The town of White Sulphur Springs is in the midst of what can modestly be called a renaissance. And in light of the events of recent years, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
On June 23, 2016, White Sulphur Springs experienced what the National Weather Service referred to as a 1,000-year event. Torrential rains hammered the area for nearly 24-hours, dumping 9.17 inches of water on the town. This led to flash-flooding that ranked among the most destructive the state has ever endured. Although the damage was spread across much of West Virginia, Greenbrier County was hit the hardest. By the time it was over, hundreds of families had been displaced, and 15 residents had lost their lives.
More than four years have now passed since the tragedies which were set in motion by the fury of that horrific storm. For residents of White Sulphur Springs, that has meant four years of sadness and mourning, hard-work and sacrifice, and eventually rebuilding. And after so much loss and destruction, this “little town that could” is poised to come back stronger than ever.
White Sulphur Springs City Manager Lloyd Haynes said that he believes things now are going very well for the town.
“There’s a lot of interest in the downtown business area. There are quite a few people investing in downtown. Just about all the vacant properties have been purchased,” Haynes, who was the mayor at the time of the flooding, said.
“It was very devastating,” Haynes said. “It looked like downtown was a third-world country. Houses came off their foundations and slammed into other houses. It really felt like we were never gonna come out of that.”
Haynes credits some very dedicated people, and the resiliency of the residents of White Sulphur Springs for quickly getting on the right track and coming back stronger than before.
“The good part, if there can be a good part, is we were all over the news. People realized, and those people came forward to help. And a lot of them realized that this is a great place to invest in.”
Haynes also confirmed that “the old hardware store…multiple new businesses are going in there. And the new Ace Hardware is on the fast track. It’s very close to opening.”
Much of the town’s history started with The Greenbrier. The property is nearly as old as the nation itself, and was once the destination of choice for American Presidents right through the Eisenhower Administration. During the Cold War years, the property was home to Project Greek Island; an underground bunker intended for use as an emergency shelter for members of Congress.
The property began to decline towards the latter half of the twentieth-century. And by 2008, The Greenbrier found itself facing bankruptcy. The resort was purchased in 2009 by the Justice family, thus unofficially beginning the town’s resurgence. When the flooding decimated White Sulphur Springs in 2016, The Greenbrier was forced to close its doors. However, according to a long-time employee, the resort provided free temporary-lodging to those displaced by the floods.
Now in 2020, The Greenbrier is once again a highly regarded luxury resort, featuring retail stores, a championship golf course, and a casino. In the summer months, their tennis courts play host to World Team Tennis, and the San Francisco 49ers recently announced that The Greenbrier will act as their surrogate home while traveling to the east coast for away games.
Beyond the resort itself, restorations and improvements are under way all across the town. The renovation project at Dick Gunnoe Memorial Park is nearing completion. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic forced a halt to the project, preventing the pool and wellness center from being ready in time for the 2020 summer-season. However, both are on track to be fully operational by Memorial Day weekend in 2021.
Earlier in the Spring, two new retail stores opened for business, a souvenir shop which specializes in local-themed merchandise, and Hammer Cycles, a bicycle shop that also serves as a repair and rental center.
“This town is in the midst of a rebirth,” Max Hammer, owner of Hammer Cycles in White Sulphur Springs, said. “It’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes, and it’s time.”
Another area business owner helping the town move forward is Clay Elkins, the owner of The Local, a fine-wine shop on Main Street. But.
But Elkins is investing in the town more than just with The Local, he is also the part-owner of Road Hog’s Barbeque just a few storefronts down from The Local.
Elkins feels very strongly about White Sulphur Springs, and believes the town is headed in a good direction.
“The town had been struggling, and it was almost on its knees. When the flood hit, it knocked it the rest of the way. But sometimes you’ve got to go all the way down to be able to come back up. And that’s what is happening now,” Elkins said.
“You know, in White Sulphur Springs, it really does take a village. A lot of people started showing up and all working together at the same time. And there’s been a lot of the right people with the right resources.”
Elkins vision for Main Street White Sulphur Springs goes well beyond the two businesses which he currently operates. In between The Local and Road Hog’s Barbeque, two additional projects are currently underway, and scheduled to open in the near future. The Local Wine and Coffee is a hybrid wine-bar/coffee shop which will also include a large performance space. Mr. Elkins hopes to be ready to open to the public around Thanksgiving. And right next door will be Big Draft Brewing, a brewery scheduled to open in the Spring of 2021.
This is all a part of what Elkins refers to as the “re-branding of the town” to help make White Sulphur Springs a destination location.