A Legend Reborn

Bedford Springs was a grand old resort until the 1980s, when it shut its doors. After a $120-million renovation, the hotel—complete with spa and golf course—has new life.

For nearly two centuries, the Bedford Springs Resort in Pennsylvania was legendary. Seven sitting US presidents stayed there, and in the 1800s President James Buchanan made it his summer White House. Captains of industry such as Henry Ford and John Wanamaker came to socialize and to “take the waters” at the spa. It was also popular with debutantes, and high-profile weddings were held in the ballroom. There was a quirky tradition: Brides etched their initials in the window glass with their diamond rings.

Those windowpanes are now on display in the reopened resort. Their survival is a bit of a miracle given that the hotel closed in the 1980s and was abandoned until new owners came to its rescue.

Following a three-year, $120-million restoration, Bedford Springs reopened in July. It looks almost exactly as it did in the 1800s, with three tiers of porches stretching along white wings on either side of a Greek Revival–style portico with Doric columns above. Old oaks cast shade on the lush grass. Along the front of the hotel runs a stone path, its copper streetlamps inviting strolls after dusk.

Walkways also lead to the seven springs that have been the hotel’s reason for being since 1809, when it opened as a 24-room inn. Expanding as its popularity grew, by the 1850s Bedford Springs was known as the Carlsbad of America, after the famous spa in Europe.

Passing through the hotel doors is like stepping into a time warp. The wallpaper, fabrics, furnishings, and signage are true to the hotel’s origins, as are the wooden floors and carpets. Artifacts have been gathered from collectors and restored to their original places: An array of old hats occupies a display case off the grand stairway, and the old registry books are in the lobby.

Historic black-and-white photos and artwork adorn the halls, common areas, and 216 rooms and suites. Guest rooms have period touches such as goose-down comforters, armoires, standing Chevalier mirrors, and marble-tiled bathrooms. Each room on the three tiers along the hotel’s front has a pair of bentwood rockers on the porch. Modern features added include state-of-the-art plumbing, heating, and cooling and wi-fi Internet.

The five restaurants and two bars each reflect the era during which a section of the hotel was built. The Crystal Room, with its open-air kitchen, is lit by chandeliers, and its dark wood paneling is decorated with images of guests in period garb. Three meals a day are served; breakfast includes Amish apple pancakes and eggs Benedict.

The stone-walled 1796 restaurant offers high-end dining—on our visit, foie gras, buffalo, trout, and a luscious venison loin with blackberry sauce—amid artifacts from the hotel’s past. Overlooking the gardens is the three-tiered Frontier Tavern, the place for a sandwich and a beer.

A new wing houses the Springs Eternal Spa, which includes a 1905 spring-fed pool, one of the country’s first indoor swimming pools. A new outdoor pool overlooks the 16th hole of the golf course.

Golf was new to the country when Spencer Oldham designed the Bedford Springs course in 1895. Some of the oldest holes in continuous play are here, on fairways lined with 200-year-old oaks and massive maples. Over the next three decades, architects A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross added their nuances.

The restored course presents plenty of challenge. The par-three fourth hole, a 1923 Ross design, is named Volcano. If your ball fails to hold on the narrow green, it will roll down 20 feet or more. The 14th hole, a Tillinghast gem named Tiny Tim, is a par-three across a lagoon to a kidney-shaped green surrounded by conical mounds called the Alps.

There are tennis courts and miles of trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Trout streams lie nearby as well as rafting rivers, covered bridges, and historic homes and villages.

Bedford Springs Resort is in Bedford, Pennsylvania, 21⁄2 hours from Washington, near the Pennsylvania Turnpike. For more information, visit bedfordspringsresort.com or call 814-623-8100.

Rates start at $239 a night midweek, $379 weekends. Spa suites run $309 to $429, other suites $550 to $1,499.

This article first appeared in the September 2007 issue of The Washingtonian. 

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.