In June and July of 2016 I took my 11- and 14-year-old sons Teddy and Tommy on a large, looping road trip from Delaware to Wisconsin and back again. Over nearly three weeks we drove 2400 miles, rode the ferry across Lake Michigan, drove in and out of Canada, listened to Books 1 and 2 of the Harry Potter series, and ate innumerable French fries. For a week in the middle my husband Matt joined us as we hung out with his family; but the rest of the time I was solo parenting (and driving).
In a few instances on this journey (hashtag: #momtomted) I was given discounted stays or complimentary tickets to attractions, either by invitation or because I asked. This was true of our first stop, Capon Springs Resort in West Virginia where we stayed for three nights. You can always count on me to tell you when I’e gotten something for cheap or free and to also share my honest opinions and stories.
So without further ado, let’s start the road trip, shall we?
Arriving at Capon Springs Resort is a little bit like stepping into the middle of a vintage hand-painted postcard. It is built on the side of a deeply verdant West Virginia mountain, its white buildings graceful on the outside with latticed porches and window boxes making them look like wedding cakes. These buildings surround a long lawn dotted with stately trees, a fountain, and a music pavilion, its roof painted emerald to match those of the buildings. I half expected the other guests to be wearing leg o’ mutton sleeves and straw boaters.
Although it took only about three hours to drive to Capon Springs from my home in northern Delaware, it feels very remote from the East Coast sprawl that stretches from Washington, DC to Boston. After a twisting drive on quiet roads we drove up to Capon late on a golden June Sunday afternoon. Check in was quickly accomplished at the Main House, a large building fronted with an inviting porch. Within minutes we were directed to our cottage, Hampshire, one of about a dozen buildings on the property where guests lodge during their stay.
A desultory ceiling fan turned inside our immaculate if slightly stuffy second-floor room. The floor was linoleum, the white towels in our basic bathroom just slightly rough. Our room had no decor to speak of, just sensible well-worn furniture. I thought they could have spruced up their interior decor with some vintage painted furniture to lighten the room and give it a slightly more homely feel. But no matter; the sound of water tumbling by outside the window pulled us outside as it did everyone else, onto porches where wicker furniture invited relaxing over a game of cards or just conversation.
We settled in and unpacked our bags emerging to the leafy lawn where slightly tinny music – that day Chopin and Beethoven – played from loudspeakers in trees throughout the resort. This happens every day for a half hour before breakfast and an hour before lunch and dinner. We wandered back to the Main House to find carrot sticks and small glasses of tomato juice set up at a table on the porch. This building is both the living and dining room of the whole; rows of glider chairs line the porch and most of the meals are served in a many windowed room holding tables covered in cloths checked white and pale green.
The reasonable cost of a room at Capon includes a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Daily menus are the same from week to week, year to year. We were happy to discover that dinner on Sunday evenings is cold cuts, served buffet style. There were homemade sweet-and-sour pickles, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, salad, slabs of cold roasted turkey, ham, cooked spinach, and warm homemade rolls. Although guests are allowed to drink alcohol in their rooms and on the porches of their lodgings, none is sold or served in the public areas at Capon Springs, so our beverage choices included juice, milk, unsweetened tea, coffee, or pure, sweet water, which is served in labeled carafe bottles.
Since everyone eats at the same time, the dining room hummed with activity, the waitresses wheeling food around on carts as if bringing out surgical instruments. Tommy, Teddy, and I ate and played cards and watched other families – many of them in large groupings of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. It was one couple’s anniversary and while the staff wheeled out a cake, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” played over the sound system. It was bright and pleasant and immediately felt comfortable.
Later, after a bracing swim in the pool, after shuffleboard and volleyball and some attempts to capture the first lightning bugs of summer, we discovered that nights at Capon are profoundly dark and quiet save for the persistent musical sound of the stream.
A quick stroll around the grounds that first evening made it immediately apparent that there is nothing serious and everything fun to do at Capon: croquet, badminton, volleyball, tennis, pickle ball, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and no fewer than three forms of golf – the regular variety, disc, and something called “fling golf” that’s played on the par 3 course and looks like what happens when lacrosse and golf have a baby. Equipment and rules are thoughtfully provided near almost all of the games, often in neat green wooden boxes.
Guests can fish in a well stocked pond or visit Hog Heaven, home to numerous baby pigs. They can hike any one of six trails. There is a large swing that would easily hold two friends and a playground with a jungle gym. Hammocks dot the lawn.
And for the less active among us, an entire room in the Main House is devoted to jigsaw puzzles, games, and cards; yet another is full of books. There are also two ping-pong houses if you’re up to the challenge.
Here’s what there isn’t: reliable cell phone or internet service. And that’s just fine.
