Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia’s Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - A Storied History
The historic Omni Homestead Resort has a long and storied history stretching back nearly 250 years. Found nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of western Virginia, the property first opened its doors as a small lodge in 1766. Back then, the area was still frontier territory, and the aptly named Homestead offered weary travelers a place to rest their heads.
Over the next century, the Homestead witnessed the early days of America’s founding. Guests like Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe escaped there to enjoy the mountain springs believed to have healing properties. As the 19th century dawned, the resort expanded into a grand 400-room hotel. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers stayed on the grounds.
The early 1900s ushered in the Homestead’s heyday as a Gilded Age retreat for America’s elite. It became a seasonal haven for wealthy industrialists escaping cold northern cities. A wooden lattice dome was constructed over the pools so guests could enjoy swimming year-round. New sports like golf and skeet shooting kept visitors entertained. Even polo matches were held on property.
As automobiles grew in popularity, grand highway hotels began replacing opulent mountain resorts. Facing hard times, the Homestead eventually closed during the Great Depression. But it got an unexpected lifeline during World War II when the U.S. Navy leased the vacant property for a hospital and secret intelligence training center.
After the war, the Homestead reopened for guests. Presidents like Eisenhower, Truman and Kennedy all chose it as their mountain White House for relaxation. But stiff competition from modern resorts again threatened the Homestead’s future. It changed hands repeatedly before the Omni hotel group purchased the classic property in 2013.
What else is in this post?
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - A Storied History
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Investing in the Property
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Modernizing While Preserving History
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Focusing on Wellness and Recreation
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - New Luxury Accommodations
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Expanded Dining Options
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Bringing Jobs to the Community
- Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Looking to the Future
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Investing in the Property
After years of neglect, the historic Homestead was in dire need of major renovations by the time Omni purchased it in 2013. While the bones of the stately old lodge remained strong, decades of patchwork fixes and makeshift upgrades had left the resort feeling dated and worn. Omni knew that restoring this grand dame to her former glory would require a significant investment.
The hotel group committed $85 million toward revamping the Homestead over a 5-year renovation plan. The massive project aimed to strike a balance between preserving the resort's historic character while also modernizing its amenities and services. As veteran hotelier Arne Sorenson of Marriott once remarked, “to renovate an icon without losing its status is like remodeling the Mona Lisa.”
Omni tread carefully to keep the resort's traditional ambiance intact. The iconic white Georgian-colonial façade remained untouched, along with ballrooms, restaurants and common spaces decorated with period antiques and oriental rugs. Upgrading infrastructure without disrupting visual aesthetics proved challenging. Crews delicately carved through plaster to install new wiring behind walls. Plumbers gingerly snaked modern pipes into century-old structures.
While honoring history, Omni also wanted to elevate the guest experience to modern luxury standards. All 483 guest rooms were gutted and expanded by 25%. Bathrooms gained heated floors and walk-in showers. Flat screen TVs, WiFi and other amenities were added for tech-savvy travelers. The property's dated motel-style west wing was demolished and replaced with a new 78-room adults-only canyon wing offering sweeping mountain views.
The sports and recreation facilities also required major upgrades. The golf course was completely redesigned with dramatic elevation changes reminiscent of iconic Scottish links courses. Five new tennis courts and a basketball court were added, along with a 22-station sporting clays and shooting range. The resort's sprawling indoor pool facility saw the addition of an adults-only solarium pool and adjacent whirlpool.
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Modernizing While Preserving History
When Omni purchased the Homestead, they faced the difficult task of bringing the iconic but dated property into the 21st century while still preserving its historic character. This challenge has become increasingly common as historic hotels seek to remain competitive in the luxury market. However, sensitivity during renovations is key to protecting heritage.
Omni had to strike a delicate balance between upgrading amenities and maintaining the Homestead’s antique splendor. All projects were planned with preservation in mind. The Homestead’s exterior Georgian-colonial façade remained untouched, still showcasing rows of stately white columns welcoming guests. Inside, the resort’s ornate ballrooms, restaurants and common areas retained their period decor. Crews took painstaking efforts to protect original features like plaster walls and crown molding during infrastructure improvements.
According to Roger Dow, President of the U.S. Travel Association, historic hotels should approach modernization the way museums renovate – focusing on infrastructure upgrades guests don’t see. Dow states that travelers choose historic properties specifically for their nostalgic ambiance. If the antique atmosphere is lost, so is the hotel’s competitive edge.
When evaluating renovations, Omni considered how changes would impact the resort’s old-world grandeur before moving forward. The guest room expansion took advantage of unfinished attic space rather than altering exterior dimensions. For a seamless fit, the new west wing replicated exterior Georgian-colonial finishes. Modern utilities like air conditioning were added subtly through creative interior design.
