It’s just a building – or is it?

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Cambridge Springs was born out of the notion that the water from the springs in the area contained healing properties. The folks there now, and those with a lot of fond memories, could use a glass of that water right now.

Last night, the nearly 140-year-old Riverside Inn burned to the ground. (Video above was taken and edited by Jesse Cornwell of Cambridge Springs, who gave me permission to share in this blog.)

I’m not a hugely nostalgic  person when it comes to buildings and things. This was a unique structure and it contained a great deal of history. I was thinking about that history as I drove home from work tonight.

Folks back in the 1800s cut down the trees and honed the logs into boards that would be used to build this pretty large structure. Those boards they touched still existed, still performed their function right up until the wee hours of Wednesday morning. No power tools, no harness or safety vests, but a lot of sweat.

Then, there was the folks who ran the inn over the years. At first, catering to mostly the wealthy who would come to the spot in hopes the spring waters were as potent as advertised in healing whatever ailed them. Then, over the years, it become a little more modest, hosting perhaps not just the wealthy, but the those looking to get away to the quiet of the countryside.

In modern times, the Inn has struggled a bit but found ways to keep its doors open. Dinner theater troupes called it their second home. Proms were danced and folks got hitched. It became a throwback novelty hotel and conference center.

It was rich in history and stories. I wondered about the firsts that the walls saw. First kisses on the dance floor, first children conceived on wedding nights, first time acting on stage, first drinks.

Life isn’t the walls themselves, but what those walls, what the place itself became to people whose patronage is etched in some of the greatest memories they have.

The picture I lead with was taken on Jason and Tina’s wedding day out front in the garden. They were married there, had their reception there and spent their first night as husband and wife there. Today, they were sad to learn the place they have important memories in no longer exists.

This made me think of not just the loss of history but the lose of future. Jason and Tina, as well as thousands of others, won’t be able to return and stand on the same planks and remember how much fun they had and how that tactile experience always brings back unexpected memories you might not have looking at old photos or just chatting with friends.

And no longer will the next generations be able to follow those nostalgic footsteps of their parents and grandparents and make their own fresh memories that they can then share and find another common bond.

11751926_10206241426408337_7064887492945083920_nFor me personally, this building was a place where I made many photographs over the last 20 years. I struggled to remember them at first today. I remembered Tina and Jason’s wedding but what else. I then remembered the proms and music festivals. I remembered a surprise awards dinner and a little old lady who waved her finger and threatened me if I took one more picture of her, but she was the one who was being awarded. I remembered reenactors and a guy who played the part of Ben Franklin. I remembered face painting clowns and a group of people showing off their strange and unusual instruments. I wish all of these photos were readily available to me tonight so I could share them. I know I photographed some prom smooches and crazy dancers 12-15 years ago. And Mr. Franklin holding court less than 10 years ago.

And I remembered sitting on the side porch with one of the most important people in my life and chatting for about 45 minutes while I was in between assignments just a couple years ago as he visited from Vermont. I might have thought about this time the most today. That was a blessing the Riverside Inn’s porch gave to me.

I remembered that this place, like a church or community center, was people – or it was a place for people. And even though it is just a building and thankfully no one died or was seriously hurt, it is a sad day that one more piece of a place once revered is now gone.

I wonder if there are any of those healing spring waters left?

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Tina and Jason Columbus’s wedding on June 2, 2012.

About the Author

Richard Sayer
Staff photographer at the Derrick and News-Herarld newspapers in North Western Pennsylvania.