On our first full day at Capon, we missed the flag-raising ceremony before breakfast because I didn’t know it was happening and was instead watching the boys play volleyball in the thick morning air. We didn’t miss the Star Spangled Banner because an old-fashioned choral version full of brio and vibrato played over the loudspeaker in the tree next to the net.
The boys were at their bickering teen and tween best that morning and since I was the only adult present and in charge I decided that divide and conquer was the strategy for exploring the resort. In a fortuitous stop by the activity board that’s posted near the front desk, Tommy, my 14-year-old history buff, discovered the Caponchase. This cross between a scavenger hunt and an acrostic puzzle involved using the resort’s history book and lots of detective work around the grounds to find a solution; it easily kept him occupied all morning.
Eleven-year-old Teddy was happy to wander down to the fish pond with me and then up a nearby road to the shale pit, which might as well be a gold mine to his eyes so full was it of fossils, which he was easily able to find without benefit of any tools or assistance. I sat and listened as he busily hunted for ammonites, exclaiming “ooh” and “oh my gosh!” each time he found a particularly good one.
After a very dusty and productive hour of playing paleontologist, I persuaded him that we couldn’t take the entire pile he had amassed with us and we made our way a bit further up the dirt road to visit the resort’s hogs, who live in a deeply satisfying sty, a place of stink and squealing, nursing piglets.
We returned to the main lawn and found Tommy busily working on the puzzle. He was full of facts about the resort: How it was founded in 1932 after a fire destroyed the original grand hotel built in the same spot. How the spring water used to be for sale in Philadelphia. How the fourth generation of the same family still runs things. He told us all of this over a lunch of meatloaf and stewed tomatoes (was I at my grandmother’s house?) which ended with homemade gingerbread topped with thick whipped cream.
That afternoon while Teddy made fast friends over puzzles in the Main House, it was tournament play for me and Tommy. We played myriad games involving Frisbees, balls, nets, paddles, and racquets.
I’m not saying that I am competitive, but I may have fallen down on the badminton court and scraped my arm as I desperately lunged for to return a particularly tricky shot. We played and sweated as the oppressive humidity built throughout the day until the sky could withstand it no more and gave way around 5:00 when a violent rain storm drowned out the evening’s musical interlude and whisked away the still uncomfortable air leaving everything fresh and fragrant.
I haven’t mentioned every swim we took that first day, but that’s where we were when we got too hot: in the spring-fed pool where year round, the water always hovers somewhere around 60 degrees (Tommy, our fountain of Capon information, explained that this is considered a cool as opposed to a hot spring, although in the colder seasons of the year when the water is warmer than the air steam rises off its surface). The main pool is on the small side and is rather shallow. It is also drained and refilled every week because the water isn’t chlorinated; while this happens guests are invited to “walk on the bottom” until the last of the water leaks out. And if you think walking in an empty swimming pool isn’t totally fun and cool for kids you would be quite wrong.
The water at Capon was once reputed to have health benefits. And it certainly has the air of a magic elixir, cool and smooth, with no aftertaste. A stay at the resort still means absolute immersion in the water’s purity – in addition to the pool, it also flows from the taps, leaving skin and hair soft.
I drank of it deeply during our stay, filling the bottles I had brought as if it might make me younger. And I did sleep deep and long to the sound of it flowing past our windows, failing every morning to get up early and do some yoga on the porch before breakfast as I had intended.
On Mondays at Capon Springs dinner is a chicken barbecue that’s served under a pavilion up the hill from the main resort on the edge of the golf course (lunch on Tuesdays is, perhaps predictably, chicken fricassee). Teddy, a sworn carnivore, had asked in the morning if he could have an entire half of a chicken to eat and when we got into the line for food it was there waiting for him, just off the grill. He piled it onto his cafeteria tray and ate it down to the bones.
There was a creamy, slightly sweet dish called squash pudding to accompany the salty charred meat and homemade apple pie for dessert and when we were finished eating the children burst forth into the wet grass and chased each other and whooped against the rainbow sky. Later they whooped again as a giant tractor pulled a wagon full of hay under the dripping trees and out to the hog barn.
While Teddy rode in the wagon with some of his new friends, Tommy and I visited on the porch of our cottage with our downstairs neighbors who had three little girls between the ages of about 2 and 7. In the easy way of vacation friendships we talked about school and music and when Teddy returned it was with grand plans to take his entire posse of new friends fishing and fossil hunting in the morning. “Because I know where everything here is Mom,” he explained sagely.
And so it was agreed and we turned in for another night of deep, delicious, dreamless sleep. I really think that water had something magic in it.
Interested in a stay at Capon Springs? Find information about making reservations on the Capon Springs Resort website.
See the rest of our story: Songs, stories, & memories at Capon Springs Resort.