The newly renovated Omni Bedford Springs entices with the restored splendor of two centuries worth of relaxation. Jane Ammeson
The old-fashioned, tightly bunched cursive letters glint in the sunlight beaming through the wide front porch of Pennsylvania's Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa. I squint to decipher the name: Millie C. Swartzwalder, Sept. 3rd, 1888.
The words are frozen in time, etched into a pane of glass more than 100 years ago using a diamond engagement ring. Millie and the other women whose names are scrawled across the glass were preserving their visits for posterity, but also slyly checking their baubles for authenticity. Amid all the Omni's reminders of the past, this tiny, feminine echo is my favorite.
I'm an hour into a tour of a hotel that, less than five years ago, had been reduced to a crumbling relic. Years of deterioration, including a flood in the '80s, had left this quarter-mile string of buildings in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains seemingly beyond repair. Salvation didn't come until investors spent more than $120 million to renovate the property. It reopened in 2007.
During my stay, I ramble from one end to the other. The oldest structure is the Stone Building, circa 1806. Actual stones quarried from the property hide behind the restored walls. I make my way to the lobby, a Greek Revival-style building with massive columns outside and a twisting grand staircase inside. My room lies in the newest building (in relative terms). This section is home to the grand indoor pool, one of the first in the nation when it opened in 1905. The mineral-water pool's airy, two-story salon still features the balconies that once served as a launching pad for cannonballers.
Water is the draw here, whether visitors arrived in the 18th century or the 21st. Eight mineral springs dot the property, feeding the indoor pool and drawing travelers to the region as early as 1796. The black-and-white photographs lining halls and decorating rooms showcase men in top hats and women in frilly dresses posing rakishly around the springs, "taking the waters," as it was called, and relishing in the leisurely atmosphere that pervades today.
As I wander, couples run giggling through the corridors in bathing suits and towels, past restored antique furniture, puzzle tables and meticulously preserved historical artifacts. A businessman multitasks on his cell and computer in the lobby, where peacock-colored oriental rugs lie in front of crackling fireplaces. The Omni wants visitors here to think of the Bedford as "America's home," and I find that's easy to do.
I'm drawn to the French doors that lead from my room onto an open porch hosting a dozen rocking chairs. Out here, conviviality is encouraged. Likewise at the fire pit, visitors congregate to compare notes and roast marshmallows — s'mores kits are $6.
I've packed my days with activities, from fly-fishing the Yellow Creek with Ernie, the hotel's expert guide, to relaxing with a glass of red wine and a steak dinner in the signature restaurant, the 1796 Chop House Restaurant. I've even "taken the waters" myself, courtesy of the spa's Bedford Baths ritual (an experience that's free with every spa treatment). Even with a full schedule, there's so much of this lavish hotel to explore.
During the day, the Omni Bedford provides all the comforts of the old-money, luxury home I never had. But at night, the true power of this place shines. In a hotel shimmied down between two ridges, flanked by forest and a quiet golf course, with just the stars and a cheery fire for company, the mind wanders. I can almost see Millie with her girlfriends, whispering and plotting the next day's activities. A century may have passed, but here at the Omni, some things will always remain the same.