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Date Posted: 13:34:22 09/08/04 Wed
Subject: Hot Lake's history
Some years back there was a care taker at Hot Lake and I had the pleasure of exploring the interior of the building after signing a release of liability form. I had also contacted the real estate company that was selling the place. They gave me a twelve page history. Very interesting reading...It was written by Jan Minarik-Holt. Her title is...The Rise & Fall of Hot Lake. In its glory days, Eatern Oregon's Hot Lake was refered to as the Mayo Clinic of the West. For centuries, man has "taken the waters" at Hot Lake, a picturesque mineral pool bubbling out of the earth's core to form a steaming lake eight miles south of LaGrande in the Grand Rhonde Valley of Northeastern Oregon. The earliest man came to winter. The Yakima, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and some lesser tribes made this a neutral area where wounds of the heart healed while the warm mineral waters soothed and healed wounds of the body. Their horses grazed on grass kept green by the constant temperature of the earth, regardless of the depth of the snow pack or the severity of the winter. In 1812, the first white man stumbled across the steaming sulphuric waters. Robert Stewart, a member of the Wilson Hunt Price expedition, described the discovery in his journal and wrote of thousands of shed elk antlers covering the ground for a half mile in every direction. The long growing season made the fertile area a favorite for wildlife as well as for man, as attested to in the Washington Irving's 1836 Astoria: "emerging from the chain of Blue Mountains, they descended upon a vast plain...they passed close to the skirts of the hills, a great pool of water 300 yards in circumference, fed by a sulphur spring boiling up in one corner...The vapor from this pool was extremely noisome, and tainted the air for a considerable distance. The place was much frequented by elk, which were found in considerable numbers in the adjacent mountain, and their horns, shed in the springtime, were slewed in every direction around the pond." The emigrants struggling west over the Oregon Trail sought out the mecca as a resting area after descending the Ladd Canyon, one of the most rigorous challenges on the long trip. The lttle spur road leading to the Oregon Trail is still visible along the base of the canyon all south of the present day structures. In 1864, an enterprising Californian, Sam Newhart, took claim to the area and developed it into the "Town Under One Roof," the worlds first covered shopping mall. The blacksmith shop still stands; the post office kept its mail until the 1930's. There was also a dance hall, barber shop, candy store, drug store, garden shop and of course, the baths. Spas were the rage worldwide during the the 1800's and early 1900's. Viewing Hot Lake as an exciting and profitable destination, the Union Pacific Railroad purchased the resort about the turn of the century. The railroad did not lay its track to run in a straight line east across the valley floor toward what would become its most famous resort at Sun Valley, Idaho. Rather the steel rails curve across the lush Grande Rhonde Valley and sweep in front of Hot Lake to the little depot where the genteel passengers disembarked and later bought return tickets to their homes all over the country. Under the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company flag, the railroad built a spacious three-story brick building over a several-year period, costing 50,000 sound dollars. The third floor was designed as a sanitarium and nursing school. Today, this mammoth brick anex housing the sanitarium is all that stands after a raging Sunday firin 1934 took the original wooden structures...the original "Town Under One Roof." The operating room is still intact, the huge viewing window staring blankly at the stark white room, its total surface area covered with smooth, one-inch ceramic tiles. The imported marble and porcelain fixtures are in place; the silver-coated sterilizers stand at attention, waiting to be put into service. Bed pans litter the shelves in the nurse's station next to the stacks of blank clipboards. The solid marble urinal in the doctors bathroom imported from italy, rests idly under a blanket of dust, plaster crumbs, and pigeon feathers. The Glory Days...Shortly after its completion in the 1900's the sanitarium and medical school were put under the apt management of Dr. William Phy, a skilled surgeon. Dr. Phy, as manager and Chief of Medicine, led Hot Lake Hotel to world-wide eminence as the sister school of the famed Mayo Clinic of Minnesota. The Mayo brothers, close friends of Dr. Phy, visited the hotel many times during his tenure. The "Mayo Clinic of the West: was on the leading edge in developing and evaluating new medical technology, Radiation therapy was one of the innovations and the x-ray machine used by Dr. Phy and his aides is still lodged net to his office, ready to start up at the flip of a switch. This machine, with its electricstatic generator, predates the one on display at the Smithsonian Museum. Arthritis, tubculosis, alcholism and venereal diseases, especially syphilis, were treated at the clinic. Dr. Phy put to use the sulphuric waters flowing from the earth at 186°F, tempered for the repented baths that he believed the syphilis organism could not withstand. From the turn of the century through the roaring twenties were glory days for Hot Lake Resort. While the preeminent Dr. Phy successfully continued to research, teach and treat at the medical school, the resort became the cultural center for Eastern Oregon. As many as 1,200 guest each day lounged in wicker settees, played shuffleboard under the hanging ferns, shopped, danced, dined and took the waters. Well that is only page 3 of the 12 pages I have. If you would like more of the history. Please let me know. I'll try to get back and post more if you would like.
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