July 1989

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The Grove Springs Hotel


Bill Treichler

In the era that began shortly after the Civil War and lasted through the first decade of this century, when vacationing at resort hotels was fashionable, people came from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington to stay at the Grove Springs Hotel on Lake Keuka. The advertising brochures distributed by the hotel listed travel connections not only from the large eastern cities but from Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Louisville, Nashville, and Memphis. The train schedules showed times of departure from these cities and arrival at Grove Springs.

A family looking for relief from sweltering summer city heat could leave New York or Philadelphia, or even Washington and Baltimore in the morning and that very evening stroll the verandahs of the Grove Springs before retiring to sleep in cool comfort that night. Southern readers of the hotel's advertising folder might have been attracted by the statement of "absolute freedom from mosquitos and malaria" at Lake Keuka and its vicinity.

Just getting to Grove Springs was a pleasant excursion. Those who came from the east could ride one of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western trains or the New York Lake Erie and Western's Erie Line to Bath. Those who came from Philadelphia and south could come on either the Lehigh Valley or the Pennsylvania Railroad. People leaving these cities in the evening would arrive at Bath in the morning where they would transfer to the tiny cars of the Bath Hammondsport Railroad. The "yard wide" railway ran through Pleasant Valley to the station at Hammondsport which was only a few steps from the dock where the lake steamers waited to take guests to the Grove Springs Hotel. A half hour's ride brought the vacationers to the hotel's large dock six miles up the east side of the lake. Actually from the moment hotel bound travellers boarded a car in Bath they were guests of the Grove Springs. The railroad, the boats that met excursioners and carried them to the hotel, and the resort hotel itself were all owned by the Lake Keuka Navigation Company. This was true during the nineties at the time of the greatest popularity of the Grove Springs.

The name of the hotel came from the mineral water springs that sprang from the rocks along the creek coming down from higher ground. The water had brought down soil that built a promontory into the lake. A grove of larger trees grew in the fertile sediment of the stream's delta. Wild animals had come there to lick at the salty encrustations on the rocks around the springs, and the Indians had frequented the spot as a hunting ground.

The stream that came down the little gorge came to be called Grove Springs Creek. Along it was a roadway that came down from the road above that ran between Wayne and Hammondsport. Getting to Grove Springs was much easier by water. Lake boats connected it to all the points on the lake and principally to Hammondsport and Penn Yan.

Guests who came from southern and western cities travelled to Buffalo by train and from there either to Bath or Penn Yan. A carriage or an omnibus transferred travellers in Penn Yan from the railway station to the boat docks. The lake trip took ninety minutes to go the sixteen miles to the hotel from Penn Yan. The boat ride must have been relaxing after a long rail journey, and a pleasant introduction to a week or two at the Grove Springs. Located near the center of the lake, the hotel was a hub for excursions on the lake, visits to vineyards, and hikes to see the beautiful vistas from the bluff. The hotel had two steamboats, the George Darling and the Rob Roy that took guests on lake excursions.

At one time the fare on the regular boats was only 10 from Penn Yan to Hammondsport or anywhere on the lake. Competition had forced the fares down to this level. The low fares had greatly increased the boat travel, the enjoyment of the lake by vacationers, and hence the popularity of the resorts on Lake Keuka.

Lake Keuka was also a celebrated fishing place that attracted many sport and amateur fishermen. Seth Green, who was then a U. S. Fish Commissioner, wrote a testimonial that was printed in the hotel's advertising, saying, "I think Lake Keuka (is) unsurpassed by any waters in America as a Fishing Resort." He went on to relate that he took with hook and lines on August 28, 19 Salmon Trout, weighing 113 pounds and on October 1, 1881, 33 black bass weighing 106 pounds.

The lake was seldom too rough to go out in one of the rowboats provided by the hotel either for fishing or rowing. And rarely was the lake too calm during the day for sailing. If a guest didn't care to be out on the lake, the hotel had other attractions. There were tennis and croquet courts, 500 feet of verandahs where guests might lounge on the porch chairs and watch the fashionable people promenade. There was even a billiard hall.

One of the features of the hotel was the "Gratuitous use of the Sulphur Waters" in the hot and cold medicinal baths. The original builders had intended to develop the mineral water springs for drinking and bathing but never did so fully. In 1881 the hotel had a large separate bath house. There were entertainments for many different tastes and for all the members of a family.

The advertisements said that the hotel was supplied with "gas, bath-room, electric bells, and all those improvements which are considered essential in a modern and first-class summer hotel. The table is kept supplied with fresh vegetables from the well-kept kitchen garden connected with the house, and the hotel dairy yields an abundance of good milk, cream and butter. Pure water is distributed through the house and grounds.

The author thanks Donald A. Rowland and Richard Sherer for providing the information for this article.
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