hope Coolfont will be slightly better, bigger and still stress health needs, and where people will come to re-create themselves."

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