Hot Lake Hotel

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Hot Lake Resort
Hot Lake Hotel 1920s.jpg
Hot Lake Hotel and Sanitarium, circa 1920s; the wooden gabled structure on the right side would later burn down in a 1934 fire.
Hot Lake Hotel is located in Oregon
Hot Lake Hotel
Nearest city La Grande, Oregon
Coordinates 45°14′36″N 117°57′24″W / 45.24333°N 117.95667°W / 45.24333; -117.95667Coordinates: 45°14′36″N 117°57′24″W / 45.24333°N 117.95667°W / 45.24333; -117.95667
Built 1864 (original building)
1906 (final structure)
Architect John V. Bennes[2][3][4]
Architectural style Colonial Revival
Shingle Style
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 79002148[1]
Added to NRHP March 15, 1979

Hot Lake Hotel is a hotel originally built in 1864 in Hot Lake, Union County, Oregon, United States.[5][6] The hotel became a popular vacation and resting spot due to its relaxing thermal waters. It was purchased by Dr. W. T. Phy in 1917 who developed state-of-the-art medical facilities including a hospital and surgery room with the most modern X-ray and radiation treatments of the time. It functioned dually as a resort and hospital until 1934, when a fire destroyed the majority of the original building, which contained nearly 300 rooms.[6]

From then on, the remaining brick structure served as a nursing home, asylum, and restaurant before being abandoned and falling into disrepair in 1991. Prior owners included future governor Walter M. Pierce and former state senator Parish L. Willis who were major shareholders of the Hot Lake Sanatorium Company in the 1910s.[7] In 2007, the property was re-purchased and restored, and as of 2010, functions as a bed and breakfast, museum, and spa.


The hot springs themselves rest at the foot of a large bluff, and were often used by Native Americans before settlement and colonization occurred in the area; the lake was named "Ea-Kesh-Pa" by the Nez Perce.[6]

Construction and heyday (1864-1931)[edit]

In 1864, Fitzgerald Newhard built the first wooden structure of the building, which faced toward the bluff rather than outward toward the lake. The structure was similar to the contents of a modern-day shopping mall, containing a post office, blacksmith, dance hall, barber shop, bath house, and several other businesses.

By 1884, the Union Pacific Railroad commenced its construction, running near Hot Lake. In 1903, the original wooden structure was demolished, and construction began on a new hotel and various bath houses. Dr. Phy became involved with the project in 1904, and the brick structure of the building began to be built two years later. Well-renowned architect John V. Bennes of nearby Baker City has been attributed to the architectural design of the building, reminiscent of the Colonial era;[2] Bennes also designed countless buildings on the Oregon State University campus, as well as several buildings in Portland, Oregon. By 1908, the brick building was complete, housing just over 100 guest rooms. Soon after, the Central Railroad of Oregon built a 4-mile (6.4 km) line from Richmond directly to the hotel in 1912.[8]

In 1917, Dr. Phy purchased the hotel and resort, renaming it "Hot Lake Sanitorium", housing guest rooms, medical wards, offices, and a kitchen/dance hall. The building was from then on known not only as a resort for the rich, but also as a hospital for the ill; the geothermal mineral waters from the springs were used and experimented with to help treat patients and guests, making the resort a pioneering figure in western experimental medicine.[6][9]

By 1924, the hotel was a major tourist attraction; countless new visitors arrived daily from all over the world. The Mayo brothers, founders of the Mayo Clinic, were frequent visitors to the hotel, as well as Wild Bill Hickok.[9] Dr. Phy, the central manager and owner of the property, died in 1931 of pneumonia.

Fire and later years (1934-1991)[edit]

Sanitarium in ca1940

On May 7, 1934, a fire destroyed the majority of the building's right side,[10] completely demolishing the wooden structures of the hotel; the 65,000-square-foot (6,000 m2) brick portion of the building, however, survived. The building had contained nearly 300 rooms and dining areas for over 1,000 guests prior to the fire. From then on, business at the hotel declined, and eventually the hospital area on the third floor was the only functioning business.

