Brief History of Cambridge Springs & Riverside Inn
In 1859, a well driller in nearby Titusville, named Col. Edwin L. Drake discovered oil. This discovery triggered "black gold fever" among French Creek Valley residents, inspiring many of them to look for oil, in the hopes of striking it rich.
One of these oil seekers was a local physician, Dr. John H. Gray, who owned a large farm right on the banks of French Creek. One day in early 1860, as he was walking along the banks of French Creek carrying a metal probing rod, he stopped to "lean and contemplate." When he did, the rod suddenly sank into the ground. Dr. Gray pulled the rod from the ground, thinking he had struck "black gold", but a jet of crystal spring water spurt forth instead. Doctor Gray then forced an old gun barrel into the opening, and the water flowed freely for the next 15 years. Although Dr. Gray was not too excited about this "water discovery," it was the turning point for the quiet little town of Cambridgeboro.
Soon, rumours began spreading around town that the men who worked on Gray's Farm and drank from the spring never got sick or were cured of diseases that they had. In 1884, Dr. Gray took a patient to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and was struck by the similarity of its water and that from his spring along French Creek.
Once home, he began prospecting in earnest, making more openings in the soil and discovering four more jets of the same "charged" spring water. He then began testing the water for medicinal purposes, treating cases of dyspepsia and kidney and liver complaints. He wrote that the "waters, unassisted, affected many cures."
Determined to give the world the benefit of the water's healing powers, Dr. Gray erected a spring house and began selling mineral water at a "nominal price."
The First "Health Spa"
Plans to build The Riverside Hotel, as it was first named, were conceived by W.D. Rider and his associates in 1884. Rider sold the hotel to the William Baird family in 1895. At the same time the Bairds also purchased Grays Mineral Springhouse and surrounding acreage. Under the nearly 50 years of ownership by the Bairds, the Inn flourished and developed into a complete resort.
The popularity of mineral water therapy quickly changed the calm, rural community of Cambridgeboro into a bustling resort center patronized by visitors from all over the world! The "boom" effect even gave the town a new name. In 1897, Cambridgeboro was officially renamed Cambridge Springs.
By 1903, the "change" had become a total makeover. More than 40 hotels, springs houses, and rooming houses welcomed visitors. The mineral water was the firm foundation of an industry which offered everything from baths to bottling works. Among the hotels were health resorts of all kinds, which included all kinds of baths - Russian, Turkish, cabinet, electrical, seasalt, mineral, and needle. A "vibratory" for electrical treatments and an X-ray machines were available as well. Licensed physicians supervised these operations. One of them, Dr. G.E. Humphrey, pointed out that "while guests can have expert electrical treatment if they wish, there is nothing at all at the Riverside to remind one of the unpleasant features of a sanitarium."
By the early 1900s, eight trains per day brought guests to the now-famous resort. The mineral water drew enthusiasts from all over. The town's "healing water" was so much in demand that a railline was built between New York City and Chicago...with Cambridge Springs as it's halfway point!!
The Lone Survivor
However, as so many boom towns turn into ghost towns, so the health spa image of Cambridge Springs faded, and with it the tourist trade. The healing powers of the springs were discounted by modern medicine, and one by one, the grand hotels closed. Through the Great Depression, most of them were dismantled or fell into disrepair very quickly. The burning of the enormous Rider Hotel in 1935 left The Riverside Inn as the lone survivor of a glorious and very profitable time in Cambridge Springs history.
Colonel Frank W. Parke bought the entire Riverside Establishment from the Baird family in 1946 and carried on its famous traditions. In 1965 he sold the property, and the world-famous Jersey dairy herd and bulls were auctioned.
For many years it seemed that the brisk tourist trade of Cambridge Springs was gone forever. When Michael and Marie Halliday became the Inn's new owners in the fall of 1985, they began tackling the mammoth job of restoring the Riverside Inn to its original splendor. Now, its "fountain of youth" is a combination of quiet, country atmosphere, outstanding recreation facilities and exceptional cuisine.
The Riverside Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places.