Manufacturers: Syracuse China; Mayer China; Lilien Porzellan, Austria (Minners Designs, distributors)
User: The Homestead, Hot Springs, Va.
Pattern: Nature Studies/Nature Study/N.S.
Date of Syracuse service plates: 1951 – 1969
Date of Lilien Porzellan plate: 1975-1978
Date of Mayer plates: Circa 1960s-1980s
Notes: Now the massive Omni Homestead Resort (2022), the first building on the site – constructed in 1766 – was an 18-room log hotel on 300 acres west of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley that was called Hot Springs for the mineral "healing" springs found on the land. In the 19th century a wooden hotel was added in stages.
It was in 1881 that M.E. Ingalls, a lawyer for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company (who would by 1888 become its president), accidentally happened upon the hotel while surveying the surrounding area for a new rail line. Ingalls in 1891 partnered with financier John P. Morgan and other investors to buy the hotel (without any ownership whatsoever by the C&O) with the company name Virginia Hot Springs Co., and with Ingalls as president.
By 1911, after a major fire in 1901 that spared only a few cottages and the spa building, Ingalls and his family became the sole owners of The Homestead and continued an expansion of the property, with the final major addition added in 1973.
The Homestead was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, became a charter member of Historic Hotels of American in 1989, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1991.
In 1993, The Ingalls family sold ownership to Club Resorts; it was sold again in 2001; and by 2013 it was sold yet again to current owners, Omni Hotels & Resorts.
It was the early ownership by Ingalls – despite there being no financial connection between the resort and the C&O Railroad – that encouraged the false assumption that The Homestead was owned by the railroad. This was unknowingly perpetuated in "Dining on Rails" and "Teapot Treasury" and has added considerable cachet among collectors to china used at The Homestead for only that reason. In particular, its early china with floral border pattern and shield with words "Virginia Hot Springs" has come to be commonly – but erroneously – known as associated with the C&O.
That said, china from The Homestead should not be considered to be railroad china or railroad-related but still beautiful and collectible in its own right as coming from one of America's grand hotels.
The Syracuse China Nature Studies service plates (also referred to as the Nature Study series and simply N.S. and NS in the Syracuse catalog) feature beautifully hand-painted flowers and birds as designed by Harry G. Aitken, who worked at Syracuse from 1904 as head of the decorating department until his retirement in 1946.
There were some 40 designs as part of the overall series, but none of the poppy series were ever ordered for The Homestead.
As always, the more we know, the more we find we don't know, and in particular there is the mystery of why the Austrian manufacturer Lilien Porzellan made a plate for The Homestead circa 1975-78, and why plates were ordered from Mayer (in the 1960s-1980s date range, based on the backstamps). It is obvious that though marked as "Hand Paint," the Mayer examples were not executed with the same care and artistry as those made by Syracuse, and note the crazing on Mayer's version of the Redwing Blackbird.
For related info:
Homestead, The – Virginia, by Buffalo and Syracuse
Homestead 2, The – Virginia, by Mayer and Homer Laughlin
Homestead 4, The – Virginia, by Syracuse
Homestead 5, The – Virginia, by Syracuse
Homestead Restaurant, The, – Illinois, by Syracuse (unrelated)
The Homestead – https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/homestead-virginia
Historic Hotels – https://www.historichotels.org/us/hotels-resorts/the-omni-homestead-resort/history.php
Virginia Department of Historic Resources