Republican members of Congress were on the chartered Amtrak train on their way to a retreat where Vice President Mike Pence was to speak Wednesday night and President Donald Trump was to appear on Thursday. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and several Cabinet members, plus 35 U.S. senators and 180 members of the House of Representatives, were to be at the three-day gathering.
The retreat at The Greenbrier, a resort that sits on some 11,000 acres, is an annual affair for GOP members of Congress. The resort has a storied history that includes stints as a hospital, a holding place for Axis diplomats during World War II, and the site for a secret bunker built to keep top members of the government safe in the event of a nuclear war.
Here’s what to know about The Greenbrier (from The Greenbrier website):
- Guests came to the area where The Greenbrier sits as early as 1778 to "take the waters."
- Retreats at the property began in the 1830s when politicians, lawyers, planters and others would gather. The retreats took place in the summer, according to The Greenbrier, because the mountains offered relief from the heat.
- Five sitting presidents stayed there between 1830-1861.
- By 1858, construction began on the first large hotel on the site. It was known as "The Old White."
- Both sides stayed on the grounds of the hotel during the Civil War.
- The Greenbrier closed during the Civil War.
- The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway purchased The Greenbrier in 1910, and by 1913 it has expanded the hotel to include mineral baths, a golf course and a new hotel.
- The resort grows in popularity among the wealthy. Joe and Rose Kennedy honeymooned there and President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson spent a holiday there.
- The resort sees another major renovation in 1922.
- In 1941, the U.S. State Department leased the hotel for seven months to relocate German, Japanese and Italian diplomats and their families from Washington, D.C., "until their exchange for U.S. diplomats similarly stranded overseas." A year later, the U.S. Army purchased and converted the hotel into a 2,000-bed hospital known as Ashford General Hospital.
- In 1946, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway reacquired the hotel from the U.S. government, renovated it and reopened the hotel in 1948.
- In the 1950s, amid increasing alarm over a possible nuclear attack, the federal government asked The Greenbrier if it could build an "Emergency Relocation Center," a bunker that would house the president and/or members of Congress in case of a nuclear attack. The Greenbrier owners agree and built an underground facility code-named "Project Greek Island." The bunker remained classified and mostly unknown for 30 years. The bunker was decommissioned in 1992.
- The Greenbrier was purchased in 2009 by Jim Justice. Justice, at the time, was an entrepreneur. He is now governor of West Virginia, who prior to his election in 2016, announced at a Trump rally in Huntington, West Virginia, that he was changing parties to become a Republican.