Ashford General Hospital Now Called Creenbrier Resort
Old Ashford General Hospital, West Virginia.*
The U.S. Army’s Ashford General Hospital (West Virginia) may not sound familiar to most of today’s retirees or senior military leaders, but there was a time (1942–1946) that it was known as “The Shangri-La for Wounded Soldiers and Airman”! This is because it was, and is today, The Greenbrier Resort, except for those years of conscripted military service. (Actually, the federal government had purchased the entire site!)
Guests and visitors to the Greenbrier are amazed when they stroll down the photo gallery corridor. They recognize so many of the personalities who grace the walls of this world-class luxurious, family resort. Prior guests shown here include U.S. Presidents, foreign heads of state, governors, celebrities, corporate leaders, athletes, golf professionals, high society personalities and many others. At the end of this corridor is the hotel’s movie theater.
Day Room at the former Ashford General Hospital.*
Guests and visitors will learn more of the 100-year history of The Greenbrier from the hour-long lecture and slide series (3 mornings a week) from the Site Historian, Dr. Robert S. Conte. It’s an interactive dialog with the audience from the site’s beginning in 1778, post-Civil War visits by former General Robert E. Lee and his family, resort ownership by the C & O Railroad, early 1900’s at the resort, WWII, The Greenbrier renovation years, the U.S. Cold War Years with thesecret Underground Bunker for U.S. Congress Operations, and a new Greenbrier era with a new owner in 2009. (Tours available, graduated fee, young age restrictions.)
MWR Dance at the Hospital.*
An escorted walking tour is available on certain days in the upper lobby, 1st floor, to further acquaint guests with history there, but what may not be highlighted is that the Victorian writing room was once the hospital commander’s office and admin area, the ball room was once for USO entertainment and servicemen dances, the North Parlor was once the hospital chapel, and today’s main dining room was the former mess hall. On the ground floor where hotel shops are today, one could find the hospital’s PX and dental clinic. Of course, at other locations, one could find an officer’s club (in the Virginia Room and Golf Clubhouse) and an NCO club (at Kate’s Mountain Lodge). Anticipate outdoor grounds tours during summer months.
MWR Golf Club Check Out.*
Dr. Conte remembers a North Carolina veteran’s visit to the renovated resort and the memories he recalled while a patient at Ashford General Hospital. Recovering servicemen could use all of the famous resort’s facilities—swimming, tennis, golf, biking and hiking trails. His pregnant wife came for a visit and with all the excitement, went into labor, so a son was born in thehospital’s maternity ward, now the Presidential Suite. Births turned out to be a common event during the hospital’s tenure.
The grounds and gardens of The Greenbrier continue to be immaculate and well groomed as when they were tended by German POWs during the war years. Their numbers were about 1000, plus they had other responsibilities such as laundry, supply, kitchens, mess hall, PX, maintenance and even were hired out by local farmers to help bring in the harvest. The POW camp consisted of 165 acres with 73 temporary buildings left over from a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in the 1930s.
General Eisenhower talking with patients.*
In addition to the POWs, the military manpower required to operate this 2,000-bed General Hospital complex consisted of 45 doctors, 100 nurses, and 500 enlisted men. Assisting them were 200 Women’s Army Corps (WACs), 35 civilian nurses, 500 civilian employees and scores of Red Cross volunteers. More than 24,100 Servicemen were treated in this facility, including general officers Eisenhower, Bradley,Wainwright, McAuliffe, Clark and Ridgeway. In fact, the Eisenhowers spent their 29th wedding anniversary in Top Notch cottage, one of several pre-Civil War cottages standing today; the same cottage where General John J. Pershing completed his memoirs following WWI.
Winter Fun at Greenbrier.*
Today’s Greenbrier guests enjoy over 50 activities to choose from including newly added programs in the Falconry Academy and Off-Road Driving School. (My wife chose to sharpen her skills on the skeet range.) And one will find yet other windows to the past in the President’s Cottage Museum, along Alabama Row overlooking the grounds and the Springhouse. Some days, guests can make arrangements with the Pro Shop for the use of a golf cart to tour the grounds. The new underground casino is available only to registered guests, but restaurants and eateries within the main building and another in the Golf Clubhouse welcome day visitors. One might also enjoy the traditional 1600 tea in the main dining room, as an opportunity to munch and exchange vacation experiences with other travelers.
Iconic Springhouse at Greenbrier.*
Outdoor Affinity Pool at the Greenbrier Resort.*
Another surviving tradition here is rail travel to The Greenbrier. During the war years and before, rail was the most expedient and direct access to White Sulfur Springs, WV. Today, Amtrak passes through the town three days a week and stops at the same depot that received high society’s travelers on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad some 80 years ago. Some millionaires even had their private rail cars dropped off on adjacent sidings and simply walked across the street to the resort.
More details of this luxurious family resort and communication with it remain available via electronic media: www.greenbrier.com or 800-852-5440.
Barbara and I have visited The Greenbrier three times now, by automobile, motor coach tour and train. No matter the season, it’s always exciting to return!
COL. James E. Dickinson, USA, (Ret.) and Barbara Dickinson Wilmington, Delaware email@example.com
*All photos courtesy of the Greenbrier Historian, Dr. Robert S. Conte
Reprint from Sep–Oct 2014 • Volume 44, No. 5