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Historical Markers
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Bedford Springs Historical Marker
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Name:
Bedford Springs

Region:
Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies

County:
Bedford

Marker Location:
Business U.S. 220, Bedford Springs

Dedication Date:
July 4, 1947

Behind the Marker

Pen and sepia ink on paper of the front exterior of the Hotel in the background of the image and two men on horse back in the foreground.
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The Bedford Springs Hotel, by Augustus Kollner, 1840.
No one knows exactly when the seven mineral springs–all chemically different–at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains just south of Bedford were first hailed for their curative powers, but by the late 1700s, the Native Americans in the region had so come to rely on them to cure their ills and restore their spirits that they had already anointed these waters their "medicine springs." They might not have known the precise science, but they knew there was something different, and helpful, in each. Like magnesium, for instance; drinking from the magnesium pool seemed to greatly help digestive problems. And sulphur; when they poured sulphurous water on open wounds, it served as an antibiotic. And iron; imbibing and bathing in its pool promoted greater energy and overall well-being.

In 1796, the Indians introduced their springs to Dr. John Anderson, an early settler and trusted friend who was curious about the magical healing powers he had been hearing about. His curiosity was quickly rewarded.

Exterior photograph of the complex, from left to right.
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Bedford Springs Hotel, circa 2006.
For centuries, European springs like Carlsbad, in what is now the Czech Republic, and Spa, in Belgium, had been drawing pilgrims to their pools in search of miracle cures and better health. In America, the healing powers of Warm Springs, Virginia, were already well enough known by the 1750s to attract George Washington; they would become even more renowned as the century wore on. Anderson realized the potential of what the Indians had introduced him to; he purchased nearly 2,000 of the surrounding acres, then set about to create a healthful retreat that would soon evolve into one of the most storied resorts in the nation.

Color photograph of the entrance
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Bedford Springs Resort
In 1803, the Pittsburgh Gazette reported that "the extraordinary cures [the springs] have effected during the last summer are beginning to excite very general attention." The word was spreading, and visitors flocked to the medicinal pools from as far away as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and, closer by, Pittsburgh. Needing something more permanent than tents to house them, Anderson had stone brought down from the nearby mountains, and in 1804 laid the foundation of what would turn into an elaborate and celebrated hotel that would continue growing–wing by wing, portico by portico, colonnade by colonnade–grander and more celebrated into the twentieth century.

From its opening in 1806, wealthy visitors would spend weeks, even months, at the new resort, luxuriating in the waters under Anderson's supervision, walking the grounds, and appreciating the open-air and open-country alternative to the city. By 1809, the resort, which now included hot and cold baths and a billiard room, could accommodate 300 guests, and in 1816, one of those guests, a young Pennsylvania legislator named markerJames Buchanan, would arrive for the first of his forty annual summer visits. As President of the United States from 1857 to 1861, Buchanan turned the hotel into his summer White House; in 1858 he received the first trans-Atlantic cable–from Queen Victoria of England–while in residence.

Buchanan may have been the hotel's most frequent presidential visitor, but he was not the first, or the last. Over the years, the hotel's guest book boasted the names of Presidents Polk, Taylor, Harrison, Tyler, Garfield, Eisenhower, and Reagan, as well as such other prominent politicians, industrialists, and merchants as Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, markerJay Gould, Henry Ford, and markerJohn Wanamaker. In 1856, the Supreme Court escaped the summer heat of Washington to convene informally at the resort, where among other business, they worked on the infamous Dred Scott Decision.

By the 1870s, easier access through new railroad connections made the resort even more popular; the wealthy and socially prominent, particularly such Pittsburgh families as the Mellons, Fricks, and Heinzes, would arrive with so many servants, smaller lodgings, including one just for African Americans, had to be built in town to house them. Guest not only partook of the springs, now covered by spring houses that were connected by a series of serpentine paths and ornate bridges, they also enjoyed a host of teas, dances, private dinner parties and other social activities as well as physical pursuits ranging from croquet to bowling. Every room came with a pair of walking sticks to help patrons navigate the manicured grounds and take long walks through nature.

By the 1880s, Bedford's waters had grown so famous that the hotel began bottling and barreling it for shipment throughout the United States and Cuba. Always on top of the new sporting trends that appealed to its prominent clientele, the hotel engaged a Baltimore golf professional named Spencer Oldham to design an 18-hole golf course, one of the first in the nation, on the grounds. (The course would be remodeled twice in the first quarter of the twentieth century, first by A.W. Tillinghast, and then by Donald Ross, both acknowledged masters of the craft.) In the first decade of the twentieth century, the hotel built one of nation's first large indoor pools. Fed by the natural mineral springs, the 63-by-28-foot natatorium was surrounded by a solarium and a variety of individual hydrotherapy rooms that peaked in popularity in the 1920s with the advent of the hotel's physician-supervised three-week "Bedford Cure," a treatment program that combined the properties of the mineral waters and baths with supervised exercise and diet regiments.

The resort fell on hard times in the Great Depression, and from 1942 to 1945 did duty as a training school for Navy radio operators. At the end of the war, from the German surrender until the end of hostilities with Japan, it housed some 200 Japanese diplomats who had been stationed in Germany.

Though the hotel continued to operate until 1986, it never again approached its fabled past. Though both the infrastructure and the grounds withered with disuse as the property sat idle, new owners checked in with the twenty-first century, and on the strength of a $120 million renovation, brought the Bedford Springs Hotel back to life as the posh Bedford Springs Resort, which opened in the spring of 2007.
 
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