A flight school and nurse's training center was established at the hotel during World War II, and U.S. Route 30 was later built, with Oregon Route 203 branching off of it and running right by the front of the hotel grounds. The attraction of the complex declined in later years, and its use as a resort came to a halt in 1953 when it was converted solely to a nursing home, and later an asylum.[11] By 1975, ownership of the building had changed, and a short-lived restaurant and night club was opened, which only ran for two years.

In the mid-1980s, Dr. Lyle Griffith purchased the property and used one corner of the hotel as a bath house; by 1991, the bath house closed down, and the hotel was abandoned, falling prey to local vandals and the elements.

Hot Lake Hotel, renovated, 2009.

The building sat abandoned and decrepit for over fifteen years, and various stories circulated concerning reported hauntings in the hotel— it has been rumored to be haunted by old vacationers, a gardener who committed suicide, and insane people from the building's nursing home/asylum days. When the hotel was originally constructed it acquired a piano formerly owned by Robert E. Lee's wife, which was said to play all by itself up on the third floor.[12] Other reports of screaming and crying were reported by owner Donna Pattee and caretaker Richard Owens coming from the hospital's surgery room, as well as rocking chairs moving at their own accord; Pattee and her husband owned the property in the 1970s when it was a restaurant; both they and Owens lived on the second floor of the building at the time.[12]

The hotel was featured on ABC's The Scariest Places on Earth in 2001.

Restoration (2003-present)[edit]

In 2003, the building, which was literally falling apart, was purchased from Charles and Louise Rhea by David Manuel.[13] Restoration began soon after; the building was greatly dilapidated, with all 368 windows broken and/or missing, and a sparsely-remaining roof. After two years of construction, it was opened to the public for tours in 2005, while individual guest rooms were still being sponsored and renovated. In 2008, the west wing of the building collapsed.[14] As of 2010, the building now functions as a bed and breakfast, with dozens of restored rooms, a spa, restaurant, and a museum. The hotel's original pool was covered with landscape, but new mineral pools are under construction.[13]

The hotel is part of the Hot Lake Resort, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.[1][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  2. ^ a b Landis, Larry. "John V. Bennes (1867-1943)". Oregon Encyclopedia Project: Portland State University. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  3. ^ "Oregon Historic Sites Database". Retrieved 18 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Landis, Lawrence (5 February 2008). "John Bennes and OSU's Architectural Legacy, 1907-1941". Oregon State University: Valley Library. Retrieved 18 May 2010. 
  5. ^ Barklow, Irene (1987). From Trails to Rails: The Post Offices, Stage Stops and Wagon Roads of Union County. Enterprise, Oregon: Enchantments Publishing of Oregon. pp. 158–161. ISBN 0-9618185-0-6. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Hot Lake Springs: Timeline". Retrieved 29 December 2009. 
  7. ^ Clarke Woodward Drug Co. v. Hot Lake Sanatorium Co., 88 Ore. 284, 169 P. 796 (1918). West Publishing Company.
  8. ^ Deumling, Dietrich (May 1972). The roles of the railroad in the development of the Grande Ronde Valley (masters thesis). Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona University. p. 72. OCLC 4383986. 
  9. ^ a b Frazier, Joseph B. (9 March 2007). "Hot Lake Springs: A reminder of gentler times". USA Today. Retrieved 18 May 2010. 
  10. ^ Mason, Dick (2 August 2008). "The Hot Lake Story". La Grande Observer. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Hicks, James. "Strange Destinations". Strange USA. Retrieved 18 May 2010. 
  12. ^ a b Smitten, Susan (2001). Ghost Stories of Oregon. Lone Pine Publishing, Inc. pp. 53–56. ISBN 1-894877-13-6. 
  13. ^ a b "Hot Lake Springs, Manuel Museum and Foundry". Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  14. ^ "Hot Lake Springs, Manuel Museum and Foundry: Hot Lake Facts". Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  15. ^ Oregon National Register List

External links[edit]