Gateways to Wonderland
Corwin Hot Springs Hotel
Taking the Cure
Copyright 2020 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.
Introduction . . .
The spa, defined as the social aspect of using warm water therapeutically, has a long tradition, not only in this country, but in the world at large. During the 19th century many famous European spas became popular with the well-to-do as social and cultural gathering spaces, in addition to being meccas for health restoration. In this country, Native Americans “took the cure” for thousands of years before white men set foot on these shores. European Americans commercialized this phenomenon of “taking the cure” throughout the eastern United States. Claims were made about these “curative waters” that touted an array of medicinal values that would purportedly benefit a wide variety of ailments, including those of the kidney, bladder, liver, stomach, skin, and nervous diseases. By 1850 resorts such as Saratoga Springs, New York, White Sulfur Springs and Hot Springs in Virginia, and Hot Springs, Arkansas had become celebrated social and cultural “hot spots” for the affluent crowd.
Hot Springs Spa at Aachen, Germany, 1682
Commercial spa development continued to spread and expanded into the West with construction of the trans-continental railroads in the early 1870-80s. Hot spring resorts bubbled up across the state and hot spring spas such as Boulder, Alhambra, Norris, Bozeman (Ferris), and the Broadwater became popular destinations where pleasure-seekers could enjoy the recuperative properties and mingle with society. By the late 1890s, Park County, Montana enjoyed the benefits of two hot spring spas – Hunter’s Hot Springs and Chico Hot Springs, originally Emigrant Warm Springs. Around that time Julius LaDuke pioneered a third resort, LaDuke Hot Springs, which slowly developed just south of what is now Corwin Springs.
[Excerpts from “Taking the Cure” at LaDuke Hot Springs, by Robert V. Goss, Montana Ghost Town Quarterly, Fall 2010]
Planning and Construction Begin . . .
In 1908, Dr. F. E. Corwin, resident physician at Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley south of Livingston, contemplated building his own hot mineral springs spa in the fashion of those popular in Europe. He visited the hot springs at La Duke, some 7 miles north of Gardiner and shortly after purchased the rights to some of the hot water. In May 1908, Corwin formed the Electric Hot Springs Company with fellow investors. These included, his brother J.W. Corwin, Richard 'Dick' Randall (OTO Ranch), JW and CS Hefferlin (Livingston businessmen), and JH Holliday (Clyde Park hotelier & rancher), who together raised some $175,000 in capital.
By December, Billings architects Link & Haire were completing the design plans for the Corwin Hot Springs Hotel, which was to include 72 rooms, a large swimming pool, private plunges, and Spray, Needle and Shower baths that were fed with hot water piped in from La Duke Springs. A contractor was hired and construction soon began. The hotel was to be advertised as a health resort and it was noted that the ". . . curative properties of these waters are of a superior quality, and are peculiarly adapted to the cure of rheumatic affections and the diseases of women . . ." The resort was sometimes referred to as the Electric Hot Springs Hotel.
Corwin Hotel under construction, 1909.
The location was a mile or so was north of LaDuke hot springs and just east of the Yellowstone River. At that period of time, the only road to Gardiner and Yellowstone Park traversed the west side of the river. Park Country agreed to have a bridge built over the river for access, with the county and the new company splitting the $13,500 cost. The Northern Pacific RR, whose rails to Gardiner were also on the west side of the river, agreed to build a small depot near the bridge with a design in keeping with the style of the hotel.
The hotel was constructed to feature all the modern conveniences, including hot and cold running water in the rooms, along with electric bells, phones and electric lighting. The company built its own electric plant to provide for the hotel.
Wooden pipes transported hot spring water from La Duke Springs for the plunge and for the hotel plumbing system. The hot water flowed continuously through the plunge, providing a complete change of water on an almost constant basis. The plunge featured vapor baths, private plunges, and tub baths. There were plans to build a hot house, heated by the spring water to provide fresh vegetables for the guests. Horse-drawn carriages carried the hotel guests to and from the railroad depot. A Butte newspaper headline in December of 1908 descried, “The Carlsbad of the Northwest,” a reference no doubt to the famed restorative springs in Bohemia. The "healing" waters at Corwin were claimed to helpful in the treatment of dyspepsia, stomach trouble, rheumatism, nervous ailments and other maladies.
