As you read this, Curatorial Assistant Amanda Rockwood and I will be presenting at a national museum conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. Afterwards, we are going to take a couple well deserved vacation days and relax in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and soak in the mineral waters. The plan is to visit “bath house row” and enjoy the historic ambiance when it was popular in the late 1800s, early 1900s.
All these travel plans got me thinking about the healing waters closer to home. Many of us remember the Riverside Inn that was in Cambridge Springs before it burned down in 2017. I had stayed there more than once and despite warnings that the building was haunted, I never encountered any spiritual beings. What I did find was a beautiful look at life in the past.
The Riverside Hotel opened in the late 1880s in what was then called Cambridgeboro, Pennsylvania. It was one of many hotels in the area that catered to those looking for rest, relaxation, and healing of a variety of ailments that included rheumatism, gout, constipation, indigestion, malaria, nervousness and conditions of the kidneys, diabetes, and Bright’s disease. All the cures were based on drinking the natural spring waters that were carbonized and bottled at the site of the spring.
In 1860, Dr. John Gray discovered a free-flowing spring in the area while looking for oil. Not finding oil, Gray moved on to other pursuits but revisited the area in 1884 and established the Riverside. He found that the mineral content of the spring was like the healing waters found in the Blue Springs in Hot Springs, Arkansas and capitalized on the popular craze.
The Riverside grounds encompassed 450 acres which included the hotel, gardens that provided fresh vegetables for the dining room, a herd of cows which allowed for the freshest of dairy products, boating on French Creek, tennis, and a golf course which was established in 1915. The 101 guest rooms featured the newest technology of electricity and steam heat and was open year-round.
Communities such as Hot Springs, Arkansas; Warm Springs, Alabama; Saratoga Springs, New York and Calistoga Springs, California all provided “cures”. I have tasted the water in several of those towns and the word that best describes it is “terrible”! The mineral water craze ended with the establishment of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the development of more modern cures that we use today. Yet, the thought of going away to a beautiful hotel just to enjoy outdoor recreation, soak in and drink spring water, eat wonderful locally grown fresh food and just relax is so appealing. I’m hoping that Amanda and I will get to experience this in a small way.
For more information on Cambridge Springs, the Riverside Hotel, and other resort hotels in the area, visit the Hagen History Center gift shop. One book we feature is “Cambridge Springs and Edinboro” by Terry and Kathleen Perich. It is full of wonderful images and stories of those two communities.