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.

Leading a ‘Simple Life’ among the farmers,” wrote EBG on the reverse of a penny postcard depicting the Mountain House at Cresson, Cambria County, one hundred years ago, on August 10, 1908. The writer’s sentiments were obviously facetious — the Mountain House, built in 1880–1881, had been a grand hotel financed by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) that drew scores of affluent guests to the mountainous region to enjoy “the delicious coolness and purity of its atmosphere.” Even more ironic is the fact that the hotel ceased operation eleven years earlier.

The luxurious resort was located near seven mineral springs, high in the Allegheny Mountains, twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and approximately eighty miles east of Pittsburgh and eleven miles east of the county seat of Ebensburg. A writer in the 1890s noted that its “marvelous reputation for rates and rations attracts the bon-ton patronage of the world.” The sprawling hostelry accommodated more than two hundred guests, and cottages on the surrounding grounds housed several hundred summer residents, including industrialists Andrew Carnegie, Benjamin F. Jones, and William Thaw. Dignitaries who visited Cresson Springs, as the area was also known, included President Benjamin Harrison, who addressed more than one thousand Grand Army of the Republic veterans (former Union soldiers who had served during the Civil War) from the hotel’s balcony in September 1890. “The President is suffering somewhat from overwork,” wrote a correspondent for the New York Times, “but expects that the bracing mountain air and a few days’ rest will restore him to perfect health.”

Designed in the exuberant Queen Anne style by Wilson Brothers and Company, a Philadelphia architectural and engineering firm, the Mountain House was a five-story, wood frame building, with distinctive half-timbering, four conical spires, and spacious verandas enveloping the first and second floors. Construction cost ninety thousand dollars, the equivalent of nearly twenty million dollars today. Despite the optimism of the PRR, the hotel began losing its luster during the decade following its opening and closed after the 1897 season, posting a loss of $13,000 (or $320,000 today). The Mountain House was razed in 1916.

And the postcard’s recipient?

Horace G. Womsley worked on the sixth floor of Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Building, but the identity of S.W.C. Co. remains a mystery and is one, perhaps, that can be solved by western Pennsylvania readers.