View of the Northern Pacific RR Hot Springs Depot, with new bridge over the Yellowstone River, leading to the Electric Hotel.
Electric Hot Springs Hotel, Corwin Springs, Corwin, Mont.
[Chas. E. Morris Co., Great Falls. post card, author collection]
From Electric Hot Springs Hotel Postcard above:
Electric Hot Springs being located on the Northern Pacific Railway makes it easy of access and as it is on the Yellowstone National Park it is surrounded with scenery both grand and sublime. The large swimming pool, the private plunges, spray, needle and shower baths are all supplied by a constant flow from the Medicinal Hot Springs near by. The beautiful surrounding, the natural Hot Springs, the grounds and the buildings, every detail having been carefully planned, all combine to make this the grandest and best health resort in the entire Northwest. All trains stop at the Hotel.
Undated view of the Corwin Hot Springs hotel, photo by Jos. Scherieble
The hotel was constructed to feature all the modern conveniences, including hot and cold running water in the rooms, along with electric bells, phones and electric lighting. The company built its own electric plant to provide for the hotel. Wooden pipes transported hot spring water from La Duke Springs for the plunge and for the hotel plumbing system. The hot water flowed continuously through the plunge, providing a complete change of water on an almost constant basis. The plunge featured vapor baths, private plunges, and tub baths. There were plans to build a hot house, heated by the spring water to provide fresh vegetables for the guests. Horse-drawn carriages carried the hotel guests to and from the railroad depot. A Butte newspaper headline in December of 1908 descried, “The Carlsbad of the Northwest,” a reference no doubt to the famed restorative springs in Bohemia. The "healing" waters at Corwin were claimed to helpful in the treatment of dyspepsia, stomach trouble, rheumatism, nervous ailments and other maladies.
The resort opened around June of 1909 to great fanfare for Gardiner and Park County residents, and in time, the resort also became popular site for conventions and social soirees.
Advertisements in January 1910, claimed, “You’ll see so much life and energy, that you’ll feel ten years younger in spite of yourself; you can live reasonable, have a good time and return home with a Clean Bill of Health.” Other ads proclaimed, “Spring is coming, and those old rheumatic pains are apt to begin chasing up and down your bones - better beat ’em to it. There’s a way - Take that trip to Corwin Hot Springs and boil out, before you’re down and out.”
Top: Interior of Lobby, showing Post Office and Curio Den,
Corwin Springs, Mont.
Bottom: Front Veranda of Corwin Hot Springs Hotel,
Corwin Springs, Mont.
[Postcards, author collection]
Top: The Morning Train has just arrived, Corwin Springs, Mont.
Bottom: Electric Hot Springs, Corwin Springs, Mont.
[Postcards, author collection]
Top: Parlor, Second Floor, Corwin Hot Springs, Mont.
Bottom: Front View of Interior of the Swimming Pool,
Electric Hot Springs Hotel, Corwin Springs, Mont.
[Postcards, author collection]
However, despite local popularity and the traffic to and from Yellowstone, the resort encountered financial problems not long after the initial opening and by November of 1911, CH Hefferlin, a Livingston banker, acquired a controlling interest in the Electric Hot Springs Company. To help bring in business, ads were placed in the Bismarck (ND) Tribune during the winter of 1911-12, advising folks, “If you have a delicate wife or child, ship them to Corwin away from the blizzards.”
Nonetheless, during much of 1912 ads in newspapers featured “Reduced Rates” at the hotel for weekly and monthly guests to entice more business, and during the winter of 1912-13 the resort closed down operations completely. In late April of 1913, an ad in the Butte Miner newspaper announced, Corwin Hot Springs Hotel Reopens May 1st, 1913,” and touted, “A hot mineral water that CURES.” What specifically it cured was not mentioned.
Left: Billings Gazette, 12Jul1913
Center: Trade Tokens, Corwin Springs, ca1910s
Right: Montana Standard, Butte, 1Aug1930
Tragedy Strikes . . .
