Who knows where the history of a place begins. Somewhere back in time just this side of the things we remember, the stories, the facts, the legends. So it is with the history of Warm Springs Lodge in the Blue Mountains of Perry County, Pennsylvania. Often to find out about a place, we look at the names, the owners, the historical records, but for the beauty of this place, there are other, better paths with which to begin. And so we start along a trail, The Allegheny Pathway that runs from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. An old Indian route. Soon, we come to a stream and follow it to a valley narrowly nestled between two wooded ridges, Quaker Hill and Pasgah Hill, in Central Pennsylvania. And along this tributary to the Susquehanna, Sherman's Creek, are six warm springs. Near the largest of the springs is Warm Springs Lodge, a stately old building dating back to just after the Civil War when it was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire.
It is the geography of the land, the setting that first catches our eye. The rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the watershed of streams, the lush vegetation, the nearby dairy farms, the Amish, and the small homesteads with orchards, corn, and flowers. Off the beaten track, and you're in the past. Ancient, virgin hemlocks, the sprawling boxwood huckleberry-Gaylussacia brachycera, the oldest living plant in the United States, tracing its childhood back to at least 1500 BC . Fields of arrowheads, ghosts of Indians, and the countless fossils and trilobites, those marine arthropods that used to molt in the nearby rocks, leaving a few offspring like the crayfish in the streams.
It would be easy to go on forever about the flora and the fauna, the wonderful green watercress in the springs by the Lodge, the two huge tulip trees that are the guardians of the springs, hovering behind it like wise sagamores from a time past remembrance. There are hickory trees, black walnut, grand sycamores with the bark peeling into scrolls of white and tan parchment, the woods and nearby hills aflame with oak and maple trees in Autumn. Yes, it is hard not to mention the wildlife, the raccoons that come down to the stream, the deer, the hints of beaver and mink, possums, squirrels, and rabbits. And because the springs never freeze, egrets frequent the area, and blue and green herons. Owls, eagles, bluebirds, pileated woodpeckers, tangers, orioles, finches, and wood ducks. Even an occasional phoenix has been sighted, making the valley truly an Audubon paradise.
For the fisherman? Well, there are pickerel in the reeds and wild water lilies, bass abundant in the deeper holes, fallfish, bluegills, and rockies. Just upstream, brown and rainbow trout. For the more adventurous, an eel or hellbender to let us know that they're still here and plan on sticking around for a long time.
The Lodge, itself, resting on a small hill overlooking the peaceful and expansive green lawn, the stream, and the moon riding the ridge across the southern sky, often speculates on its own past. It looks out from the veranda over all of this, dreaming for an evening in its rocking chair or hammock, remembering the human history that has made it what is is.
How it was the spring that first brought people here. Coming from Harrisburg, a half-hour to the east, or from Carlisle, twelve miles over the mountain to the south. From Blain, from Newport. Not to forget the frontiersmen who lived in the county, the squatters along the creeks, and the Indians. And how with time, when the curative properties of the water in the springs became more widely known, how the people started coming in from as far away as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston. And still do. With such a beautiful setting, all that was needed was a place to stay, to lodge in, but a place equally pleasing, to match, to blend in with the mountains.
Though the tract of land where the Warm Springs are located was first warranted to Soloman Dentler in 1793, it wasn't until 1830, ten years after Perry and Cumberland County were divided, that James Kennedy purchased the ground and built a bath house. Then John Hipple, the sheriff, leased the land from Kennedy for a ten-year period, and he erected a building 40 by 45 feet in size, and put in additional bathhouses. These times were interesting, the breaki8ng of ground, the first foundations. The place soon opened as a health resort. People from the nearby farmhouses and the big cities came to take the cure, to bathe in the water, and to drink it.
