By William Loeffler
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Even the U.S. presidents who stayed here didn’t have it this good.
During its 200-year history, the Bedford Springs Resort has played host to Presidents James K. Polk, William Taft and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Not to mention author Nathaniel Hawthorne, manufacturer Henry Ford and nine Supreme Court justices.
They were drawn by the resort’s rustic serenity and the reputed medicinal benefits of its seven natural mineral springs. These waters were also known to the Indian tribes in the region’s frontier days, when Bedford was a British stronghold in the French and Indian War, and later, a headache for the fledgling U.S. government during the Whiskey Rebellion.
Today, the Bedford Springs resort rises, reborn, an elegant Greek revival redoubt nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, in Bedford County.
The resort, parts of which date to 1806, reopened July 12 after a $120 million restoration. An easy two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, Bedford Springs pays tribute to its past while providing modern spa service, fine dining and a range of outdoor activities on its 2,200 acres, including 25 miles of trails, a golf course and a gold-medal trout stream.
Exit the turnpike and drive four miles through the antique shops and apothecaries of Bedford. Outside of town, the mountains press against the road. Round a curve, past beds of blooming black-eyed Susans, swoop down a small hill, and — wham — the panorama spreads out before you. Strung across the landscape is a columned palace with manicured lawns and a circular drive blooming with formal gardens. It’s easy to see why the place served as the summer white house for U.S. President and Pennsylvania native James Buchanan.
Bedford Springs wears its historical pedigree proudly. Above the front desk hangs a vintage 39-star American flag. Visitors will discover a soothing warren of fireplaces, graceful curving banisters and long hallways carpeted in restful sage green. But modern amenities haven’t been forgotten. Each of the 216 rooms and suites features a 32-inch flat-screen TV, Egyptian bed linens and i-Pod. Wi-fi access is available throughout the resort.
The resort was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984 before closing two years later. It defied eight attempts to get it up and running again, says Todd Gillespie, director of sales and marketing.
The property was purchased and developed by Bedford Resort Partners, who include the Ferchill Group of Cleveland, Chevron TCI, and the Bedford Springs Company. The resort was restored to its 1905 incarnation.
“It had to be built back to the way that it looked in 1905,” Gillespie says. “There were very specific criteria we had to meet.”
Restoration efforts included removing sediment from the Shobers Run Creek, where guests can fly fish. The golf course was restored to its original design. Workers also removed, cleaned and replaced the original glass window panels of the hotel. Several bear the etchings of brides who were married there.
“When people would get married here, it was traditional to etch their names in the glass to prove that their diamonds were real,” says Cheryl Funk, marketing manager.
One inscription, in a window near the clubby, masculine library, reads “B.T. Warren, August 23, 1892.”
Bedford Springs is planning to revive that tradition for future weddings, Funk says, but will provide an etching pen to forestall embarrassment to a bride who gets stuck with cubic zirconium.
Today, “taking the waters” means surrendering to the luxurious ministrations of the staff at the brand-new Springs Eternal Spa.
First is a plush Terricloth robe and sandals, followed by a shower with ginger black walnut body scrub, one of the spa’s extensive line of personal care products, most made using local botanicals. Sink into a hot tub fed by an eighth spring, which was discovered during the renovations. Then dip into the cold plunge pool. Repeat, then repair to the aroma therapy steam. Don the robe, then wait in the lounge, with its view of the flower gardens, and sip Orchid Oolong tea and munch fruit and nuts. Then it’s time for a massage.
Rates range from $249-$299 per night, based on views, day of week and seasonality. Spa suites start at $309.
The restaurants on the premises include the Crystal Dining room, with the original crystal chandeliers, gilt framed mirrors, wood floors and four hues of blue.
Enjoy an Angus beef filet and a glass of Rodney Strong Cabernet and contemplate the period photos of the resort’s guests from the previous century, taking their ease in boaters and bustles. After dinner, gather at the fire pit on the grounds or sit in one of the vintage rocking chairs on the balcony.
Athletes can run, kayak, hike or rent bikes made by Cannondale, which operates a factory in nearby Bedford and has offices in Europe and Asia. Cannondale has provided cycles to competitors in the Tour de France.
Guest Marsha Miller, concluding her stay the resort, summed up its appeal: “What I really enjoyed about it was that it’s got all this history and tradition, but it’s modern.”
• The Crystal Dining Room has an exhibition kitchen and rotisserie and a 1,500-bottle wine cellar. It includes the Daniel Webster room, named for one of the resort’s celebrated guests, which is reserved for private dining.
• The Frontier Tavern is in the Stone Inn, which was a stagecoach stopover for travelers. Guests can enjoy trout club sandwiches, billiards, micrwobrewed beer or a cigar from the well-stocked humidor. Artifacts on display include an old wood stove, crockery and a bear trap. After dark, step outside and pass the time by the fire pit, just as guests did 100 years ago.
• The 1796 Room, which features fine dining in an upscale 18th-century ambience, puts a 21st-century twist on American colonial cuisine. Dishes include venison, bison, rabbit, quail, wild boar, game pie and mountain trout.
• The Springs Eternal Spa is a 30,000-square-foot addition to the resort and features wet and dry treatment rooms, a private spa garden, mineral springs, couple’s treatment, aromatheraphy, facials and massage. It also features a boutique shop with a line of personal-care products, many made using local botanicals and minerals.
• Activities include trout fishing in Shobers Run Creek, 25 miles of hiking and biking trails and an indoor fitness facility. The spring-fed indoor pool area has been restored to its original 1905 state, right down to the orchestra pit on the second story, where string quartets used to serenade bathers. The outdoor pool complex includes private cabanas. Resort Rascals, a children’s activity center, will open soon.
• The restored 18-hole golf course, one of the first to be built in America, has old-growth trees. Refreshments will be available at the Half Way House, which will be near the 10th green.
• Banquet catering is available for the 20,000-square-foot conference facility.
Did you know? During World War II, the U.S. Department of State used the Bedford Springs Hotel as a U.S. Naval communications training center until 1945, remodeling hotel facilities, including the convention hall, to accommodate more than 7,000 Navy personnel. In 1943, the posh retreat also housed 200 Japanese diplomats and their families detained after the fall of Germany. Guests of the United States, they later were exchanged for captured American POWs in Asia.
If you go
Where: Bedford Springs Resort, 2138 Business Route 220, Bedford
William Loeffler can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7986.