Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

This surely is a wonderful place to rest,” wrote an unidentified Laura to a Mrs. C. Brown Jr., of Charleroi, Washington County, on a postcard of the Bedford Springs Hotel postmarked June 28, 1928. “Wish Doc could stay forever,” she continued. “He feels a lot better.”

Located one mile south of Bedford, Bedford County seat, Bedford Springs attracted attention as early as the opening of the nineteenth century with its promise of magical properties and restorative powers. John Anderson (1770-1840), doctor, lawyer, medicine man (as well as land speculator, entrepreneur, banker, and politician) purchased the tract containing the fabled mineral springs and built the first hotel in 1804. Anderson and other physicians began recommending the water to their patients. Bedford Springs drew a number of enterprising doctors who, in turn, attracted a steady stream of patients seeking a cure for everything from rheumatoid arthritis to tumors.

Anderson’s resort hotel grew by leaps and bounds and featured the latest amenities, including a golf course as early as 1898 and one of the country’s first indoor swimming pools. It became famous and fashionable, rivaling popular resorts such as New York’s Saratoga Springs. Daily offerings included concerts, classical music recitals, teas, lectures, and tennis matches. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company operated special excursion trains from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to the resort. Prominent guests through the years included Aaron Burr,John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster,Thaddeus Stevens, Simon Cameron, and Presidents Benjamin Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor. Pennsylvania’s President James Buchanan sojourned at the spa for forty years, beginning in 1816.The hotel served as the “summer White House” during his presidency, from 1857 to 1861. During World War II, the U.S. Navy used the complex as a radio training school for more than seven thousand sailors, after which a section of the main hotel housed Japanese diplomats captured after the fall of Germany. The government selected Bedford Springs Hotel for the internment, Newsweek reported, because it was secludedin the mountains of Pennsylvania and close enough to Washington for officials to keep an eye on the prisoners.

The Great Depression, World War II, fires, deferred maintenance, declining occupancy, changes in ownership, and financial reverses all took grave tolls on the sprawling hotel. Despite such adversities, hotel owners through the years remained optimistic. In 1984, the property was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the Bedford Springs Hotel Historic District and named a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

Much like the ancient phoenix, the Bedford Springs Hotel is once again rising from the ashes. The historic hotel – currently being restored and rehabilitated at a cost of one hundred million dollars – will welcome a new generation of guests and visitors when it reopens in 2007. Property developers are taking advantage of federal historic preservation tax credits coordinated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Bureau for Historic Preservation.