The dreamy mountains of Cumberland Valley are conveniently positioned between Pennsylvania’s capital of Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Cumberland County is home to nearly fifty miles of the Appalachian Trail, hundreds of springs, ponds and lakes, a few storied universities, and pre-Revolutionary and Civil War history. Boating, hiking, fly-fishing, and touring covered bridges are just some of the things to do, while Hershey Park and Gettysburg Battlefield are each thirty minutes away. The great outdoors is the biggest draw to the area and similarly, it was the fresh, mountain air and the curative nature of mineral springs that drew Native Americans and early settlers to the region more than two hundred years ago.
In 1796, Dr. John Anderson purchased property near the fort town of Bedford, Pennsylvania from the local Shawnee Indians. He chose land with several different types of springs – mineral, chalybeate, limestone, sulfur, and sweet springs – in order to create a spa fed by these waters. Johnson built bathing facilities and an inn for his wealthy clients who sought treatments for various ailments. By the mid-nineteenth century, Bedford Springs Resort earned a reputation as a celebrated resort attracting socialites and politicians from up and down the East Coast. Former President Thomas Jefferson took up residence here for several weeks in 1819, while fifteenth President and Pennsylvania boy, James Buchanan made Bedford Springs Resort his Summer White House from 1857 – 1861. In 1856, the Supreme Court escaped the brutal heat of Washington DC to convene at the hotel where they worked on the infamous Dred Scott case. For two centuries, the hotel maintained a revolving door of Presidents, politicians, and wealthy industrialists. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay Frick, Henry Ford, and many of the Pittsburgh moguls, such as the Carnegies, Mellons, and Heinzes turned up for weeks on end with staff and servants in tow.
Today, travelers continue to “take the waters” at the site of his original inn, now the Omni Bedford Springs Hotel and Resort, which underwent a $120 million restoration in 2007. The luxurious colonial-style complex, comprising of an historical building and exquisite new Spa Wing, sprawls more than a quarter mile along the hillside. A majestic site to see during the approach from the winding road into the property. There is no mistaking the resort’s early American roots, as contemporary meets colonial in its architecture, artwork, and decor. The rooms are quite spacious, many with front-facing porches offering guests sweeping vistas into the mountains or over the golf course.
We visited during a few beautiful days in mid-March as the trees flirted with blossoming and the creeks were rushing with snowy run off. Our Resort View King room felt timeless and luxurious. Rocking chairs on the walk-out balcony made it easy to enjoy coffee outdoors on one the first beautiful spring days of the year. Hand carved walking sticks, super plush robes, and a welcome platter added special touches to the room and our visit. Rather than hike the muddy trails, we ran the cart path around the hilly Old Course. This narrow golf course is among one of the oldest in America, built in 1895 by Spencer Oldham and redesigned in 1923 by Donald Ross. Being shoulder season, the resort was somewhat quiet, but we had a chance to explore and spend some time at the mineral water fed indoor swimming pool. The collonaded pool constructed in 1905 is another historical landmark, making this one of the country’s earliest indoor pools.
The pièce de résistance of the resort is the Springs Eternal Spa. We had a chance to unwind with a spa day, where we steamed, whirpooled and shared quality quiet time together in the elegant, yet cozy co-ed spa lounge. I learned another spring was discovered on the property while the spa was being built. We indulged appropriately enough in the multi-treatment Dr. John Anderson Fusion Massage Treatment and a day of Bedford Bath Rituals. This wonderful experience is covered in my next article, The Bedford Bath Ritual at the Springs Eternal Spa.
Omni is a privately-owned company with 60+ luxury hotel and resort properties. I have always appreciated the Omni’s efforts to buy and/ or restore historic properties with integrity and thoughtfulness. Bedford Springs Resort and Spa is quite easy to get to from either the East Coast or MIdwest, as it is located a few miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike, one and a half hours east of Pittsburgh.
Visit downtown Old Bedford,where Pre-revolutionary history runs deep and charming restaurants, taverns, and store fronts line the streets.
We had a fantastic dinner at the New American restaurant 10/09 Kitchen at the suggestion of my massage therapist. The Grilled Romaine BLT salad was a fun, smoky twist on the sandwich and we both really enjoyed our Bucatini Bolognese and Seafood pasta special.
On our way out of town, we sniffed out brunch at the nearby Horn O’ Plenty. The farm-to-table restaurant was an unexpected surprise. The setting is rustic and the menu delicious, offering a lot of different cast iron cooked and wood-fired dishes. Ingredients are locally sourced and condiments house made.