Investing in Our Past spotlights a historic building that has been repurposed, demonstrating the economic value of preservation and reuse.

Established in 1796 on two thousand acres in the southern Allegheny Mountains in Bedford County, the Bedford Springs Hotel grew from a backwoods collection of simple bathhouses, which took advantage of seven natural springs, to become one of the country’s premier resort spas by the mid-nineteenth century. Located along route 220, the hotel lies in a picturesque valley between Constitution Hill on the east and Federal Hill to the west.

The existing hotel was erected in 1806 by enterprising physician John Anderson (1770–1839). The buildings were designed with stacked, open-air porches for strolling and for taking in the mountain air. By the end of the nineteenth century, the grounds featured ice houses, spring houses, pavilions, bathhouses, and footbridges along a trail that linked the seven springs, encouraging guests to walk the expansive grounds and “take the waters” at each spring. Noted guests included American Civil War generals, captains of industry, and six United States presidents, including James Buchanan (1791–1868) who used Bedford Springs as a vacation retreat and as his “summer White House.” It was at Bedford Springs that President Buchanan received the first transatlantic telegraph, sent by Queen Victoria (1819–1901), in 1858.

The hotel’s first permanent buildings were the stately Greek Revival-style Colonial Building, Stone Building, and Kitchen building, constructed between 1804 and 1842. In 1846, and between 1885 and 1890, several wood-framed buildings, noted for their Italianate and Queen Anne-style porches, were built and expanded to accommodate guests.

The hotel’s owners undertook a major building campaign between 1903 and 1905. They invested more than $100,000 to locate a new kitchen building behind the Colonial Building and construct a new swimming pool building in its place. The pool, measuring 63 feet by 28 feet, was one of the first indoor, spring water-fed pools in the United States; it also featured a solarium and hydrotherapy room. In addition to work on the Colonial’s interior, a dormitory building and club house were also constructed.

Hard hit by the Great Depression, Bedford Springs returned to national prominence during World War II as a naval radio training facility for the “Mountain Navy,” the largest privately run naval radio operating school. Six thousand Navy radio operators attended a twenty-week course. To accommodate the trainees, the kitchen was modernized and central heating, plumbing, and telephones were installed in the resort’s Evitt, Stone, Swiss, and Anderson buildings. In December 1944, the resort was closed for conversion to an internment camp for 180 high-level Japanese diplomats who were housed in the Barclay Building from August to November 1945.

Years of deferred maintenance, poor management, and financial failure forced the resort to close in 1986. Assisted by the Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP) of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Bedford Springs Hotel Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1991. Given its significance and condition, the complex was placed on Preservation Pennsylvania’s inaugural at-risk list in 1992. By 2002, its condition had worsened, prompting the National Park Service (NPS) to place the Bedford Springs Hotel on its threatened NHL list.

Beginning in 1986, developers tried to save the large complex, some proposing to save only the Colonial Building, while others proposed to retain all the buildings, except the dormitory. Mark Langdale and Keith Evans of Bedford Resort Partners Ltd. negotiated an extremely complicated redevelopment plan that included coordination among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and, most importantly, BHP and NPS, because financing required the project to utilize the federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Act program.

The ambitious project was two-fold: it involved the rehabilitation of the eight hotel buildings into a modern resort and required the rerouting of route 220 behind the buildings to reduce traffic in front of them. For years, Shobers Run flooded route 220, damaging its road bed, and a 90 degree turn below nearby Nawgel’s Mill caused many accidents. In consultation with BHP as part of a Section 106 review, the road had both an audible and visual adverse effect on the historic district. Mitigation included the stabilization of three buildings and the publication of a pamphlet describing the history of the complex.

The project team of Corgan Associates Architects, Dallas, Texas, Sandvick Architects, Cleveland, Ohio, and 3north, Richmond, Virginia, devised a comprehensive plan for the resort calling for the rehabilitation of nearly a dozen buildings, as well as the reconstruction of the Magnesia Spring House. The tax credit application was initially submitted in December 2003. After information requests by NPS staff, the schematic design was refined to retain and reuse existing historic fabric. NPS approved the application on October 5, 2004, with specific conditions related to masonry repointing, retaining and repairing the windows and pool building porches, and subsequent phasing of the project.

