Bedford Springs Resort & Spa: A Part Of American History
Few properties can boast the historic significance of Bedford Springs Resort, located in the Allegheny Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania. For more than 200 years, the eight mineral springs located on the resort's property served as an important gathering place. Eventually, the resort would be the site of many significant moments in American history, hosting a long list of celebrities, wealthy clientele, corporate magnates and dignitaries from around the world. To date, the resort has hosted 10 US Presidents, seven of whom visited during their presidency.
The Native Americans first used the mineral springs for their curative properties, and in the late 1700s they shared the powers of the springs with a doctor named John Anderson. In 1796, Dr. Anderson purchased the 2,200-acre property on which the resort now stands. He built a home on the property and as word spread of these unique waters, visitors arrived from around the globe to experience them. He housed the guests in tents and offered custom prescriptions based upon their needs. Dr. Anderson and Dr. William Watson prescribed a regimen of diet, exercise and many pints of the spring water.
The Bedford Springs Resort is truly an American original. With its growing list of wealthy clientele, it gained a reputation as a luxury destination and was proclaimed as the Most Popular Resort in the United States. Bedford Springs became home to one of first golf courses in America, originally designed by Spencer Oldham (and later redesigned by A.W. Tillinghast and then the renowned Donald Ross). In 1905, the resort opened one of the nation's first indoor pools fed by the property's spring waters. With its alluring surroundings and high-profile guest list, Bedford Springs' role in history was already in the making.
As more and more guests came west to "take the waters", Dr. Anderson decided to build a hotel. The Stone Inn was built in 1806 from stone quarried atop the mountain located adjacent to The Springs and carried down the mountain by oxen. Guests making the trek to the hotel encountered a rugged journey. They often arrived by train in Cumberland, and then made the 21-mile trip through the Cumberland Valley to Bedford Springs.
The popularity and reputation of Dr. Anderson's treatments grew throughout the early 19th Century and by 1809, there were three buildings on the site, including The Stone House, Crockford and a precursor to the Evitt House. According to a travelogue by Joshua Galpin in 1809, these buildings included a "large frame lodging house and several smaller ones for families warm and cold baths and a billiard room." In 1824, Bedford Springs was hailed as the "Montpelier of America" in a column in the July edition of the National Gazette & Library Register, which noted with praise the waters, accommodations, activities, food and wine.
The popularity of the resort also benefited from the emphasis on outdoor life in the mid-nineteenth century as east coast American cities became increasingly industrialized and polluted. The establishment of stops in Bedford for the B&O and Pennsylvania Railroads beginning in 1872, provided easy accessibility from cities such as Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York.
Bedford Springs became an attraction for politicians and, in addition to serving as the "Summer White House" for President James Buchanan from 1857 to 1861, also served as a getaway and meeting place for other presidents such as William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor, as well as a multitude of senators and congressmen and their families. The first transatlantic calls sent from England to the United States was received by President Buchanan at the hotel on August 12, 1858.
In 1905, a major renovation of the complex included a monumental double-decked colonnade, which connected the hotel's main dining room to a columned pavilion at the Magnesia Springs as well as a new building with a spring-fed indoor pool, reportedly the first such facility in the United States. In the 1930s, the hotel's resident physician, Dr. William E. Fitch, established the "Bedford Cure," a health regimen that required a three-week stay at the resort, which operated successfully throughout the 1930s and 1940s. During World War II, the hotel and its grounds were used by US Navy as the Naval Training School and then later as a detention center for interned Japanese diplomats.
The decade of the 1950s saw numerous improvements and renovations to the property, including the installation of modern environmental controls and sprinkler systems. Bedford Springs was also open year-round for the first time in 1950. However, tastes in leisure travel had changed significantly over the years and the property eventually shut its doors in 1986. Two years later, a flash flood severely damaged several buildings at Bedford Springs and the resort fell into disrepair. Even so, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The Bedford Springs Hotel, one of the most visible landmarks of the region's past 200 years, received new hope when restoration of the facility to new glory was announced at a ceremony on the front lawn of the historic landmark in 2005. The Bedford Springs Resort reopened to guests in July 2007 as the Bedford Springs Resort & Spa as one of the premier resorts in the United States. In January 2009, the resort became known as the Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, when Omni Hotels became the long-term operator.
This article has been excerpted with the author’s permission from the book, "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi," AuthorHouse 2013. The author, Stanley Turkel, is a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel, hospitality and consulting practice specializing in asset management, operational audits and the effectiveness of hotel franchising agreements and litigation support assignments. Clients are hotel owners, investors and lending institutions.