Hotel Bone, Cambridge Springs, Pa.

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 is the hotel which burned to the ground Tuesday. Some fire too,” wrote individuals identified only as Mother and Carrie on August 12, 1915, from Cambridge Springs in Crawford County to Florence Miller of Jamestown, New York. Previously known as the Hotel Kelly, the Hotel Bone was originally owned and operated by banker Amos Kelly and his sons, one of whom served as mayor of the borough. The hotel, located just north of Cambridge Springs (on land that is now occupied by the Riverside Golf Club) employed two carriages to ferry guests to and from the center of town. The cause of the fire was arson.

What is most revealing about the correspondent’s message on this penny postcard is her closing sentence: “Its fine to be ladies with nothing to do but eat sleep and drink water.” Unbeknownst to many today, Cambridge Springs, thirty miles southeast of Erie, was a thriving resort of nearly fifty commodious hotels, cottages, boarding houses, and spas, catering to visitors with more than a dozen mineral springs and baths, including the Gray Mineral Springs, Petticord Springs, Magnesia Springs, Chadwick Lithia Springs, and the Rider Crystal Lithia Springs.

A local physician, John H. Gray (1824–1891), discovered a mineral spring on his property and began, in the late 1880s, promoting it as possessing remarkable medicinal qualities and restorative powers, launching boom years and prosperity for sleepy Cambridge Springs. Despite a fire in 1897 that destroyed much of the community’s commercial district, Cambridge Springs rebounded and became an even more famous mecca for individuals seeking relief from ailments such as rheumatism, gout, sluggish liver, chronic gastritis, dropsy, and dyspepsia. Hostelries multiplied to include the Hotel Bartlett, the Todd Sanitarium and Bath House, and the Shady Lawn Hotel, among others. One of the grandest resorts, the Rider Hotel, offering Turkish, Russian, Roman, and Oriental baths, hosted the 1904 International Chess Competition, won by American player Frank Marshall (1877–1944). The Fullerton Springs Hotel advertised “Running Springs Magnesia and Iron Waters in the Lobby.” And the Riverside Hotel, the only remaining hotel dating to the resort’s golden age, gave its guests choices of mineral, sea salt, cabinet, and needle baths, in addition to “electrical treatments.”

As Cambridge Springs’ reputation as a resort grew, so did its attendance and attractions. At the opening of the twentieth century, as many as eight passenger trains delivered sojourners daily. Before long, a seven-acre amusement park, Perkins Park, opened. But the heyday eventually ended.

A storm, known locally as the Cyclone of 1909, leveled many of the hotels and cottages. Over the years, fire took its toll on others. The remainder simply failed and fell into disrepair. Nevertheless, this postcard is a reminder of the glory days of Cambridge Springs, a time when it beckoned the tired and the ailing to “take its waters” and find rest and relaxation among its opulent accommodations in northwestern Pennsylvania.