By 1838, Peter Updegraffe had added a small pottery that turned a thriving business. Stagecoaches arrived on the hill behind the Lodge. Then in 1849, H. H. Etter bought all the grounds and added a seventy-five foot extension to the original building. Around the time of the Civil War, the property had passed the R. M. Henderson and John Hayes of Carlisle, who in turn sold it to the Perry Warm Springy Hotel Company. There were more improvements and the hotel flourished until the end of the century when the big seaside and mountain resorts were developed. The Warm Springs, without a railroad nearby, managed to escape all the hustle and the ill-conceived changes of the early industrial era. The human traffic died down, there were financial setbacks, but the Lodge and the area around it were saved by neglect.
During all this time, however, there were some exciting moments, Indians camped on the grounds as late as 1880. Even before this, for instance, there was the duel. Sometime shortly before the Civil War, two gentlemen in love with the same woman met up at the Lodge. The lady was about. There was a ruckus, a challenge. Swords were chosen over pistols, and the following morning just as the sun was coming over Pisgah Hill, the men and their seconds once again met. One killed the other and two weeks later the survivor was killed in the streets of Baltimore. The Pennsylvania legislature was aghast. Soon thereafter, it passed a law prohibiting duels. Another honorable and sane tradition cut short by good intentions.
Then there was the fire that destroyed the main building shortly after 1865. The place was abandoned, but Christian Thudium rebuilt it, and in 1867, Abraham Bower of Landisburg bought it. In 1871 it was once again open to the public, this time without liquor. The alcoholic spirits to this day rebel against such hard times, and it is rumored that sometimes early in the morning the innkeeper finds a partially filled wineglass or mug of applejack on the table in the basement.
However, teetotaler that he was, Mr. Bower had improved things. By 1897 he was marketing the water from the spring as a beverage and for medicinal purposes under the name of Abraham Bower and Sons, with office in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Boston. It was bottled and sold around the world. The properties of the water were well known. As early as 1850, a Dr. Booth of Philadelphia had found by chemical analysis that it contained carbonate of lime, carbonate of magnesia, carbonate of iron, alkaline salts, and chiefly chlorides with portions of sulfate and silica. It was said to be a good purgative and diuretic, helpful or rheumatism, kidney and liver complaints, dyspepsia, gout, Bright's disease (diabetes), eczema, sore eyes and general weaknesses of constitution. Feeling tepid in winter and cool in summer, the 66 degree F waters are thought to come from two miles beneath the earth's surface, heated by the natural heatflow of the earth's interior. No wonder the springs bathe both the body and soul.
The clear water and the beautiful Lodge brought in the folks. Yes, those were the days. A railway was planned, the People's Freight Railroad Company, and was never finished. The old bed can be seen in the woods downstream near a poet's small cabin. The Warm Springs was at the height of popularity in the gay nineties. The well to do from the big eastern cities fell in love with the quiet spa hidden away in the mountains of Pennsylvania. They came by stagecoach, on horseback, or by foot from the nearest towns to canoe in the streams, bathe in the life-giving waters, picnic and walk in the woods. Up on the hill back of the Lodge was the first outdoor bowling alley in Pennsylvania. There were wonderful parties in the big hotel, dancing and coquetry. Parasols, tall hats, fetching gown, bonnets and lace. The romance even mad the local papers sometimes.
But with the coming of hard times and World War I, the Lodge gradually slipped into disuse. Gossip has it that the spirits avenged themselves, that there were private festivities, that, the Gods forbid, a bordello might have been in operation. If only we could read the mind of the fellow there on the porch looking out over green grass and the water, remembering it all.
In the 1920's H. B. Rhinesmith, the proprietor of the Hotel Rhinesmith, owned the Warm Springs property in New Bloomfield. The Gring family also owned the Lodge for awhile. But there were no new developments or improvements. Things were at a standstill. Then in 1968, Lloyd and Dorcas Hetrick bought the property, restoring many of its features, rebuilding the roofed front porch, fixing up the quaint bedrooms, adding a lovely foyer, and updating some of the bath facilities.
As we move firmly into the 21st century in 2010, new owners and operators Carol Franklin and Cable Kinnard welcome you to come experience the history and the pleasures of Warm Springs Lodge in its third century.