April 30, 2013 – Greenbrier Hotel & Cold War Bunker – Lost World Caverns

We awoke this morning to a Flea Market on the State Fairgrounds, less than 100 yards from our door.

So, we went decided to take our morning walk among the vendors.

I picked up a John Grisham novel and Debbie purchased a London Fog windbreaker.

We then set out for a quick tour of downtown Lewisburg (population 3,800), named in 2011 as Budget Travel Magazine’s ”Coolest Small Town in America”.   With many Colonial period buildings

others dating back into the 19th century

and a history  which includes a brief, one hour, but deadly battle between Union and Confederate forces on May 23, 1862.

The town is also dotted with some creatively painted fire hydrants.

 

Kids were also evident doing things kids like to do.

We next took a tour of the Lost World Caverns.

To reach the cavern floor, you descend 120 feet down a long tunnel

and then duck your head.

Standing again, we were greeted by some beautiful speleothems … the most common of which are stalactites (spelled with a “c” for ceiling) and stalagmites (spelled with a “g” for ground). 

“The War Club” – 28’ tall with a 2½‘ diameter at its base and 4’ near its top – estimated to be 500,000 years old

”The Castle” – This stalagmite is believed to have grown at one cubic inch every 100-125 years, but has stopped growing in recent years.

Stalactites

“The Bridal Veil” – Features graceful lines of pure white calcite – The white sparkles are the faces of calcite crystals

“The Elephant’s Ear”

“Goliath” – A stalagmite standing 40’ tall and measuring 25’ around at its base

Colorful stalactites

“Hex Blocks” – These oddly-shaped limestone blocks litter sections of the cavern’s floor – Formed about 320 million years ago when sea water of the then existing ocean dried up exposing the sea floor

Stalactite “Drapes”

Leaving the cavern, the surface museum has a number of fossils; including

The skull of an extinct giant bear which lived 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, similar to the bones unearthed in the cavern

Largest Trilobite which lived during the Devonian Period (3.5 to 4.2 million years ago)

T-Rex Skull

Our next stop was at the Greenbrier Hotel & Resort in White Sulfur Springs … which was also the location of a secret bunker designed to provide a safe haven for members of Congress in the event of a nuclear attack on Washington during the Cold War.

Arriving at the property, we were overwhelmed by the foliage and scores of tulip beds surrounding the hotel complex.

With the Greenbrier Hotel providing a backdrop, the colors of the gardens seem to stand out even more.

South Facing Facade

North Facing Façade

Then, there is the interior of this luxurious resort complex.

Finally, and one of the reasons we came to see the Greenbrier were the “bunkers”, planned during the Eisenhower Administration the bunker facility was built under Greenbrier’s West Wing between 1958 and 1961.  Constructed and hidden in plain sight … the former US Government Relocation Facility was a top secret during the Cold War designed to accommodate both the US Senate and US House of Representatives in the event of a national emergency. 

During the life of the Facility, continual updating of the communications and other equipment and recycling of food, medical and other supplies was carried on in secret so that it was always in a current full-time status.

The secrecy of its location, paramount to the Facility’s potential effectiveness, was maintained for more than 30 years until May 31, 1992 when The Washington Post published a story effectively exposing its location and existence.  The following day, the facility began to be phased out and decommissioned over the next three years.

The Facility is a protected substructure buried 720 feet into a hillside under the West Wing of the hotel. 

It is surrounded by ceiling and walls that are three to five feet thick of reinforced concrete.  In addition there is 20 to 60 feet of dirt cover between the bunker and the Wing.

Included in the bunker’ are 44 separate locations with 153 rooms comprising a total of 122,544 square feet on two levels.

House Chamber (with 457 seats … as 435, the number of House members … might have raised suspicions – similarly, there were over 110 seats in the Senate chamber)

Living Quarters (Bunk Rooms)

Corridors Stacked with Food and Supplies

Medical Facilities

Office Space (Used as public convention facilities during its “secret” period and on into the present day)

One of Several Communication Centers

Dining Room

Electrical Panels

The Facility has three entrances, each protected by a large steel and concrete door designed to withstand a modest nuclear blast 15-30 miles away and to prevent radioactive fallout from entering the Facility when sealed off.  One of these blast doors exited directly into the hotel … but was disguised behind a false wallpapered wall.

The exterior doors were hidden behind false metal doors on which “Danger – High Voltage” signs provided a means of discouraging any questions.

During the 30 years that the bunker was a secret, groups were meeting there and enjoying theme parties and dinners, without realizing they were in a top-secret government facility.  They never realized that the Exhibit Hall was actually designed to be the work place for Congressional staff or that the Mountaineer Room and Governor’s Hall would easily accommodate the US Senate and House of Representatives.

On the way home, we were again awed by the brilliant redbuds in full bloom.

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