I’m so glad I arrived at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort at early evening on Christmas Eve.
Leaving the Pennsylvania Turnpike and driving about three miles into the snow-covered hills of south-central Pennsylvania gave me a chance to decompress and get in the mood for an old-fashioned Christmas.
Turning the corner of a winding road, the hotel came into view, its long majestic building popped into view, adorned with soft white lights and dominated by a towering 40-foot tall Christmas tree that sat on the lawn. Falling snow added its bit of holiday romance and it, indeed, was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Inside, another big tree decorated the lobby, and nearby, a couple sat warming themselves in front of the fireplace, logs crackling merrily. There were nutcrackers galore filling cabinets and tabletops and even a gingerbread house displayed in the lobby. In the library, instead of glass ornaments, another tree sported paper silhouettes of U.S. presidents (Over the years, 10 U. S. presidents stayed at the hotel, including James Buchanan, who made it his summer White House).
Dinner in the Crystal Room that evening proved a feast of seared scallops, lobster salad and Pekin Paradise Duck, elegant courses that also included very memorable lemon lavender scones. After a couple glasses of wine, I slept soundly, visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.
Christmas morning started with coffee in bed, an opening of gifts and a tour of the historic hotel with a truly remarkable man named Scott Mallow, who, for a small fee, shares his extensive knowledge of the 216-room hotel during a fascinating hour-long expedition into history and architecture.
Way before White traders arrived in the area, Native Americans frequented the site’s seven springs hoping their purported therapeutic properties would ease their ailments. Foreseeing the economic potential of the site, one of the early settlers, John Anderson, purchased 200 acres and began building the original stone section of the resort starting in 1808 as a place to stay for those coming to "take the waters." One of the first notables to visit was Aaron Burr, who came with his niece and her sickly child.
As word spread, Bedford Springs began to draw wealthy Southerners and, later in the 1870s, 80s and 90s, the elite of cities like New York and Philadelphia. By 1905, a series of new additions had increased the number of guests the hotel could accommodate, and the nation’s first indoor Olympic-size pool was added, complete with an elevated opera box from which musicians could entertain the swimmers.
If you take Mallow’s tour, ask him to point out the guest ledgers that date back to the 1840s displayed under glass cases as well as President Buchanan’s desk, the copy of the first transatlantic telegraph message sent to him at the hotel on August 12, 1858, by Queen Victoria and the silhouettes in the First Ladies Parlor of the US presidents and their wives who stayed at the resort.
In the Duke of Bedford Library, have him identify the windows that bear witness to the custom of newlywed brides supposedly testing the authenticity of their diamond rings by inscribing their name in the glass panes.
With history around every corner, the hotel is surprisingly in very good shape, thanks to a $120 million renovation project completed in 2007. WiFi, a state-of-the-art fitness center open 24 -7 and the Springs Eternal Spa complete with all the latest treatments are just as home here as the old copper kettles, the massive earthenware cask and display cases of implements like antique axes and other tools located outside the rustic 1796 Restaurant.
Inside the upscale steak and chop house, check out the case of antique Pennsylvania long rifles and the wonderful series of antique coverlets hung behind glass along one wall.
If You’re Going . . .
For things to do, the resort has 25 miles of hiking trails, an outdoor stone fire pit for making S’mores in clement weather, an elegant afternoon tea presided over by host David Weir, and one of North America’s oldest golf courses, laid out in 1875 by Spencer Oldham. In 1912, the old course was changed from an 18 to a 9-hole course by golf course legend, A.W. Tillinghast.
In 1923, Donald Ross recreated the 18-hole course that was both challenging yet one with its natural landscape and was hailed as one of the best in the state. Currently the new course is the result of an $8 million restoration, which includes new greens, tees, fairways and an irrigation system overseen by golf architect, Ron Force.
The contemporary course preserves the historic holes and features designed by each of its famous golf architects, including Tillinghast’s "Tiny Tim, a par three that has served as the model for over 100 holes in various courses across the nation.
Bedford Springs Resort is located at 2138 Business Route 220 in Bedford, Pa. 15522. Phone 866-623-8176 or visit www.omnihotels.com.
Dave Zuchowski is a travel writer for CNHI News Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.