Located on French Creek, Cambridge Springs is a railroad town today, bisected by the tracks that run east to west, which helped it grow at the turn of the twentieth century. The town served as an agricultural marketplace for local farmers shipping their goods along the creek and via the Waterford and Susquehanna Turnpike. The oil excitement around Titusville in 1860 induced individuals to drill for oil on their own properties. In Dr. John Gray's case, what spewed from the ground was not oil, but “charged,” or mineral, water. Years later, after a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, he realized there was commercial potential for the “curative” waters, and built a frame hotel along French Creek in 1885, Riverside Inn ( CR21), to shelter those who came by train to “take the waters.”
At the time, the town was called Cambridgeboro, and was serviced by two railroads. Its accessibility and proximity to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo contributed to its growth as a mineral spring. By the 1890s, eight trains stopped daily in Cambridge Springs, and by 1905, forty hotels and rooming houses operated in the town. Between 1895 and 1897, W. D. Rider of Franklin in Venango County, one of the successful owners of the Riverside Inn, built an elaborate 500-room hotel at the top of a hill southeast of town, the Rider Hotel, which had a 1,000-foot promenade around it and all the amenities of a luxury resort. A devastating tornado in 1908 did substantial damage to the town as did several hotel fires. Additionally, the custom of taking the waters died just as the automobile made other, more remote sites available to vacationers. In 1912, the Polish National Alliance, a fraternal insurance benefit association, took over the Rider Hotel as the Alliance Technical Institute, but the building burned to the ground in 1931. The institute built four brick Colonial Revival buildings between 1924 and 1942 for the growing student body. It became a junior college in 1948, and a four-year college in 1952. The need for separate ethnic educational institutions lessened over the years, and Alliance College closed in 1987. In 1991, the property was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a women's medium security prison. Alliance Technical Institute's former Washington Hall remains outside the prison boundaries and provides office space.
Remnants of the town's glory days remain around the village: the red brick Bartlett House (1897; 257 S. Main Street), once a hotel, now serves as housing for senior citizens, and the large frame, Italianate Bethany Guest House (1876; 325 S. Main Street) is a bed-and-breakfast located among several interesting frame and brick houses and churches at the south end of Main Street. An unusual cement block, flat-iron-shaped city hall stands at Cummings and Federal streets, built after the 1908 tornado.
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