Healing Waters

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A Reborn Resort Boasts a Spa and a lot of History

Dallas developer Keith Evans was skeptical when his business partner told him about a resort property in central Pennsylvania that first opened in 1805, had its heyday in the early to mid-1900s and closed in 1984.

Four other developers had spent a few million trying to reopen the historic Bedford Springs Hotel. Each walked away, first selling off whatever they could to recoup some of their losses. Things like coverlets from the 1830s and hotel registry books signed by former guests, including Daniel Webster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Aaron Burr and Benjamin Franklin.

It was seeing those artifacts, jammed into a house owned by Bedford collector William Defibaugh that first softened Evans to the idea of working on a multi-year restoration project estimated to cost $60 million. His partner, after showing Evans the items Defibaugh had collected, finally took him to the derelict property.

Last month, seven years and $120 million later — twice as much as anticipated — the hotel opened its doors as the Bedford Springs Resort.

Small, shimmering pieces of Italian tile lead to the indoor swimming pool, one of the first built in the United States. A second-story balcony runs along three sides of the pool. The fourth side has an opera box, where musicians once routinely serenaded bathers. The pool is filled with natural spring water and is open 24 hours.

Bedford Springs was once famous for its seven springs, all of which still exist. Although the tribes sometimes warred, they considered the springs so holy that the surrounding land was neutral territory.

In addition to the usual wraps, scrubs, baths and fitness programs, the Bedford Springs spa has a signature feature: Instead of arriving a few minutes before a spa treatment, guests are encouraged to come an hour early.

• Claim to fame: President James Buchanan received the first trans-Atlantic cable here in 1858. During World War II, the U.S. Navy used the resort as a training site for its radio operators. The military later housed Japanese diplomats captured in Germany here.

• Visiting presidents: 10.

• Guest rooms: 216 rooms with high-definition TVs, marble bathrooms and iPod docking stations. Some rooms have balconies or porch rocking chairs with a burbling brook soundtrack.

• Number of springs: Eight; one produces 400,000 gallons of water daily.

• Golf course: The 18-hole golf course was built in 1895 and redesigned in 1912 and 1923. The par-three “Tiny Tim” hole is called “one of the most celebrated holes in all of golf architecture.”

• At the spa: The “Relaxing Medicine Ritual” (from $175) involves something called a “bamboo rod massage.” Massages from $100.

• Activities: The spring-fed indoor swimming pool is said to be one of the first in the country. Otherwise, there’s not much to do — hike, fish, shop in town or visit the nearby National Museum of the American Coverlet (yes, a museum dedicated to blankets).

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