Photo: Liberty University

News release: Liberty University is the new owner of the former Bedford Alum Springs Hotel in the historic community of New London, about 10 minutes from its campus. The site served as a popular, upscale resort as early as the 1870s, when guests sought to “take the waters” at nearby springs in hopes of finding natural cures to many ailments. Liberty will be restoring the hotel, in conjunction with other historical preservation efforts in the community, which predates the American Revolution. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell called New London “the best-kept historical secret in the Lynchburg area.” The acquisition presents many opportunities for hands-on learning and research for students and is another example of Liberty investing in the preservation of Central Virginia’s rich history. Liberty is also in the process of restoring a 1763 tavern located nearby.

Full news release:

Liberty University is the new owner of a former resort in nearby Campbell County that dates back to the 1870s. Located about 10 minutes from campus in the historic community of New London, the 6.4-acre property was once home to the Bedford Alum Springs Hotel, thought to be the first resort hotel in the area.

In its heyday, the grand resort attracted people from up and down the East Coast and Midwest. People came to “take the waters,” bathing and drinking water from the nearby springs, which contained minerals thought to have curative properties for many ailments. The water was bottled and sold.

The current two-story main structure on the property was built in 1913 and is the third version of the hotel (the first and second burned). It has been used as a private residence for 70 years. The property also includes a swimming pool, barns, and a two-bedroom cottage.

 The acquisition is an expansion of Liberty’s investment in preserving the area’s rich history.

“New London is the best-kept historical secret in the Lynchburg area, and was here long before the City of Lynchburg,” said Liberty President Jerry Falwell.

In 2015, the university purchased the oldest-known standing structure in the Lynchburg region — Mead’s Tavern, built in 1763 in New London — and is currently restoring that property with the help of architectural historians and Liberty history students. The university also purchased the nearby New London Airport and the Center for Energy Research & Education in recent years.

Falwell said the hotel property also has significant Revolutionary War history, as part of the land is suspected to have housed an arsenal, one of only a handful of official Continental Army arsenals in the colonies.

New London predates the American Revolution and was founded as a trading center. Located at the intersection of two main wagon roads, the town served as the last stop for settlers headed west to the Frontier. With beautiful mountain views but relatively flat land, it became a prosperous town when the only mode of transporting goods was by stagecoach. It was originally the county seat for Bedford County.

The town attracted some well-known historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry.

When the resort was built in the 19th century, the national recognition brought a revival to the town, which was renamed Bedford Springs for a while in an effort to attract tourists. According to oral history, the resort was a popular gathering place for silent film stars in the early 20th century.

Falwell said the university is considering many options for the property, including housing honors history students or being used as a museum or bed and breakfast. He said the university will be open to other ideas.

He noted another Liberty connection: the previous owner was a friend of his father, Liberty founder Jerry Falwell; they attended the then-Lynchburg College together.

The Friends of New London nonprofit group is partnering with Liberty in restoring properties in the community to become a historic village. Donna Donald, an assistant history professor at Liberty and a member of the group’s board, called the hotel site an “archaeological gold mine” and is excited for the ways students can be involved in more hands-on learning and research.

“The acquisition of this property is a dramatic expansion of what we’ve already started at Mead’s Tavern. It will be a different type of restoration project, and will offer greater possibilities for rehabilitation and archaeology. Having access to this rich archaeological site will open up incredible opportunities for students.”

Liberty’s part in preserving history is an important one, she said.

“Undertaking these projects enriches the local history for everyone. New London really is a hidden gem — an incredible piece of Virginia history that hasn’t been told.”

Dr. Roger Schultz, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and a historian himself, said many universities have acquired historical sites to preserve and use as teaching centers.

“We’ll have two really valuable areas for historical research, with the hotel and the federal arsenal site,” he said. “I’m excited that President Falwell has invested in regional history that will be a laboratory for our students.”

Friends of New London is currently raising funds to restore an African-American church. They will host the annual New London Day on Oct. 27, where Liberty students will take part in public history exhibits and give tours of the properties.