The Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, Pennsylvania is not just a hotel it is a destination onto itself.
It has a rich history — built in 1806 as a hotel catering to mineral springs, which offered a medicinal and rejuvenative retreat and were popular in the 1800’s. Seemingly out in the middle of remote southern Pennsylvania, The Omni Bedford is actually closer to Washington DC than you’d think, and became frequented by politicians, including US Presidents James Buchanan, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor.
In fact the first transatlantic cable sent from England to the United States was received by President Buchanan at the hotel on August 12, 1858.
After Flourishing for 150 Years — Shuttered then Restored & Reopened
The resort flourished for over 150 years — but finally the advent of readily available air travel hurt it badly starting in the 1960s — like it did all mountain resort hotels — and the Bedford closed its doors in 1986. The site fell into disrepair until 1998, when the property was purchased by Bedford Resort Partners Limited for $8 million, and they began the restoration of the hotel to its former glory — reopening the resort in 2007.
I didn’t know any of this when I visited The Omni Bedford in June of 2010 — the hotel having just reopened 3 years earlier. I was there for a conference on defense architectures, with attendees from the Washington DC area. For me it was a 6-hr drive from NYC. For them it was a 3-hr drive from the Virginia area outside DC.
1. The Road There
Bedford is in the middle of the mountains of Western Pennsylvania — and to get there from NYC you have to go thru those mountain cutouts of Route 76. It’s an enjoyable drive past the dairy farm lands and through mountains.
One of the attractions of The Bedford dating all the way back into the 1800’s was the fresh air you got while there — especially treasured during the beginning of the industrial revolution, when the cities had a lot worse air than they do now.
You are in the mountains in Bedford.
2. The Fire at Night
Besides the beautiful hotel, the one thing that I remember most about my multi-day stay at the Bedford is the big fire pit at night in front of the resort, with people huddled around the bonfire on a slightly-chill June night — the kind of chill you get in the mountains even if its 80 degrees during the day.
The conversation and laughter of the people sitting around a fire.
You can sit around a bonfire in your own backyard — they have become popular these days and Home Depot sells small bonfire pits — and you can sit around a camp fire too but I would go back to the Omni Bedford just to sit around their bonfire.
Ironically, in writing this article I searched “Omni Bedford bonfire” to get the picture above (because I failed to take one while there) — and discovered that Forbes Magazine listed the Omni Bedford bonfire as “10 Favorite U.S. Resorts To Visit In 2019 – With Coziest Fire Pits” in a 2019 article !!!
Their picture of it is below:
3. The Springs
The hotel is located on grounds that Native American Indians traveled to for centuries to drink and bathe in the natural freshwater of springs that they believed to have healing powers.
In 1796 a fellow named Nicholas Shauffler tested the waters and found them to have high mineral content. At the time the land was part of the property of a fellow named Fredrick Naugel.
Two years later in 1798, Doctor John Anderson, a physician in the town of Bedford, purchased the land containing the springs and built bathing facilities for his patients. Soon people from all over traveled to Bedford Springs to take in the water for its healing power, and Dr Anderson’s reputation grew. He built 3 buildings on the property to accommodate travelers.
The National Gazette & Library Register’s July 1824 edition called Bedford Springs the “Montpelier of America” and praised the waters, accommodations, activities, food and wine.
There were 7 Springs in all. An 8th Spring was discovered in 2006 while the hotel was being renovated. The Springs were thought to have diverse medicinal values due to each spring’s unique mix of minerals. By the 1890’s, a series of colorful spring houses, bridges, and gates were built along the grounds, creating a “serpentine trail” which people gathered in party excursions would traverse, going from one spring to the next — like a Candy Lane.
In the 1930’s, the hotel’s resident physician, Dr. William E. Fitch, developed “The Bedford Cure”, which required a patient to drink the water from each of the 7 Springs daily for a 3-week stay. Patients drank water from a specific Spring for a particular ailment. For example:
- The “Magnesium Spring” water was used to cure stomach ailments.
- The “Iron Spring” water was prescribed for iron deficiencies and healthy bone.
- The “Black Spring” water was used primarily to irrigate the golf course.
- The “Sweet Spring” water was considered most tasty water to drink.
- The “Eternal Spring” is the new spring discovered in 2006 when the hotel was being renovated.
4. The Hotel
Where US Presidents Stayed
It is a gorgeous front lobby. You are sitting in the same lobby where US Presidents James Buchanan, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor sat. President Ronald Reagan stayed at The Bedford in the 1970’s when he was still Governor of California.
