Click Here to Return to Index

Click Here to Return to Milestones


Frankfort Springs

Milestones Vol 24. No.3

Located on the edge of land first settled by Levi Dungan is the village of Frankfort Springs where once the fashionable people of western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio stopped on their way to a mineral springs health spa.

The area had always been highly regarded by man, even before Dungan and other settlers arrived, for its spring. A path used by Indians wound by the springs and historians have surmised tired and thirsty hunters and warriors stopped there.

When Dungan established the first settlement by white men in Beaver County he set his cabin near a spring to be assured of a fresh water supply. Although he owned the land that held the spring when he patented his 1,000-acre tract, the log house was about a mile from the mineral springs and historians agree it wasn't the one Dungan used.

In 1784, a 400-acre tract containing the springs was sold to Isaac Stephens for about $10 and shortly afterwards 12 acres with the springs were bought by Edward McGinnis, a former keelboatman who found the waters "healed" his "ailment." This is the first mention of the medicinal qualities of the water and led to its being exploited as a spa.

To capitalize upon his investment, McGinnis started construction of "Frankfort House" in the late 1790s. The hotel, three stories high and modeled after a steamboat with balconies and no interior hallways, was the first of many structures to be built at the soon to be famous health spa. The first floor served as a combination dining hall, parlor and ballroom and the other floors had guest rooms.

Popularity of the springs wasn't long in coming. Folks from Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Steubenville and Washington, PA came by a regular stage line to the "delightful retreat from the cares and drudgeries of" the city, according to one early journal. A whole resort, complete with tennis courts, croquet greens, playing field and a dance pavilion sprang up around the springs. Parties, dances and other social functions were held regularly during the summer months.

Invalids as well as vacationers came to the spa for they thought the water would help cure them. Scientists who have tested the water said it had no healing properties other than its psychological impact. As far as had been determined guests only drank the water, though they may have bathed in it as they did at other spas.

The springs themselves, according to Sherman Day's Historical Collections of Pennsylvania, 1843, were situated in a "cool, romantic glen, thickly studded with trees." The main spring was located in a shale and sandstone grotto reached by a short path leading from the hotel and produced 500 to 600 gallons of water an hour.

An analysis of the water in 1899 showed it contained 15 different minerals, including large amounts of sulfur, iron, magnesium, sodium and potassium. Source of the water is an underground lake or artesian well from which the water is forced upwards through several layers of rock, picking up minerals along the way.

Even today, despite the word of scientists, local residents go to the spring with plastic jugs to fill with water and carry home.

The village of Frankfort Springs grew up around the springs. It was first called Frankfort by the settlers after a village of the same name near Philadelphia, but when the springs, called Frankfort Springs, became famous the village's name was changed so it matched that of the springs.

The bustling little town supplied mainly support services and facilities for the springs. Liveries, grocery stores, blacksmiths and barbershops opened up, serving mainly the tourist trade.

The springs' peak was for a 50-year period between 1810 and 1860 at which time fashion's tastes changed and it lost its popularity. From 1860 until 1912 there were about 30 different owners of the springs, some for just a few months, who tried to revive the spot's former success, but failed.

In 1912 the area closed as a health spa, though owners still bottled the mineral water for sale elsewhere. The final blow came in 1932 when the hotel burned from a fire of unknown origin. The other buildings had been destroyed earlier and today only the bottom floor of a guest cottage is left. It has been restored and the foundation of other buildings have been preserved by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The area is now owned by Raccoon State Park.

For a while the mineral water was sold for car batteries, filtered several times to remove the "impurities," an ironic fate for the waters whose minerals first made it famous.

As the resort declined so did the town, which had been incorporated as a borough in 1844. At the turn of the century the population of Frankfort Springs had fallen to less than 100 persons. Today the tiny borough at the intersection of Routes 168 and 18 has a population of about 144.

From Beaver County Times 175th Anniversary Edition