Defunct mineral resort has a healing history

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1795

Located within the Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County, Pa., are the scattered remains of the former Frankfort Mineral Springs Health Resort.

Beginning in the mid-1800s, the wealthy guests of the Frankfort Mineral Springs Resort would spend portions of their summers drinking the mineral waters that were reputed to have a healing effect on a variety of ailments.

Doctors’ advertisements of the day touted the waters for healing everything from kidney ailments to indigestion.

Gathering place. In addition to the medicinal treatment they received from the waters, this was also a social gathering place for the wealthy.

It wasn’t uncommon for guests to spend a month at the resort.

Located approximately 30 miles west of Pittsburgh, many patrons left the grime, noise and pollution of the city behind to bask in the pristine country surroundings.

The cure. Indeed while many of the Frankfort Mineral Springs’ guests were from the Pittsburgh area, visitors came from all over the United States and even Europe to partake in “the cure.”

While not recorded into history books, the native Indians were thought to have been aware of the mineral springs. The close proximity to a well-traveled Indian trail lends itself to that belief.

The earliest recorded history of the Frankfort Mineral Springs begins in the spring of 1772.

Levi Dungan. It was at this time that Levi Dungan, the pioneer farmer, came to this unsettled section of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Dungan, a resident of Philadelphia, temporarily left behind his wife Mary and three young children to follow his dream of owning property in the newly opened lands of western Pennsylvania.

Traveling over the old Braddock military trail, Dungan reached the forks of the Ohio River at present day Pittsburgh.

Upon reaching the area that he would settle, Dungan claimed 1,000 acres, which included the medicinal mineral springs.

The family. Dungan returned to Philadelphia gathered up his young family and returned to their new wilderness home.

Mrs. Dungan brought to the frontier her prized medical books, a gift to her from her friend the famed Benjamin Rush.

During the Revolutionary War, Levi Dungan signed on to help the cause of independence. He took his family to present day Canonsburg, Pa., where they would be safe while he served his country.

Mrs. Dungan hid her medical books in the crevasses of the Frankfort Mineral Springs in order to protect them from Indian pillaging.

One year later upon their return, Mrs. Dungan was brokenhearted to find her books ruined by the weather and dampness.

Other owners. After the Dungans, the springs had many other owners.

Isaac Stevens purchased it and 400 acres in 1788 for a mere $10.

The next owner was Edward McGinnis. McGinnis, a former keelboatsman purchased 12 acres and the springs in 1827 for $300.

McGinnis realized the benefits of the springs when he noticed they were healing to his ailments.

At that time there were seven different springs flowing over the grotto. These springs were pure and contained 15 different minerals thought to have medicinal qualities.

One of the springs contained magnesia. This was bottled and sold as a laxative.

Construction. In the early 1800s, in order to capitalize on his investment, McGinnis started construction of the Frankfort House Hotel and Resort.

McGinnis built this three-story hotel with double-decker porches. Guests had to enter their rooms from these porches, as there were no interior hallways.

The first floor consisted of a dining hall, parlor and ballroom. The addition to the back of the hotel contained the kitchen and pantries.

There was also an icehouse and a dance ballroom constructed along with a stable and a three-story guest cottage.

Success. The success of the Frankfort House Hotel and Resort was nearly immediate.

McGinnis had as many as 200 guests at one time staying at his inn.

The impact on the surrounding area was that of prosperity. The small village of Frankfort Springs sprung up and a regular stagecoach line serviced the mineral springs resort.

McGinnis in his later years turned the land containing the springs over to two of his daughters.

James Bigger. In 1884 at the height of the Victorian era, James Moore Bigger bought the mineral springs.

Bigger paid $5,500 for the resort and 12 acres. Time having taken a toll on the buildings, Bigger began renovations of the still-popular resort.

Heyday. The Victorian era was the heyday of the resort.

In addition to the hotel, there were two dirt tennis courts and also a dance hall. There was also a resident physician on staff, Franklin Kerr.

The springs resort also had farmers on staff who raised much of the food needed. What they didn’t raise they bought locally.

In 1912 with the glory days of the resort behind them, the springs became a variety of things.

The once glorious hotel was now mainly used for travelers and long-term renters.

In the 1920s, construction workers who were improving the Pennsylvania State Highway, Route 18, stayed there.

Devastation. Sometime between 1927-1928, the hotel experienced a devastating fire. The fire was unofficially blamed on the carelessness of one of its resident’s wood stoves.

The hotel was a total loss but fortunately no one was injured.

In the 1930s and 1940s the dance hall that remained was used for jazz bands and as a social hall. Today this building is also gone.

In the 1960s Raccoon Creek State Park purchased the mineral springs area.

All is gone? Patrick Adams, environmental educator for the park, recalls that in 1972 the last remaining building from the springs, the guest cottage, was reduced to a one-story building that housed a museum.

Unfortunately the museum was broken into and all the artifacts were lost.

Today you can still visit the spring’s U-shaped grotto and enjoy walking the trails surrounding the site of the former hotel and resort area.

Contact. During the summer months, Patrick Adams and Brady Wassom give guided tours to groups by appointment at 724-899-3611.

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