Hot Lake Springs
As you turn off Highway 203 onto a gravel road leading to the Hot Lake Springs RV Park you notice a large building to your left that has a huge neon sign on top that states “Hot Lake Springs”. Our hosts at the RV park made certain that we were aware that the Bed & Breakfest, Spa, Foundry and Museum was having a Grand Opening the very weekend we were visiting the La Grande area. After our Saturday morning trip to Pendleton we returned, had lunch and went over the Grand Opening.
There is a very hot spring (200 degree water) right next to the complex. In the early morning hours steam can be seen rising off the water surface. Apparently a long time ago, before the west was settle, Native Americans would visit the site for its’ soothing, restorative powers. It somehow was consider neutral ground among the many Indian tribes that visited. In 1812 if was first discovered by white men during William Price Hunt’s expedition and the springs became a regular stop on the Oregon Trail.
In the 1850’s homesteaders, Fitzgerald and Newhard settled the site and Newhard built the first building. Called “Town Under One Roof” and the building housed the post office, blacksmith shop, dance hall, barber shop, drug store, garden shop and bath houses. It became a viable trading post in the wilderness.
Along comes the transcontinental railway in 1884 and the history of this site was changed forever. Hot Springs became not only a layover point for travelers but a destination resort and health spa.
Newhard’s original building was torn down in 1903 by the new leases of the property, Dr. Nithorn and ‘Bear’ Cook. They erected a modern hotel and building at the site finished in 1908 with the completion of the brick portion of the building and boasting 105 rooms.
A Dr. Phy purchased the property in 1917 and established it as a resort complete with a modern hospital. It gained a reputation as the “Mayo Clinic of the West”. Thousands of visitors came to be treated by the state of the art medical facility and sanatorium. Hot Springs became a very popular destination.
Sudden illness struck Dr. Phy down and he passed away. His passing combined with the Great Depression of the 1930’s led to a slow decline of this once sought after resort. A fire in 1934 destroyed the wooden structures of the resort. After that the facility was used for World War II pilots training, nurse training, nursing home, restaurant and country western nightclub.
Over the next 70 years the property slowly decayed and became a blight on the landscape. Birds and animals took over the site. The roof began to leak and the interior was a shambles. Bypassed in 1951 by Highway 30, the resort was auctioned off by the Sheriff in 1996. The roof began to leak and the interior was a shambles. Windows and doors were missing. Fixtures, mouldings and anything else of value were taken by vandals. Demolition appear to be the only thing left for the old resort.
Five different owners had plans to restore the resort and all failed to produce anything but a dream. It would have been a huge task to say the least. A 100,000 square foot three story building with no roof, holes in the floors, no working water or electrical systems. It was a complete wreck and everyone figured anyone who purchased it was likely nuts. The task would be immense and require someone with the ability to see the potential instead of the decaying remains.
Enter the Manuel Family, from Joesph, Oregon. These folks saw the potential in the derelict ruins and set about with a plan to restore the resort both as a bed and breakfast and a museum. They dreamed and looked into the future to what they thought it could be.
David Manuel is a sculpturer who is fairly well known for his historically accurate depictions of the old west in both paintings and bronze. He and his wife Lee, are strong believers in the historical benefit of Hot Lake Springs as well as the use as a full resort. So they moved their family and foundry to the site and began the long process of bring back the old resort with the help of a lot of the La Grande community as well as volunteers.
While not complete the resort is now open and accepting visitors. We cruised the grounds and were amazed at some of the before and after pictures. They have had to install electrical, plumbing and fire protection, much of it on the outside of the interior lath and plaster walls. Many walls are still in need of repair.
You enter the new lobby with a small electrical fire burning and a check in desk. The lower floor comprises an Italian restaurant, gift shop, theater, a spa, as well as other hotel facilities. On the second floor is where David Manuel has his library and there are some guest rooms. On the third floor are more guest rooms and rooms that they have left as they were when the third floor was a hospital. There is an exercise room with really old exercise equipment that you lay on and the equipment does all the work. One room has been left as it was when the Manuel’s purchased the place. I cannot see how they saw what they saw after seeing all the pictures and the undeveloped room.
There are 22 rooms and 15 private baths. Some share bathrooms and others have a bathroom down the hall. All of the rooms are decorated in a different motif. Some have been redone with the original furnishings so visitors can enjoy a piece of history. The restoration is still in progress and will no doubt continue for several years.
It is a wonderful thing when someone takes on a project such as this and takes the time to learn the history of the place and then take the time to impart it to the people who come to visit. I am sure the Native Americans and settlers that traded at this spot in the early days could have never envisioned the history that would follow.
I’ll post some of the pictures I took after we get home.