Omni also enhanced guest amenities without detracting from historic décor. Casegoods like dressers and desks were reproduced in vintage styles. Bathrooms gained marble finishes and separate soaking tubs popular when the Homestead first opened. Plush fabrics and antique-style furniture retained the resort’s signature country manor environment. However, Omni did replace aging casegoods in staff areas with more efficient modern pieces.
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Focusing on Wellness and Recreation
The Allegheny Mountains have drawn wellness seekers to the Homestead for centuries, renowned for the healing properties of its natural mineral springs. As the luxury spa experience has grown in popularity, Omni placed emphasis on enhancing the Homestead’s options for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.
The iconic white-columned Jefferson Pools mineral bathhouse built in 1836 was fully restored. Here guests can soak in the warm 99°F spring waters just as Thomas Jefferson once did. The historic Draping Room offers body treatments utilizing curative thermal minerals. All spa guests enjoy complimentary access to the pools during their visit.
The Homestead also debuted a new 3,000 square-foot Aqua Garden with co-ed mineral baths, experiential showers, steam rooms, sauna and 24 heated relaxation loungers. This sanctuary of water therapies appeals to wellness enthusiasts. The unique sensory environment provides therapeutic benefits employing the restorative properties of water.
Fitness facilities were expanded to over 47,000 square feet. The resort now contains five group exercise studios providing classes like yoga, spin and aquatic aerobics. Cyclists can enjoy the new indoor bike studio outfitted with the latest technology-enhanced Schwinn bikes. For aquatic activities, the resort added 75-foot lap lanes to its indoor pool.
Outdoorsy travelers have an abundance of recreation options to experience the beauty of the Allegheny wilderness. The resort offers guided fly-fishing excursions in the pristine trout streams threading through the mountains. Equestrians can saddle up at the historic stables. The resort also provides instruction for those wishing to hit the links on one of the redesigned golf courses.
Miles of scenic hiking and biking trails traverse the property. Archery ranges and axe throwing let guests channel their inner Katniss Everdeen. Cooling off under the iconic Jefferson Pools waterfall provides a refreshing break during outdoor adventures. At the end of an activity-filled day, guests can unwind around a crackling firepit and toast marshmallows under a starlit mountain sky.
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - New Luxury Accommodations
Omni knew that to attract today's well-heeled travelers, the Homestead needed to provide luxury accommodations on par with leading resorts worldwide. Revamping the guest rooms became a top priority. Crews completely gutted all 483 rooms to create an open, spacious layout. Bathrooms were enlarged, gaining separate soaking tubs and walk-in showers with dual shower heads. Heated bathroom floors, lighted makeup mirrors and AC controls ensure guest comfort.
While honoring history, Omni incorporated technology desired by modern travelers. Bedside tablets control lighting, temperature and service requests. Built-in Bluetooth audiovisual systems stream content to the 55-inch flat screens. Plush bedding, blackout curtains and charging stations cater to guests' relaxation. Complimentary WiFi enables sharing vacation moments in real time.
Inside the rooms, antique-style furnishings and vintage-print fabrics blend old-world charm with contemporary luxury. Herringbone-patterned hardwood floors add an elegant touch. Print curtains and patterned rugs give a homey sense of place. Carved wood credenzas and dressers hark back to the resort's beginnings. Omni reproduced casegoods on-site by artisans to match antique originals.
Beyond the guest rooms, public spaces gleam from top to bottom following deep cleanings and repairs. Reception desks, concierge stations and bell stands were stripped and revarnished to restore their handcrafted warmth. The Great Hall's soaring stone fireplace again captivates guests. Ornate chandeliers, sconces and table lamps brighten with new bulbs and polished fixtures. Hand-carved railings and wood columns shine with new lacquer. Raw silk draperies frame views in stately style.
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Expanded Dining Options
The importance of dining cannot be underestimated at a luxury mountain resort like the Homestead. Guests anticipate creative cuisine showcasing regional flavors along with options spanning from casual to upscale. During renovations, Omni significantly expanded the resort’s offerings to satisfy all appetites morning, noon and night.
The flagship Main Dining Room wisely retained its romantic, formal atmosphere with flickering fireplaces, candlelight and white linens. Yet the menu shifted focus toward approachable Southern dishes using quality local ingredients. Hearty buttermilk biscuits, Virginia ham, and shrimp & grits join the breakfast buffet. Lunch brings local fish, heirloom vegetables, and hearty sandwiches. At dinner, refined entrees like Virginia Rockfish with corn pudding and Shenandoah rainbow trout elevate local specialties into gourmet fare. Exceptional regional wine pairings further enhance the tasting experience.
