To an actress, turning 50 is almost a death sentence. To the grand old dames listed here, 50 is merely the starting gate, the age you must attain to even be considered. Yes, we're talking National Register of Historic Places and, more specifically, the National Trust's Historic Hotels of America, a listing of 230 time-honored hotels and resorts that faithfully maintain their historic integrity, architecture, and ambiance. Needless to say, many of these have spas, some as fabled as the hotel itself.
The American Club. Built in 1918 to house single immigrants who came to work at the Kohler Company, a renowned maker of bathroom fixtures, the brick Tudor dormitory was transformed into a luxury hotel in 1981. Walter Kohler, president of the company and governor of Wisconsin from 1929 to 1931, believed his immigrant workers deserved "not only wages, but roses, as well." His resident workers enjoyed wholesome meals, a four-lane bowling alley, a billiard and tap room, and summer concerts on the front lawn. American flags were hung everywhere -- Kohler's not-so-subtle hint that his immigrant workers might want to consider applying for U.S. citizenship. John Philip Sousa's patriotic marches were piped in during dinner, and lessons in English language were held every Tuesday. By 1930, Kohler had convinced nearly 700 immigrant workers to take the annual paid day off and free transportation to the county courthouse to take their oath of citizenship.
Nowadays, the American Club is a five-diamond luxury hotel with four indoor garden courtyards, twelve distinctive restaurants, and, not surprisingly, uncommonly opulent bathrooms. The Kohler Waters Spa, in the Carriage House of the American Club, has treatment rooms with waterfalls, immersion suites, a glass-enclosed rooftop deck and fireplaces.
French Lick Springs Hotel. Once called the "Eighth Wonder of the World," this venerable resort is where tomato juice was invented, where Franklin D. Roosevelt secured his 1931 presidential nomination in 1931 and where such guests as Clark Gable, Al Capone, John Barrymore, and Bing Crosby sipped brandy and relaxed in the resort's famed Pluto mineral springs baths. The French Lick Springs Hotel still sits on 1,600 acres in the Hoosier National Forest in Indiana and offers two golf courses, croquet, archery, horseback riding, surrey rides, two swimming pools, a bowling alley, tennis courts, and the spa -- which has been updated since the mid-1800s when rich Chicagoans would take the Monon railroad straight from the Windy City to the resort's front entrance.
The Greenbrier. Since 1778, people have been coming to this mountain retreat in West Virginia to "take the waters." Finally in 1830, when a stagecoach route was hacked out through the forbidding mountains, the resort, which was then known as White Sulphur Springs Resort, became a fashionable meeting spot for wealthy Southerners. Soldiers from both the North and South took turns occupying the grounds at some point during the Civil War, using it as either a military headquarters or a hospital. The Greenbrier, as it's now called, has hosted dignitaries from President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, who spent their 1914 Easter holiday there; to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, who took the train there from Boston for their honeymoon, also in 1914. Recreational activities at the resort include an array from croquet and horseback riding to daily lessons in the ancient sport of falconry. The spa's holistic treatments are based on the healing powers of the naturally sulfurous water and mineral springs. There's also a meditation trail and a medical diagnostic facility that provides physical exams and a whole range of specialized testing.
The Homestead. Twenty-two U.S. presidents have signed the guest register at this classic mountain resort, including Thomas Jefferson, who enjoyed the Homestead's mineral springs (they're now called the Jefferson Pools) when he stayed for three weeks in 1818. The Homestead was developed as a spa resort in 1766, and the octagonal wooden building where Jefferson soaked three times daily is considered the oldest spa structure in America. Snuggled in the rustic beauty of Virginia's Allegheny Mountains, the Homestead's more than 3,000 acres contains three premier golf courses and a host of outdoor activities from fly-fishing, falconry and trap shooting to ice-skating, skiing, and snowboarding. The spa, still fed by the historic hot springs, offers mineral baths (including a "Jefferson soak" -- an hour-long soak in a Jefferson pool for $17), hot stone massage, steam room, and saunas.
Mohonk Mountain House. Built on a cliff overlooking the deep blue waters of Lake Mohonk, this grand seven-story Victorian castle is still being run by the same Quaker family that started it in 1869. Twin brothers Alfred and Albert Smiley, on a picnic to the Adirondacks, fell in love with the area and decided to buy a ten-room inn and tavern and turn it into the 266-room castle and historic landmark it is today. Not only does it still have a 107-year-old Scottish links golf course, a Victorian maze, and 19th-century English gardens, but it has also added 85 miles of hiking trails, tennis, golf, boating, ice-skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and, of course, the new spa.
Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, and Paul Newman are just a few of the stellar guests who have frequented this historic Spanish-style resort in Southern California's Ojai Valley. Originally built in 1922 as a country club for Edward Drummond Libbey, a wealthy glass manufacturer from Ohio, the resort has 303 spacious rooms and suites with fireplaces, terraces, and spectacular views of the mountains. In addition to the classic 1923 golf course, the 800-acre ranch has stables and horseback riding, a full-service tennis center, two heated swimming pools, and a spa that regularly makes top-10 lists. The Kuyam mud or healing clay treatment is the spa's signature, but it also offers seasonal scrubs such as spring's pixie tangerine body scrub or winter's peppermint and nutmeg foot and leg scrub.