The Greenbrier is a decadent luxury resort found in the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia. It is located near the White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County. It has existed since 1778 and been welcoming visitors ever since.
The Greenbrier exists over a land of 11,000 acres (4,450 hectares) and has 710 guest rooms. For the entertainment of its guests it has around 20 restaurants, 55 indoor and outdoor activities as well as 36 retail shops.
The resort has hosted some 26 presidents, with the last being Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, this monumental building is also home to a secret and secure bunker built deep underground. How did this come to be and why was it needed?
The Early Days of Greenbrier
The first iteration of the building has been dated to 1778 when the name of the building was White Sulphur Springs. A local pioneer, Mrs. Anderson, began to “take in the waters” to relieve her painful chronic rheumatism.
She followed the Native American tradition and found that it helped. It was this that caused her to open a resort, with a spring of the sulphureous water at the center of it. Many people began to travel here to avoid diseases and escape the heat during the summer.
A prominent Baltimore family named the Calwells bought the property in the 19th century, and they swiftly began to develop the large site into more of a resort. They sold cottages, which still stand today, to prominent families in the South. These included the founder of the Democratic Party Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay Sr. an attorney and statesman for Kentucky in the House of representatives and the United States Senate.
From the profits, the Calwells built a large hotel on the property latterly known as “The Old White”. This did not last long however, as the Civil War brought destruction to Virginia. The hotel transferred hands between the Union and Confederate Army both of whom nearly burned it to the ground.
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With the United States once again at peace, the resort reopened. This time it became more popular with northern as well as southern tourists. In addition to this, the hotel became the setting for post-war reconciliation conferences, such as that which produced the White Sulphur Manifesto.
This was one of the only documents signed by Confederate leader Robert E. Lee expressing the South’s desire for reconciliation with the Union and restoration, though it did express the South’s desire to oppose black suffrage. The resort became the center of post-war society especially when the railroad, offering a direct service to the gates of the resort, allowed for easier travel.
Transformation to the Greenbrier
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway company purchased the resort property and continued to build amenities, including the bath wing that is there today. The improvements extended all of the way to the construction of a hotel building that had approximately 250 rooms which acted as the central wing of the resort.
It was designed by Frederick Julius Sterner who had previously designed buildings like the Lennox House and the Briarhurst Manor. It was from here that the resort became open all year round and transformed into the Greenbrier.
The railroad brought with it more customers and visitors as well as the game of golf which became a defining feature of the resort. The first course was opened in 1910 before a larger course was opened in 1913. Throughout the years, restorative work and construction took place until 1941 when the United States government came calling.
Just after the US had entered World War II, the Greenbrier resort was needed by the government. It was to be used as a relocation center for diplomates from the Axis countries. They were enemies of the United States and would be interned in the country club.
The first detainees were of German origin but were soon joined by Japanese diplomats who had been homed at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. It fulfilled this role until July 8th, 1942. It reopened to the public briefly in the summer of 1942 but was soon commandeered again by the US government.
The Greenbrier property was next converted into an army hospital, with the government paying $3.3 million for the property even though it had been valued at $5.4 million previously. The property was converted into a 2,000-bed hospital and became known as the Ashford General Hospital. It treated nearly 25,000 patients before its closure on the 30th of June in 1946.
This was not the last time that the Government utilized this magnificent property. In the late 1950s, the US government came back to the Greenbrier requiring a secret, emergency location center. Its purpose was to house Congress in the case of nuclear holocaust.
Known as “Project Greek Island”, it was built at the same time as additional upgrades to the resort complex, including the West Virginia Wing during the years 1959 to 1962. It seemed that if the resort was to be a shelter for US leadership, it should come with some bells and whistles as well.
The bunker remained stocked with supplies for over 30 years, but it was never needed despite the looming threat of the Cold War with the USSR and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The government did not recognize the facility however, and it was never officially disclosed.
It was discovered, almost by chance, by Ted Gup of the Washington Post in 1992. Only then was the facility decommissioned. Since then, it has been renovated and has been used as a data storage facility for the private sector. As well as this it has been an attraction of which visitors can visit the previously classified bunker.
Since 2006, there have been tours available to the general public. It can be visited but no cameras are allowed in the bunker. Greenbriers has captured the imagination of many Americans and has even featured in the popular video game Fallout 76 which included the bunker.
It has been rumored that there was a new bunker built upon Greenbrier’s reveal, even more secret and even more safe. However, there has been no evidence found to suggest that this is the case. It is likely that even if one did exist, this secret will be kept even more closely guarded by the government than this one.
Top Image: The Greenbrier Resort: luxury with a dark secret, a bunker deep underneath. Source: Kberg115 / CC BY-SA 3.0.
By Kurt Readman
Atomic Heritage Foundation. 2022. Greenbrier Bunker. Available at: https://www.atomicheritage.org/history/greenbrier-bunker
Burke, W. 1846. The Mineral Springs of Western Virginia. Available at: http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/springs/whitesulphur/
DorranRule. 2016. Lodging for Doomsday — Hidden in Plain Sight. Available at: https://commonplacefacts.com/2016/01/06/lodging-for-doomsday-hidden-in-plain-sight/
Geerhart, B. 2010. The Greenbrier revisited. Available at: http://conelrad.blogspot.com/2010/12/greenbrier-revisited.html
Greenbrier. 2022. The Greenbrier. Available at: https://www.greenbrier.com/about-us.aspx
Gup, T. 1992. The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/daily/july/25/brier1.htm