Built at the dawn of tourism in the U.S., the great resorts of the 18th and 19th centuries hosted Presidents, royals, and a burgeoning middle class. Even after ambitious restorations, these grandes dames remain true to their roots and places in American history.
President James Buchanan spent so much time at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains (from $209) that it became known as the Summer White House while he was in office. Like other guests, Old Buck came for the rejuvenating mineral springs. Today, the antebellum resort has restored one of the oldest golf courses in the country and boasts a new wing with 96 rooms.
Fresh from a grand tour of Europe and flush with a fortune made in gold and copper mining, Spencer Penrose remade a casino outside Colorado Springs to rival the finest continental hotels. The lavish opening party for the Broadmoor (from $300) in 1920 drew top hoteliers and lasted for a week. This Italianate resort on Cheyenne Lake continues to attract A-listers and has more than doubled its original guest room count to 744. Last May, the hotel debuted six private Cape Cod-style cottages, with up to eight bedrooms and stone fireplaces in each.
The patch of southern Indiana known as French Lick has long attracted visitors with its mineral springs. In 1901, a direct rail line from Chicago started bringing the social and political elite, including Franklin Roosevelt, who clinched the Democratic Party nomination here. Today, the 443-room French Lick Springs Hotel (from $179) has been returned to its original French Renaissance glory with a restoration of its gold-leaf, barrel-vaulted dome, Italian mosaic floors, and signature scagliola. The 3,000-acre resort, along with its sister West Baden Springs Hotel (one mile away), offers three golf courses, riding stables, a casino, and two spas.
With its evening dress code the Grand Hotel (from $249 per person; includes dinner and breakfast) on Michigan’s Mackinac Island harkens back to the Victorian era, when it was built by a consortium of rail and steamship companies eager to capitalize on the island’s growing tourism. The 385-room hotel went up in just four months but has weathered nearly 123 seasons as a summer retreat for generations of loyal guests and five U.S. Presidents. Motorized vehicles are verboten on the island, and guests gather on the 660-foot front porch each evening for cocktails followed by a five-course dinner accompanied by live music in the immense formal dining room.
From statesman Henry Clay to Princess Grace of Monaco, legions of famous guests have stayed at the Greenbrier (from $299) in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, over the past 200 years. Now another chapter is about to unfold with a new casino, new restaurants, and the unveiling of the Greenbrier Express, a luxury train with direct service from Washington, D.C.
- Nat Geo Expeditions