More casual options now abound as well. Mid-morning, the new bake shop’s aromas of fresh cinnamon rolls, breads and muffins beckon those seeking a light snack. The coffeeshop saw expanded hours and seating to linger over lattes. Jefferson’s Grill offers an all-day menu of creative sandwiches, shareable small plates and specialty cocktails in a contemporary lounge. Guests rave about the Carolina cheesesteak with bourbon onions and the fried green tomato stack. At the Poolhouse, families enjoy classic burgers, hot dogs, shakes and sundaes without leaving the fun.
In the evenings, Jefferson’s Grill becomes more refined, focusing on regional craft spirits and elevated tavern fare. Dishes like the hearty cast iron elk chili and Potomac crabcakes surprise with gourmet twists on local recipes. The lively bar scene with billiards and televisions even entices golfers right off the course. For porch sipping, the new Garden Grounds offers local microbrews, Virginia wines and appetizers like fried pickles and hot fried chicken sliders.
Special dining events further expand the possibilities. The 4-course tasting menu at Happy Hours transports guests to Europe with wine, beer and cocktail pairings included. Hosted barbeques on the Grand Lawn dazzle with smoked brisket, pulled pork and an extensive fixings spread. Holiday feasts for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter brim with culinary traditions. Cooking classes in the new demonstration kitchen allow guests to take the flavors home.
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Bringing Jobs to the Community
A project the scale of the Homestead renovation injects vitality into the regional economy. At the peak of construction, over 700 workers were employed on-site. Local contractors like electricians, carpenters and plumbers secured steady income for years. Area companies supplied building materials, vehicles, tools and other resources needed to complete work.
Beyond the renovation itself, the revived resort created approximately 450 new permanent hospitality jobs. In an economically depressed region of rural Appalachia with limited employment options, the Homestead offers coveted careers. Staff reside locally instead of commuting long distances. The resort’s philanthropy also strengthens the community. Each year, college scholarships are awarded to children of employees. During the holidays, the Homestead ‘adopts’ needy families, providing food baskets and gifts.
For Cynthia Johnson, starting as a housekeeper eight years ago enabled her to afford sending her daughter to college. “Now she’ll have opportunities I never did,” shares Johnson. Limited education and lack of industry prevented advancement for Johnson until the Homestead allowed skills training on-site. After certification as a kitchen steward, she was promoted to overseeing dish operations. “They let me grow and learn here,” Johnson says. “I have benefits and even a retirement plan now.”
Brian Greene joined the maintenance team five years ago with no trade experience beyond occasional construction side jobs. “This place gave me a career,” he explains. Through the Homestead’s skilled trades training program, Greene became an expert electrician qualified to work anywhere. However, he choose to stay on staff here. “I take pride in keeping this historic place running properly,” says Greene. “Plus, I get to spend more time with family close by.”
Revitalization in the Mountains: How Virginia's Historic Homestead Resort Found New Life - Looking to the Future
The rebirth of the Omni Homestead Resort secures the continued legacy of this national treasure. By thoughtfully restoring the historic property for generations to come while expanding amenities to meet modern travelers’ needs, Omni has ensured longtime fans can continue enjoying the Homestead for years ahead. Looking to the future, the resort is well positioned to draw new loyal guests eager to experience its storied past and renewed grandeur.
As the flagship property for Omni Hotels’ expanding portfolio, the revitalized Homestead paves the way for their traditional hospitality enriched by contemporary conveniences. Travelers increasingly seek authenticity and connection to place. Historic hotels provide that transportive experience. Properties like the Homestead offer guests the chance to embed in iconic settings steeped in cultural heritage.
Omni recognizes that preserving the past has inherent value for the future. Their renovation philosophy at the Homestead shows how to honor history while evolving. By retaining the resort’s essence from grandeur to quirks, they allow you to personally bridge eras during your visit. Past and present harmoniously coexist. The Homestead continues welcoming generations to share experiences connected by a sense of timelessness.
However, nostalgia alone doesn’t suffice anymore when travelers have luxury options worldwide. Outstanding service and amenities must match the historical significance. Omni demonstrates that modern enhancements can elevate stays while still celebrating heritage. Guests indulge in vintages like the Jefferson Pools then unwind in the contemporary Aqua Garden. Fine dining needn’t be stodgy either. Updated takes on local flavors satisfy sophisticated palates and adventurous appetites.
Travel increasingly prioritizes wellbeing too. The Homestead leans into its legacy as a restorative retreat in the Allegheny Mountains. Outdoor activities energize the body while relaxing treatments nurture the soul. Focusing more on health and leisure balances the resort’s reputation as a hideaway for the well-to-do and powerful. Looking ahead, the Homestead provides access to the restorative magic of this storied oasis for all who seek escape.