Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Hospitality of “Bathing” – The Fry Family, part 1

In the early years of my family history searches it was mentioned that my greatgreat-grandfather’s brother, Charles William Fry, operated a bath house in Hot Springs Arkansas in the 1880’s and 90’s.  This seemed an intriguing story, and I thought I would pursue it someday.  Eventually I did learn a bit more about Uncle Willie Fry’s bath house, and as I studied my more extended Fry family I discovered that “the hospitality of bathing” was rather a family tradition.  Actually, Charles Fry’s great-uncle had operated a bath house in Virginia in the 1830’s and 40’s, and Charles’ father and a cousin were invested in other Virginia bathing projects. 

The first bath house to come under the Fry family influence was located at Warm Springs in Bath county Virginia.  John Fry, “proprietor”, was born about 1775 in Albemarle county Virginia, son of Rev Henry Fry and Susan Walker. He married Deborah Haywood (Heywood), and by 1820 they had taken up residence, with their eight children, in Bath county. 

It is difficult to say exactly when John Fry took over the running of the Warm Springs, but it was probably during the 1820’s. Perceval Reniers’ 1941 account of the Virginia Springs area gives delightful “snapshots” of Colonel Fry and his Springs:

People loved the Warm as they did the companionship of an old friend, for its very homeliness, for the luxury of the pool, for the food and particularly for Colonel John Fry.  As long as that short-legged, fat, joking, jumping-jack of a man was on hand, the huts and mean pillows could be overlooked . . . Even Harry Humbug  . . found handsome things to say of Fry: “one of the most polite, accommodating and facetious landlords that ever lived”. 

Further extracts from Reniers’ book, related to Warm Springs, can be found under John Fry at the Family Stories website.  Long after John Fry’s death in 1844, the Warm Springs resort became known as Jefferson’s Pools.  The Gentlemans and Ladies Bathhouses still stand today, but in a poor state of repair.  In the 1960’s the bathhouses were placed on the National Historic Register, but in 2017 they were closed from public use.  Preservation efforts are under discussion.

The second Fry family “bathing” story centers on John Fry’s nephew, Philip Slaughter Fry (1801-1859). He was the son of Reuben Fry and Anne Coleman Slaughter, and he served as Clerk of the Orange county Virginia courts for more than thirty-five years.  Philip Fry never operated a bath house, but he was an investor in the development of Rawley Springs in Rockingham county Virginia.  Rawley Springs saw its first commercial use as a spa in the 1820s, mostly under the hands of the Waterman and Sites families.  Then, “in 1836, Sites sold a one-half interest in the property to Philip Fry and John Blakely, from Orange County, for $1250.”  It is not clear what involvement Philip Fry had as an investor, but over the next twenty-five years the area saw many changes.  Rawley Springs was never large, or grand, but it prompted plenty of visitors to its “healing waters” in the 1840’s and 50’s.  Following Philip S Fry’s death in 1859, his ownership was sold off to several newer investors who carried it forward to its “heyday” in the 1880’s. 

About the same time Philip Fry was promoting the Rawley Springs enterprise, a Fry cousin was discovering his own water connection - Fry’s Spring – today a historic neighborhood in Charlottesville Virginia.  In the 1850 Virginia census, James Francis “Frank” Fry owned substantial real estate in the area of Fry’s Spring valued at $15,000. Frank Fry (1799-1880) was the son of Henry Fry and Mildred Maury, and the great-grandson of old Joshua Fry.  He came into possession of the Fry Springs property in the 1830’s, when it was conveyed to him by his father-in-law, Nelson Barksdale. About 1839 he built his home there, known as Azalea Hall.  There is no clear story of when the nearby spring – actually two abundant natural springs - became known as Fry’s Spring.  There is no evidence that Frank Fry ever operated a bathing establishment connected to Fry Springs, but in the latter part of the 19th century his successor (and likely cousin), S Price Maury, set out a plan under the guise of the Jefferson Hotel and Land Development Company.  His grand plans for a hotel, lake, and summer cottages never met with much success, but it did lay the ground work for what latter became the Fry’s Spring neighborhood. Today Fry’s Spring neighborhood is a National Register Historic area.

This Fry family penchant for bathing carried forward.  Uncle Willie Fry’s bath house in Hot Spring Arkansas is the subject of an upcoming blog post.

For more details on John Fry, Philip Slaughter Fry, and James Francis Fry visit their pages at Family Stories,

Further Reading:

Taking the Cure - Colonial Spas, Springs, Baths, and Fountains of Health; Harold B Gill Jr; published in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal, 2002.

19th Century Watering Holes – From Infirmary to Social Itinerary 1820-1870; from the Newport Mansions website; includes a drawing of the Warm Spring Spa.

The Springs of Virginia: Life, Love and Death at the Waters, 1775-1900; Perceval Reniers, 1941.

Historic Jefferson Pools Suffering from Neglect, from the blog of The Cultural Landscape Foundation; 10 December 2012.

Mixing Pleasure and Profit at the Springs:  The Harrisonburg-Rawley Connection; Diane Rafuse; published in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society News, Spring 2009. (available online)

Fry’s Spring Historic District; adapted from Maral S. Kalbian and Margaret T. Peters’ nomination document, 2014, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

About the Photos:
This photo of the Gentleman’s Bathhouse at Warm Springs (Bath County Virginia) was probably taken in the mid-20th century.  It appears on many websites and blogs around the internet, but I have not been able to apply original source information.  Today the Warm Springs resort area is known as Jefferson’s Pools.

Fry Springs Neighborhood sign, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Moving back in time: 
John Fry 1775 > Rev Henry Fry 1738 > Joshua Fry c.1700.
James Francis Fry 1799 > Henry Fry 1775 > Rev Henry Fry 1738 > Joshua Fry c.1700.
Charles William Fry 1842 > Philip Slaughter Fry 1801 > Reuben Fry 1766 > Rev Henry Fry 1738 > Joshua Fry c.1700. 
Philip Slaughter Fry is my 3xgreat-grandfather.

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