The first tip-off to what was ahead was the closed wrought-iron gates, where visitors announce themselves to gain entry to the 1,500 acre estate.
The second was the young greeter, waiting for us outside with a jaunty wave as we completed the mile-long approach to the Big House.
This wasn’t going to be an ordinary resort experience.
Not that we thought it would be. After all, this place — the Lodge at Glendorn — is like no other. Developed as a summer retreat in the 1920s by Pennsylvania oil baron C.G. Dorn for his growing family, accommodations today consist of original “cabins” located on beautiful sites throughout the acreage, all loosely surrounding the Big House, or main lodge. The cabins (12 total) were built for Dorn’s adult children as their family expanded through the generations.
Eventually the Dorn family moved to pursue oil interests in Texas, and the family scattered around the country. No longer used regularly as a family camp, the property was sold in 2009 and now functions as a resort.
We stayed in the Miller cabin, built in 1927 as the first building on the property. Many of the features are original, including the chestnut wood-paneled walls, two stone fireplaces and wrought-iron stovetop. To get to our cabin, we walked a meandering wooded path and crossed a charming little bridge. Our weekend soundtrack was the soothing sound of water tickling the river rocks of Fuller Brook, which winded next to our cabin.
It’s hard to believe this is all just 90 miles from Buffalo, slightly beyond Bradford, Pa. It is at once a paean to a romantic bygone era as well as a slice of luxurious modern relaxation for a certain type of traveler.
“It’s like taking a step back in time,” said spa director Jennifer Williams. “Not everyone gets that.”
So who are the people who “get” the Glendorn? First, it’s those who can afford it; rooms and cabins range from approximately $500-1,000+ per night, depending on the season. Included in this is access to the property’s many amenities, including a pool original to the property (it was the first heated inground pool built in the state of Pennsylvania); miles of scenic wooded hiking trails and lakes; tennis courts, bicycles at the ready; and a fully outfitted Orvis fly shop, where you can grab a rod, some flies, boots and waders, and head off to any of the property’s three trout-stocked lakes or their tributaries. There is also a trap house where you can choose your shotgun and shoot clays with the guidance of a wonderful instructor (more on that later). Clearly, people who love the outdoors and sporting love the Glendorn.
But it’s the more subtle touches that define the Glendorn. It’s service that is quietly outstanding, and small touches (fluffy Egyptian towels, a cookie jar in your cabin that magically keeps refilling itself) that make you feel pampered. Or the spa, where the berries you’ve just foraged from a forest hike will be transformed into a fresh, organic facial. Most of all, though, it is the Glendorn’s overall aesthetic — to call it tasteful might be an understatement. Artwork – much of it original to the property, featuring landscapes and bird dogs and other compositions reflective of the old summer camp – was lovingly sought out and purchased at auction by Glendorn’s new owner, Cliff Forrest, who returned it all to its rightful place (much of it had been sold over the years). In fact, it is Forrest who saved the Glendorn from being subdivided into tracts that would be sold for their timber. When the property went to auction in 2009, he purchased all four tracts with the goal of maintaining the 1,500 acres as they’ve always been. He’s also invested millions in the property’s infrastructure, and converted the former butler’s cabin to an on-site spa.
The multiple stories we heard about Forrest, a Pittsburgh-based coal mine owner, verged on the mythical. At one time he helped his 10-year old son purchase former Chicago Bear William “Refrigerator” Perry’s Superbowl ring for $8,500 at a sports memorabilia shop, because his son thought Perry, who’d fallen on hard times, should have it back. Glendorn employees speak of him with great reverence, which adds to this place’s steadfast, bygone appeal.
A typical day at the Glendorn begins with breakfast on the sunny enclosed porch in the Big House. Homemade muffins are coupled with creamy house-made butter; order Dorn family buttermilk pancakes or Eggs Benedict or a bagel with lox, served on delicate fine china original to the estate. In fact, appointments that whisper Dorn history are everywhere you look, from the pewter squirrel salt-and-pepper shakers to the engraved silver knives.
After breakfast, choose your activity. We began our first day with a 4.5-mile hike through the wooded hillside that allowed us glimpses of architectural follies, like a deliciously creepy giant brick fireplace in the middle of the woods, used today as a stop to warm up on winter hikes. It placed us at Bondieu Lake near the end, where we rested on a blanket, soaked up the early summer sun and searched for trout in the water.
After lunch – which we enjoyed on the sun-dappled terrace of the Big House, nibbling on pheasant pot pie and sipping house-made sun tea – it was time to shoot skeet. Our colorful and engaging instructor, four-time Pennsylvania skeet shoot champion George Johnson, immediately put me at ease, despite the fact that I was picking up a gun for the first time. His folksy descriptions of how to aim and shoot — “You want to be this far in front of it — the length of the rolling pin she beats you with,” George explained to my companion, Chad — were just the thing to help us land almost half our shots, me with a Caeser Guerini 410 and Chad with a 12-gauge Beretta.
Johnson then took us on a tour of the property, where we saw highlights including hundreds of acres recently cleared for upland bird hunting (pheasants are housed and ready on-site). We rode around in Johnson’s GMC pick-up, accompanied by his favorite bird dog, Patch, an English Setter who promptly got very comfortable on my lap (and who I promptly fell in love with0). Turns out Johnson also acquires, breeds and breaks the Glendorn’s dogs for hunting, so it made sense that this was the sweetest dog I’d ever met.
With dinner reservations for 7 p.m., we showered and arrived at the Big House a bit early to enjoy a glass of good bourbon and canapés in the billiards room. Dinner – prepared by chef Katelyn Steffan – was a feast for the senses. The meal consisted of four courses (five, if you included the amuse-bouche). Mine: a first course of foie gras, followed by scallops with sunchoke, orange and bacon; an entrée of venison with Maiitake mushrooms, black garlic and Haricots Vert; and a berry tart with blueberry ice cream that I am still thinking about. Chad chose different courses, including gazpacho, filet mignon and a flourless chocolate cake, and we tasted each other’s dishes. The food was presented exquisitely, and each course built anticipation for the next.
After dinner was a bonfire, s’mores and complimentary craft beer at Skipper Lake, a short walk from the Big House, which happens each Saturday night. We had every intention of going, until the day’s long hike, skeet shooting, bourbon and decadent meal caught up with me and announced “bedtime.” The Glendorn had other plans for me…
Fly fishing on-site
After a good night’s sleep fed by cool, fresh mountain air, and following another hearty breakfast, our guide took us fly fishing. At Glendorn you can either fly fish on your own or employ an on-site guide to help with the fundamentals, from choosing flies (and tying them on) to helping you perfect your cast. We woke up to a temperature of 48 degrees and pouring rain, but that did not deter us. At first, anyway. After about an hour of patient guidance and casting lessons from Charles Rini, our youthful but knowledgeable Orvis-certified guide, I opted to observe from the comfort of the warm jeep as the men finished up. It culminated in one big fabulous rainbow trout on the end of Chad’s fly rod – the perfect way to end our stay at this magical resort, a secret in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.
Getting to the Glendorn
From Buffalo, take the 219 to Bradford, Pa. — it’s about an hour and half drive.
Most equipment and activities — including canoeing/kayaking, paddle boarding, fly fishing, biking and more - are included in your room rate. (Guided tours cost extra.) A full breakfast, plus happy hour with s’mores by campfire (Saturday night) is also included. Lunch is priced a la carte, and the four-course prix fixe dinner is $105 per person (not including tax and tip).
Look for occasional weekday specials that offer a second night at 50 percent off, and 3rd-night-free weekend deals in the off-season.
Story topics: Travel