Lifestyle & Culture

Bedford Springs Resort: It’s All in the Family

May 13, 2015

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DECIDING ON A WEEKEND getaway with my significant other begins with a suggestion (mine) and a negotiation:

Me: Let’s find a B&B for next weekend. How about Charlottesville, honey? 
He: We’ve been to Monticello. I don’t like B&Bs. Not enough activities. 
Me: What about the Homestead? It is a bit of a hike. 
He: How about that place my brother liked? 
Me: Do you mean Bedford Springs? 
He: I found a Groupon deal.

Both: Sold. 

After about a 2½-hour drive, we arrive at a sprawling building fronted with a Greek colonnade. As a staff member welcomes us as if he means it, relieves us of our bags and points us to the concierge desk, my first impression is old-fashioned family resort, the kind of place you may have gone with your parents and/or grandparents. Indeed, my husband’s paternal grandparents spent their honeymoon here in 1909 and returned to celebrate their 50th anniversary, a detail he failed to mention until I heard him asking to see the guest books from those years. Unfortunately, they had been destroyed during a flood in 1983. 

We stroll through the lobby, where I immediately spot groups of wing chairs and settees with plush pillows nestled around two or three fireplaces.  I can picture myself sitting with a good book in one of those cozy spots. My history buff husband’s attention is captured by photos and memorabilia from the late 1800s and early 1900s that cover the walls of the public rooms and the halls.  In the library, a jigsaw puzzle is in progress and guests young and old puzzle over chess moves.

Our room is located in the newer wing of the hotel, close to the spa.  Even though it’s barely 50 degrees out, the spacious room feels like a summer vacation retreat with its pale blue walls and white accents. A mini bar and coffee maker are located inside a mahogany highboy. A small dressing room table in the bathroom with a ribbon-framed mirror is a sweet, feminine touch. Our view is blocked by a berm. Oh well, we say, Groupon deal.

Located on the site of eight mineral springs in the Allegheny Mountains of southern Pennsylvania, the first building on the property was constructed in 1803 to attract visitors who had heard of the medicinal benefits of the waters. And for the next 200 years, boy, did the Bedford Springs Resort have visitors, including Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Ford with their families and retinue of nannies and other staff. Presidents Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James Polk and Zachary Taylor stayed, and  it was the setting for James Buchanan’s summer White House. Daniel Webster was a guest, as were Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan.

My husband couldn’t complain about a lack of activities — there’s plenty to do —
golf (I don’t play, but the naturally landscaped course is stunning), skeet-shooting, fly-fishing, tennis, swimming (indoor and outdoor pool) and hiking. Because we were there on a cool weekend in early April, we spent much of our time enjoying the offerings of the spa, which uses natural spring water in all its body wraps, massage and skincare treatments.  We relaxed in the indoor pool, which is fed by one of the property’s springs (the Eternal Spring). It was one of the first indoor public pools in the country, built between 1903 and 1905. The black-and-white tiles and archways of the two-story room are original. Tall topiaries in planters, soft lighting and plenty of space between groups of teak deck chairs make the experience seem intimate in a way that very few indoor pools can offer.

Our favorite place to dine was the formal Crystal Room, with its sparkling chandeliers,  sink-into upholstered seating, open kitchen and walls filled with photos of people who frequented the resort in the 1920s and ’30s.  Which made me wonder just how the resort had so many photos. I asked our well-informed server, who told us that a photographer had taken photos of existing historic photos, re-framed them and made them into collages to adorn the walls of the dining room.

What endeared Bedford to me most was that it was easy to find a chaise longue on the hotel’s expansive wraparound porch, plunk yourself down in relative anonymity, order a cappuccino from the nearby coffee bar and enjoy the view of the mountains and the landscape. Which is just what I did shortly before our departure. From that vantage point, I could contemplate our return and think about continuing a tradition by introducing it to the next generation.

–Janet Kelly

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