It is late, and I am very tired the night I check into Bedford Springs Resort in south-central Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley Destination Resort Spa. But as the evening unfolds, I will get very little sleep.
The mile-high bed’s thick mattress and cloud-soft bedding are cushy – once I manage to scale them without the help of a step stool.
Although I’d read the resort’s history, which begins in 1796, I was unprepared for the number of people I’d meet. These people are everywhere – in formal portraits in the dining room and in casual, though posed, pictures that line the hallways. Studying the people in the pictures and the ways they enjoyed the property cost me several hours of sleep.
The work of a prolific professional photographer named Ruth Bailey, these photos from the late 1890s and early 1900s capture forever the guests who flocked to this resort. The pictures make the resort, which reopened this past summer after a $120 million makeover and 21 dark years, more than just another hotel with bedrooms, restaurants, a spa and a golf course.
Beginning with the discovery of seven curative springs (already in use by Native Americans) in the late 1700s, the resort thrived for most of its first 200 years.
Surviving assorted wars and the Depression, the resort’s rockiest times were the 1980s and 1990s, when neglect, torrential rains and flooding triggered a decline that led to its abandonment in 1985.
When a group of investors took on the project in 2004, the old beauty was a wreck – needing far more than face powder and rouge to pass her off as a serious competitor to other resorts like the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.
Although those two are older and bigger, Bedford Springs Resort now stands ready to take them on with good service, cushy rooms equipped with first-class furnishings and bedding, as well as the latest modern conveniences (flat-screen televisions and iPod docking stations in all rooms and resort wide wireless Internet access).
Collection of history
Area resident William Defibaugh, who bought Bedford Springs memorabilia whenever any went on the auction block, saved chairs, chandeliers, fireplace tools and the hotel’s register books, as well as the extensive collection of Bailey’s photos and other treasures.
The result is that visitors don’t have to imagine the past at Bedford Springs. They can see, feel and touch it.
Guests, who can see photos of earlier patrons “taking the waters,” can find their own soothing soaks, rubs and “therapies” in the Springs Eternal Spa, where natural springs still provide the coveted waters.
Golfers who want a taste of golfing history can play the 18-hole course that’s a hybrid of three eras of American golf architecture. Bedford Springs’ greens have been restored, preserving attributes designed by golf course architects Spencer Oldham, A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross.
For many visitors, the views of the past add depth to the experience.
Bailey’s photos are everywhere, thanks to the decorating team’s strategy. They’re in restaurants, hallways, sitting rooms and bedrooms. They’re even on the cleverly done do-not-disturb cards for guest-room doors.
At the very south end of the structure is the most recent addition – a new wing containing the Springs Eternal Spa, more guest rooms and retail shops.
Not long into my late-night hike, I realize how busy Bailey must have been and how many ways my Victorian friends found to amuse themselves in the days before computers, BlackBerrys, iPods and high-definition televisions.
They posed for Bailey while hiking. While relaxing on the porches. While visiting the springs. While heading out for excursions via horse and buggy. Picture after picture beckons, and I keep on walking, stopping and reading.
One group of ladies gathered at Magnesia Springs – one of seven on the grounds that attracted countless guests to take cures for ailments. Couples smile from the Colonnade building’s porch. There are photos of men and women along the Ridge Trail, on a footbridge over nearby Shober’s Creek, all around and on top of a gate.