The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W.V. is one of the nation's great resorts. Its history goes back to the Civil War.
"The Greenbrier was used by the North and South, of course at different times during the Civil War," says Bo Dahmer, an employee at the Greenbrier. "They didn't burn it because they thought they might want to come back to it so it was saved. It's very historic."
However, it holds a story that was hidden for decades. Early Show Contributor Debbye Turner explains that most visitors go to the Greenbrier to play a round of golf . But, the upscale resort hotel was once the site of a highly-classified government operation that was a secret for more than 30 years.
Dahmer has worked for the Greenbrier for 53 years. He says that starting in the early 1960s, there were rumors among the staff that a top secret government bunker had been built underneath the hotel.
"There were a lot of rumors, some knew about it, I did," says Dahmer. "It was just a whispered thing. In those days there was a lot of loyalty to the Greenbrier and a lot of patriotism to America so it just wasn't talked about."
In 1959, ground had been broken on a new wing to the hotel. But the building of the West Virginia wing was in fact a cover, used to conceal the construction of a massive government fallout shelter code-named "Project Greek Island." The shelter was being simultaneously being built beneath the new wing. Once built, the existence of the shelter was a national secret, and those who maintained it worked undercover.
"These government employees' cover were TV repairmen, and they did have a TV repair room, and a small portion of the time they worked on TVs, so it worked real good and that was their cover," says Dahmer.
An article in the Washington Post published in 1992 finally exposed the Greenbrier Congressional bunker. Within three years, the government decided that Project Greek Island was no longer viable and in 1995 the 25-ton door to the bunker was opened to the public for the very first time.
The secret, which had been kept for more than 30 years, was that the massive bunker was built to house the entire U.S. Congress and their staff in the event of a nuclear war.
Working undercover, Fritz Bugas was the on-site director of the bunker for more than two decades.
"The facility is equivalent to two football fields, one on top of the other about 115,000 square feet of space," says Bugas. "In the facility, you have 18 dormitory. Each dormitory would sleep 60 individuals. You have a bunker cafeteria that will feed 400 at a seating. You have a power plant that in effect provides purified air and power to the occupants."
During the 90-minute tour of the facility, visitors glimpse a bit of Cold War history — from the decontamination showers to a subterranean hospital ward.
"The bunker is self-sustaining," says Bugas." "You have enough food and fuel to, in effect, operate the bunker for a 50 to 60 day period of time assuming that you have 1,000 people occupying the bunker."
There are also two assembly halls — one for the House and the other for the Senate — and a communications room that was once equipped with a television studio.
Though it was never used, the $12 million facility was in place and functional during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It remained an integral part of the nation's contingency plan until the 1990s.
Bogas says tourist are intrigued by the fact that the bunker was kept a secret for as long as it was. He says they are also intrigued by the size of the facility and how it is arranged.
For 30,000 tourists who visit each year, the Greenbrier bunker is a reminder of how seriously the U.S. took the threat of nuclear war and how one hotel was able to keep a very big secret.
The Greenbrier Hotel now owns the congressional bunker; they charge $25 to take the tour.
For more information:
300 West Main Street
White Sulphur Springs
West Virginia, 24986
The Greenbrier is located a few minutes from I-64 in White Sulphur Springs, W.V. The resort is approximately a four-hour drive from Washington, D.C. Amtrak service from New York and Chicago, with intermediate stops, brings guests to the White Sulphur Springs station, directly across from The Greenbrier's Main Entrance.
Contact The Greenbrier Travel Service at 304-536-1110 Ext. 7512 for specific flight information. Ground transportation directly to The Greenbrier from Lewisburg (approximately 15 minutes away) is available. Call The Greenbrier Transportation Service at 304.536.1110, ext. 7459 for information and reservations.
You may also contact The Greenbrier Travel Service at 304-536-1110 Ext. 7512 for information about air service to The Greenbrier via Beckley, W.V. or Roanoke, V.A.. Beckley is approximately 45 minutes away, and Roanoke is less than 90 minutes away from The Greenbrier. Limousine and other ground transportation is available from Beckley and Roanoke, as well as Lewisburg.