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America's Fountains of Youth: Five Homes in the Spa Towns

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Inhabitants of the Americas have been enjoying the purported healing properties of hot springs since before European explorers arrived, but in the 1800s the practice became a wildly popular pastime for well-to-do Americans. This led to the creation of several "spa resorts" centered around the thermal upwellings. While their use declined sharply by the start of this century, the homeopathic baths still attract visitors every year. What should be attracting more interest are the historic homes left behind by the wealthy bathers and those who served them. This imposing stone estate, known as The Yard, was built by the long-time owners of The Homestead, a magnificent resort in Hot Springs, Va. The 11,440-square-foot winged residence is resort-like in scale, with 13 bedrooms, 13 baths, a 1,200-square-foot living room, winding staircases, and a two-story library. The estate's owners, the Ingalls family, paired with J.P. Morgan to finance the resort in 1892 and later welcomed generations of society types and President Woodrow Wilson, who spent his 1915 honeymoon in Hot Springs. Today, the Ingalls estate and its 12 acres are for sale for $2.5M.

? Warm Springs, GA attracted President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the promise of reversing some of the paralysis caused by polio. He purchased the resort there, now known as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, and took up part-time residence in a modest, six-room white cottage that later become known as "The Little White House." Though the namesake warm springs are now reserved for rehabilitation, not recreation, the area's prominent history and low home prices make it attractive all the same. This 1987 home with horse barns, located on White House Parkway, is on the market for $298K and is the most expensive single-family home in town.

? The spa town of Cambridge Springs, Penn. was the site of several sprawling resort hotels, centered around the town's thermal baths, but is perhaps better known to some as the host of a famous chess tournament in 1904. Plus, this place has also had a brush with a president. President Taft visited in 1912 for the dedication of the now-defunct Alliance College. This 3,700-square-foot home was built recently, in 2003, but the brown clapboard exterior and unstudied architecture seem to reference the sprawling resorts of the town's heyday. Less than an hour south of Erie, the three-bed, two-bath house is listed for $264K.

? The less well-known spa towns have the advantage of, well, not being so well known. Such is the case with Beersheba Springs, Tenn., so named for the woman who discovered the hot waters there, Beersheba Porter Cain. While home to one elaborate resort hotel and several cottages in the antebellum years, the crowds did not return after the Civil War, perhaps in part because Northern investors then controlled the resort. In more recent times, the area has once again flourished as a rural vacation destination, as evidenced by its high property values. This four-bedroom cabin, built in 1999, is now listed for $425K.

? The American West is not without its hot springs—like Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser and its 350°F water—but due to the distance from eastern population centers, none of them really developed into the sort of 19th-century cultured spa towns east of the Mississippi. Still, the springs have become popular and there's plenty of history of the pioneer sort. The 85-acre Adel Homestead, currently listed for $606K, has some history of its own. The log home dates back to 1932, there are springs on the property, and a 1947 Willys Jeep with plow is included in the purchase price.

· The Yard [Bacova Properties]
· 1861 White House Parkway [Coldwell Banker]
· 25450 Gravel Run Road [Trulia]
· 346 Backbone Road [Trulia]
· 1467 Highway 20 South [Trulia]