The 39-Star Flag
Behind the front desk in the lobby hangs a large United States flag in a glass enclosure. It is not just any flag — it is a 39-star flag from 1865. In 1865 there were only 36 official states but the flag was created with 3 new states poised to join the nation. The flag is the only known 39-star flag in existence.
The First Telegram
The first trans-Atlantic telegram between England and the US was sent by Queen Victoria and received by US President James Buchanan at the Bedford on August 12, 1858. The telegraph message is posted in the lobby surrounded by photos and memorabilia of the time.
The Rocking Chairs and Front Porch
The hotel features a long wrap-around front porch with lots of rocking chairs and lounge chairs.
I really enjoyed sitting in a rocker for a while on my last day there — a very relaxing thing to do.
4. The Pools
The hotel features a gorgeous indoor pool and a beautiful outdoor pool.
The Indoor Pool
The indoor pool is fed by The Eternal Spring — the 8th mineral spring found during the hotel renovation in 2006. So it is not just a gorgeous indoor pool — you are swimming in spring water.
The Outdoor Pool
At the time when I stayed at the Omni Bedford in 2010, the city of Washington DC had — only 5 years earlier — been made home to their first baseball team in a while, when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington. Most of the people I was there with — for a convention on software architecture — were newly minted Washington Nationals fans. The talk of the time was their new phenom pitcher, Steven Strasburg, who had just been drafted with the #1 overall pick the June before, and was starting to pitch in the majors, going 5-3 2.91 in 2010.
When I look at pictures of that pool today, that’s what I remember. The picture below is from the hotel.
5. The Springs & the Spa
The hotel offers a Spa that includes the indoor pool fed by the recently discovered Eternal Spring. The spa offers a treatment called The Bedford Baths, which is a bath ritual that calls for bathing in alternating hot and cool pools and and then soaking in herb-infused steam from the mineral-rich Eternal Spring.
The spa also features massages and facials. Here are some hotel pictures of the spa:
6. The Golf Course
The hotel’s golf course was designed by Spencer Oldham in 1895 and is one of the oldest courses in the United States. The course was re-designed down to 9 holes in 1912, then re-re-designed back to 18 holes in 1923, then renovated in the 2000’s as part of the hotel’s restoration.
I didn’t golf while I was there but it looks like a nice course.
7. A Walk in the Woods
I did walk in the woods — on the last day there. I asked the front desk what things there were to do with only several hours left in my stay and they suggested it. There are 25 hiking paths — I chose one and it was a fun walk.
8. Drive the Famed “Lincoln Highway”
What I am remiss for not doing is drive the Lincoln Highway for a bit. The Lincoln Highway is a famed road that was the first to cross the United States. Part of the Lincoln Highway passes near Bedford — it is called Route 30 there.
The Lincoln Highway is the old highway that was superseded by Interstate 80 –similar to the way Route 66 was bypassed by the Interstate, which was the object of the kids’ movie Cars.
About a mile west of Bedford on Route 30 is The Coffee Pot — a famed remnant of the Lincoln Highway. David Berton Koontz operated a service station along the then-busy Lincoln Highway and built an 18-foot-high coffee pot next to his station to serve as both as an advertisement and as a luncheonette where travelers could grab a cup of coffee and sandwich.
Business grew so he built a restaurant in between the Coffee Pot and his service station — with access between the two buildings. The restaurant later served as bar and bus station. A motel was later added behind the buildings.
There is a Lincoln Highway website and community that points out things to look for as you drive Route 30 by Bedford.
9. Work Conferences & Weddings
I was at the Bedford Omni on work — attending a conference on Defense Architecture Frameworks — and had a booth and table where I put on one-man-show demos of our product for the several days there to conference attendees who stopped by
10. A Room
Staying at the Omni Bedford Resort is not cheap. At this writing, a night’s stay for two double beds on a Friday or Saturday night in June is around $450 to $500. You can’t get a room with 2 Queen beds — only a King or two doubles. To get 2 queen beds it looks like you need to book a suite for $1000 a night.
The Omni Bedford has 7 (seven) restaurants on premises:
- 1796 Room is its signature steak house.
- The Crystal Room “offers a sophisticated, upscale and traditional ambiance for breakfast and dinner.”
- Frontier Tavern is situated just near the outside Fire Pit.
- Turtle Shell is by the outside pool.
- Evitt Coffee House serves cappaccinos and ice creams.
- Tillies at the Clubhouse, “a casual, comfortable, yet classic clubhouse restaurant serving lunch and dinner” also overlooking the Fire Pit.
- Lobby Bar — a bar in the lobby.
I loved my stay at the Omni Bedford and would go back in a minute and bring the family too. The prices are a bit on the high side but if you are in the mindset of a resort retreat, it is worth it. You should have a wonderful time and make cherished memories.