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If walls — or springs — could talk at Omni Bedford Springs

Published: Sept. 7, 2021

If walls (or natural springs) could talk.

As I meandered the lavish Bedford Springs resort grounds on a recent early September visit, I couldn’t help but think of the history that (pardon the pun) just keeps flowing through the place.

The property — which dates to 1796, when Dr. John Anderson purchased 2,200 acres for a mineral springs resort after learning about the springs from nearby indigenous people — has played host to the likes of politicians (Aaron Burr, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun); business magnates (Henry Ford and department store innovator John Wanamaker); actors and those seeking the reputed medicinal benefits of the natural springs.

Pittsburgh socialites such as the Fricks, Mellons and Heinzes also made use of Bedford Springs.

Hotel historical records suggest as many as 13 future, current and past presidents visited Bedford Springs over the last 225 years — from Thomas Jefferson in 1819 to George W. Bush in 2012.

In an effort to escape the brutal summer heat of the nation’s capital, the Supreme Court, in 1856, informally convened at Bedford Springs. While there, the court worked on the Dred Scott Decision, which gave more support to the anti-slavery movement and, ultimately, paved the way for the Civil War.

The Navy, during World War II, used the hotel and grounds as a training school and — later — as a holding facility for Japanese diplomats.

But it is James Buchanan who might be the resort’s most well-known frequent guest. As president, Buchanan used Bedford Springs as the summer White House between 1857 and 1861. His first visit was made in 1821.

In 1858, Bedford Springs made history as Buchanan, serving as president at the time, received the first transatlantic telegraph on Aug. 12, 1858. The telegram was sent from Queen Victoria to Bedford Springs.

Anderson’s family, in 1887, sold Bedford Springs to a group led by Pittsburgh attorney Philander Knox, who would eventually become secretary of state, serving from 1901 to 1904.

That group sold it again in 1896 to Delaware industrialist Samuel Bancroft.

In 1895, one of the nation’s first golf courses was laid out. Ten years later, in 1905, Bedford Springs became the site of one of the nation’s first indoor swimming pools.

In 1984, the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

But just two years later, in 1986, the property closed.

It sat vacant until 1998, when it was purchased for $8 million by a group of 10 investors under the Bedford Resort Partners Limited name.

Over the course of a $120 million effort to reopen the property, an eighth spring was discovered (Eternal Spring) in 2006. The property reopened to overnight guests in July 2007 and was purchased by the Omni Hotels chain in 2009.

Among the amenities the resort offers is a 30,000-square-foot spa — Springs Eternal Spa — that pays homage to the springs.

Along with an 18-hole golf course (spanning the work of Spencer Oldham, A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross) and two pools (the 1905 indoor pool and a new outdoor pool), the property offers a 24/7 fitness center; 25 miles of hiking trails connecting hikers to many of the springs; a plethora of outdoor activities; five onsite dining options (the 1796 Room is temporarily closed and the Turtle Shell at the outdoor pool is seasonal); and several onsite shops.

Guests can spend hours looking at all of the artifacts, photos and decor around the lobby, nearby rooms and hallways — including a desk Buchanan used, guest logs and images from when the Navy used the property. Behind the front desk is a 39-star United States flag.

Rocking chairs, lounge chairs, sitting chairs and benches scattered throughout the resort let guests lose track of time watching hotel life go by, watching wildlife, reading a book or taking a nap.

Of the five buildings of guest rooms, my particular room was in the Springs Eternal House. The charming room offered antique furniture and vintage decor. The granite vanity and marble floor in the bathroom provided such an exquisite feeling.

Being accustomed to slim, trendy and functional furniture in other hotels, this was a nice change. The surroundings didn’t feel too fancy (think: Grandma’s house where you can’t touch anything) or too old (think: Old motel). And, it should be noted, that with so much to do at the resort, the rooms quite literally are for resting. I wasn’t in my room except for late evening, through the night and early morning.

Omni Bedford Springs links

Things to do, see and experience in and near Bedford County

Clarification (9/21/22): Information regarding the design of the golf course was clarified to say that the golf course’s work spans the work of Spencer Oldham, A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross. The post previously made it sound as if the three worked together.