WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) _ For 34 years, residents of this mountain town didn't say a word about the secret congressional bunker built in a hillside next to a resort hotel.

''That's a very top-secret thing,'' said John Arbogast, the unofficial historian of the town of 3,300 tucked in the Appalachian Mountains. ''I've never seen anything in the papers about the place because it's been kept quiet.''

The silence was broken Friday when The Washington Times published a story about the bunker built alongside the luxurious Greenbrier resort and maintained ever since in case of nuclear attack.

The concrete and steel facility, built in 1958 at a cost of $14 million, includes halls where Congress could meet, communications equipment and a well- equipped underground bunker.

It wasn't built to sustain a direct nuclear strike. So its location was kept top secret, with only a few executive branch officials and the top leaders in Congress supposed to be aware of it.

Residents of White Sulphur Springs, about five hours' drive from Washington, said Friday they had heard there was some type of official shelter under The Greenbrier, but never spoke of it.

''I've heard rumors about it, but I couldn't swear it was true. Of course, no one said anything,'' said Audrey Fife, a lifelong resident. ''What's the use of having a secret if you're going to talk about it?''

Former mayor John Bowling said residents knew something was up when a new addition to the hotel was built in the mid-1950s.

''I think it's common knowledge here that there's some type of installation there in the event of an atomic attack,'' he said.

''Everybody just called it just 'The Bomb Shelter' ever since I was in high school,'' said Ed DeLong, 49, an insurance and real estate agent.

The Greenbrier's management acknowledged the existence of the shelter Friday. Resort owner CSX Corp. said it was approached by the federal government to build the shelter in 1955.

A statement Friday signed by the top Democrats and Republicans in Congress decried the reporting on the congressional shelter, which they said was classified. The Washington Post also reported on the shelter in its Sunday magazine editions.

Leonard Downie Jr., the Post's executive editor, said the effectiveness of the shelter was already much in doubt. He cited, among other things, changes in the world following the end of the Cold War.

According to the magazine story, one wing of the sprawling, antebellum- style hotel - a wing also used by guests - was specially built with massive steel doors and large rooms that would allow the nation's legislature to meet during a nuclear war.

A secret hallway leads from the wing into the underground bunker, built into a hill. Inside is a dormitory with hundreds of bunk beds, a power plant and a dining room with false windows, apparently to relieve the sensation of entombment, the Post said.

The Greenbrier's main function is leisure, with its spa, golf course, bowling alleys, riding stables, swimming pools, shooting ranges, and gourmet restaurant. But the resort is no stranger to government functions.

During the Civil War, it became a hospital for first the Confederates and then the Yankees.

At the beginning of World War II, 1,700 Japanese, German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian diplomats were interned there.