If there ever was a time to furnish a big hotel with American scroll empire furniture, the time is now. Not that the style is anymore in fashion than it ever was, in fact, it seems the opposite. But there’s a certain charm in going against the grain.
At the Bedford Springs Hotel near the Maryland, Pennsylvania border, this style fits right in. American Empire is a French-inspired Neoclassical style of American furniture that gained its greatest popularity in the U.S. after 1810. The most elaborate furniture in this style was made around 1815-25, followed by the simpler late classical pillar and scroll style.
The history at Bedford Springs dates to 1796. The earliest existing buildings there today date to the early 19th Century with major portions built in the 1830s. Decorating in this style was a good choice for obvious reasons. Much of the furniture placed in the public areas of Bedford Springs is the latter “pillar and scroll style.”
Entering the main building one of the first items of note is a large library table. The scrolls on the pillars of this handsome table are a theme that will be carried throughout the expansive lobbies. In the library, there’s a large secretary, which consists of a butler’s desk and bookcase. The butler’s desk looks like a simple chest of drawers, but the presence of the bookcase on top is a pretty clear indication the top drawer will open to reveal a desk. Many of these contain layers of drawers including secret drawers hidden behind the others. Unfortunately, it would not be polite to look for them on our casual visit.
Several empire chests line the hallways, including this one featuring pillar scrolls.
Not all of the furniture is in the pillar and scroll style, however. Perhaps the most notable piece is a desk in the Sheraton style used by a frequent visitor to the hotel, President James Buchanan. The president first visited the hotel in 1816, returned frequently and after elected used the facility as a summer White House. The desk is actually constructed from cherry wood from the property, made by the resort’s founder John Anderson. It is said that President Buchanan would not allow the desk to be replaced because his shirts fit perfectly inside the drawers.
Buchanan was one of eleven presidents to have visited the hotel, beginning with Thomas Jefferson and extending all the way up to a recent visit by George W. Bush. The others are James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, James Garfield, William Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. The hotel also hosted Aaron Burr, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Samuel Wanamaker and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Some pieces in the collection may be recognizable by the first visitors. Most notable are the grandfather clocks including one by Bedford maker Jacob Diehl who was listed as a clockmaker in the town in 1814 tax assessment records. It’s not just furniture you’ll see at the hotel. A collection of spring water bottles from the resort is on view outside the spa.
When the hotel was undergoing a renovation in 2007, the Bedford Spings Historical Society launched a search for memorabilia including ledgers, old photographs, documents, books, brochures, newspapers, maps,
stationery, envelopes, postcards, furniture, paintings, dishes, silverware, menus, napkins and table linens. Undoubtedly this was the source of display items seen at the hotel today.
Items relating to the hotel are also on view elsewhere. A collection of Old Paris Porcelain pieces including a peach and a cream colored formal set of dishes from which three United States presidents used at The Bedford Springs Hotel are owned by the Lotz House in Franklin, Tennessee .
A visit to the hotel itself is a delight. Founded on the attractiveness of mountain springs, today golf is a popular pastime (and the reason for the recent visit by President Bush).