How much do you really know about the hotel you’re sleeping in? I’m excited to bring you this new column, Inside These Walls, which will introduce you to the unknown facts and hidden secrets held in many of the world’s most popular hotels. Each week, I’ll bring you insights from a new hotel I’ve visited including tales from historians, owners and employees, who all somehow have a link to the hotel’s hidden past. The column goes beyond the typical hotel review and unveils something sacred, historical and sometimes mystifying about the hotels we pass through, but never really knew. Our first stop: Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania.
The town of Bedford Springs has a significant place in Pennsylvania history. Numerous U.S. presidents and dignitaries, including Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and Zachary Taylor, have an association with Bedford Springs. In fact, James Buchanan called Bedford Springs his summer home for 25 years.
However, before the presidents settled into the area there were the travelers. Tucked in the Allegheny Mountains of south-central Pennsylvania lies a luxury resort that at one time was the stopping point for hundreds of settlers looking for a miracle.
In 1796, Dr. John Anderson (with the help of the Native Americans in the area) discovered the mineral springs of Bedford, which were hailed as “healing waters.” People came from all over New England, then from around the country, to try the water for medicinal purposes. By 1802, patients of Dr. Anderson began singing the springs’ praises.
“Dr. Anderson essentially started the hotel – he had a very large farm and he would put up some of the patients there in tents,” explained Bill Defibaugh, a local Bedford Springs historian. Defibaugh family owns what is now the Defibaugh Tavern, but was once a housing depot for travelers seeking a drink of the miracle water.”In the tavern, there were 14 rooms and they were able to put in 10 people in a room on mattresses. People were brought out into the springs and given a regiment of drinking the spring waters,” said Defibaugh.
According to Defibaugh, people came in droves, but were turned away because there no room for them at the tavern-inn. “The taverns were always full, and that’s when the townsfolk rose up and decided to help Dr. Anderson, and the Bedford Springs Resort was born.”
The first group of rooms on the property was called The Stone Inn. Over a few years the resort expanded, allowing more opportunities for overnight guests. The Stone Inn was finished between 1804-1805, and Dr. Anderson had set up a clinic in an old mill nearby where he dispensed medicine to his patients. When they started coming in by the hundreds, however, it was time to build some more.
“My great grandfather was there when they started to build the third large building on the property” said Defibaugh. “They added on to the stone building and that’s how the resort was built. It’s now a quarter-mile long, and over the centuries has become a very fashionable resort.”
Just how fashionable? According to the ledgers in the hotel that date back to the 1800s, U.S. generals would drop off their wives and children at the Bedford Springs resort and then go off to war. According to one legend, President Lincoln’s Cabinet members begged Lincoln to take a rest at the resort but Lincoln declined, saying the stress of the war was too serious for him to rest. Instead, Lincoln sent his cabinet members for a night’s stay in Bedford Springs.
Over the years, environmental issues have plagued the once healing waters and today, the springs aren’t currently open for drinking because of bacteria. However, there are still hundreds of stories to be told from inside the walls of The Stone Inn and the Omni Bedford Springs Resort.
Today, the Omni Bedford Springs Resort has 216 guestrooms and suites and, channeling the energy of the healing springs, boasts a 30,000 square foot Springs Eternal Spa.