Before undertaking the enormous rehabilitation project, several buildings needed to be demolished. In coordination with the design team, a structural engineer’s report was submitted on each building and primarily included the dormitory building and the Barclay Building. The dormitory building (also known as the Crockford Building) was originally built above springs and had been literally deteriorating from the inside out. The five-story, concrete-framed, and brick-clad Barclay Building was reduced to two stories because of its poor condition and the instability of Federal Hill beneath its southern corner. Also demolished were a stable, metal garages, lake barn, and boathouse.

Rehabilitation of the resort was undertaken in nine phases, which allowed the owners to extend the project to meet Internal Revenue Service requirements. Given the short lead time, the phasing process enabled the design team and Reynolds Construction Management, Harrisburg, the project manager, to launch the rehabilitation while investigating existing conditions throughout the site. Phase 1 included asbestos abatement, demolition of deteriorated buildings, and the installation of new asphalt roofing on the remaining buildings to halt further deterioration. Asphalt shingles, previously installed on the buildings, were considered a preexisting condition.

Phase 2 involved the actual rehabilitation of the historic hotel buildings. Close examination of the Colonial Building and its structural system indicated severe deflection in the roof trusses. The building historically housed the resort’s public areas and had been remodeled several times, the most significant of which occurred in 1903–1905 when the second floor was added above the ballroom and the three-story Grand Lobby built. After the columns and trim were carefully numbered and removed to an on-site storage trailer, the structural system was exposed, revealing three different types of trusses. New steel beams and columns to support the second floor were installed in existing walls and above ceilings, and a new wooden truss was installed. The third floor was reconfigured for a junior ballroom while maintaining the corridor configuration. The windows on the front (south) façade of the buildings were retained and repaired, including those in the Colonial Building where women carved their names into the glazing with diamond rings. Paint was removed from the Colonial’s columns, and the porch columns and balustrades were removed, stripped, reassembled, and made code compliant.

The third phase centered on the design and construction of the hotel proper and spa wing, where the dormitory building had been located, and the construction of a support services building (the reduced Barclay). Phase 4 included landscaping the property and construction of a cabana and outside pool, and a golf-cart barn along Sweet Run Road. Phase 5 included the construction of a new stairway, which led to the restoration of the resort’s iconic pedestrian bridge and access to the reconstructed Magnesia Spring House, based on historic photographs. The sixth phase involved the rehabilitation of the manager’s cottage for offices and included the removal and replacement of the deteriorated stucco. Phase 7 was devoted to the stabilization of the property’s mill, millwright’s house, and a cabin.

Phase 8 focused on the rehabilitation of the golf course, originally laid out in 1895 as a nine-hole course by Spencer Oldham and expanded to eighteen holes in 1905. Noted golf course architect A. W. “Tillie” Tillinghast (1874–1942) reduced the course to nine holes in 1911. Donald Ross (1872–1948), an influential designer of golf courses, enlarged the course to eighteen holes in 1923. By 1990, sixteen of the eighteen original fairways remained, including the three-par fourth hole, the “Volcano,” so named because if a player’s ball fails to hold on to the narrow green, it will roll down twenty feet or more. The Dauphin County Authority acquired the course in 1996 and later obtained a permit from the Corps of Engineers to undertake a $2.4 million drainage project the following year. Five years later, in December 2001, the course was purchased by the Bedford County Redevelopment Authority for 2.4 million dollars which, in turn, sold it to Bedford Resort Partners Ltd. Ron Forse, president of Forse Design Inc., Uniontown, and Jim Nagle of Frontier Construction Company, Jones Mills, Westmoreland County, restored the legendary golf course to its Donald Ross legacy but retained several notable Tillinghast features. The final phase of the project included the construction of a new club house.

Acquisition, new construction, golf course restoration, and road realignment cost $120 million. It has taken several attempts over the course of twenty-one years to complete the certified rehabilitation project. Thanks to the vision and determination of Bedford Springs Resort Partners Ltd., the rehabilitation of the Bedford Springs Resort became a reality, reestablishing the original use of these majestic buildings and restoring a grande dame to her original glamour. Opened in 2007, the resort received the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s prestigious National Preservation Honor Award in 2009.

 

Bonnie Wilkinson Mark of Harrisburg is an associate with Delta Development Group, Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County. She possesses nearly twenty-four years experience of working with federal, state, and local preservation programs in Georgia, New York, and Pennsylvania. From 1997 to November 2009, she was the historical architect for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Bureau for Historic Preservation. She graduated with a B.A. in architecture in 1982 from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and earned an M.A. in historic preservation planning from Cornell University in 1985.