The resort carried on the next few years, but again in the winter of 1916, it apparently closed up shop. Tragically, on December 1, the Livingston Enterprise published a startling headline,
“CORWIN SPRINGS HOTEL IS DESTROYED BY FIRE.”
“The Corwin Hot Springs hotel, erected at a cost of $100,000, was totally destroyed by fire at an early hour this morning . . . The manager, Dr. Craven, was away at the time of the fire, and only the keeper was there.”
The cause of the fire was not determined, but electrical wiring was certainly as possible culprit. The structure was reportedly insured for $50,000 and CS Hefferlin boldly announced that he would rebuild with a modern fireproof structure with a number of modern cottages. Apparently the fire insurance they had was inadequate to rebuild and the plan never materialized. The nearby plunge survived the carnage, but the grand architecture of the hotel was forever gone.
Aerial view of the hotel, bridge and other buildings at Corwin Springs, ca1910-1916
The Eagle's Nest Ranch . . .
By June of 1920, the property came into possession of the Sidebotham family and the new managers reopened the plunge and operated a small tourist camp on the site. The location seemed to be a popular location for large railroad and other company outings. In August of 1927, Walter J. Hill, son of Great Northern RR magnate James Hill, purchased the property along with another 20,000 adjoining acres. He invested several hundred thousand dollars in his new resort, rebuilding the swimming pool as an open-air plunge, building new 4-6 room cabins along the river, and erecting a club house with living room and dining room. It was named the Eagle’s Nest Ranch.
In 1926, Highway 89 was extended from Carbella Flats, just above Yankee Jim Canyon to Gardiner, on the east side of the river. So, to accommodate the increasing automobile trade, Hill constructed the unique Tepee gas station along the new road.
Eagle’s Nest Ranch Is Attractive Tourist Mecca
Eagle's Nest ranch offers the vacationist a well rounded variety of attractions. A nine hole all-grass golf course delights the wielder of the mashle and the driver. An open air plunge of Spanish architecture Is beautifully set near the mountainside and proves to be too much of a lure for the most backward of bathers . . . Probably the first thing to attract the attention of the autolst Is the large, brightly colored Indian tepees on the highway serving as modem service stations for the tourist. The recreation hall is very attractive and well filled while the lounge room of the club house has a decidedly restful atmosphere. A series of cabins, some equipped with fireplaces, are complete in every detail. Saddle horses are at the disposal of guests and pack trips into the mountains give the outdoor enthusiast a real Insight Into the beauties of the country. Fishing and big game hunting are also attractions at Eagle’s Nest ranch.
[Augusta News, Mont., 23Jul1931]
[Above & Below Real-Photo postcards from Author's Collection]
Left: Whoopee Nite at Corwin [Montana Standard, Butte, 1Aug1930]
Right: Swimming Pool, Clubhouse & Cabins, Corwin Hot Springs, Montana
Bottom Left: Lounging Room, Clubhouse, Corwin Hot Springs, Montana
Bottom Right: Sioux Indian Village, Corwin Hot Springs, Mont.
Welch "Sonny" Brogan's Ranch
Business continued on until 1944, when Walter Hill suddenly died of a heart attack at age 62. Early in 1946 a portion of the property was advertised “for sale.” It included a, “Ten-acre tract on main highway . . . [with] Six good-sized cabins, plunge, bathhouses and abundant supply of hot mineral water. Excellent fishing and hunting country.”
By 1947 Welch “Sonny” Brogan had acquired the property and eventually established what is believed to be the first elk game ranch and became something of the forefather of the modern game farm. By the time game farming became all the rage in the late 1970s and early '80s, Brogan had been at it for about 30 years. He estimated he sold more than 2,500 elk all over the world, sometimes fetching a top price of $5,000 each. Industry experts have said that herds at many of today's commercial elk operations can trace their lineage to Brogan's Cinnabar Game Farm
Great Falls Tribune, Apr. 10, 1946
The Church Universal Triumphant eventually purchased the property in September 1981 from Malcolm Forbes and it became a part of the 12,000-acre Royal Teton Ranch. The leaders and followers made preparations for the upcoming end of the world. When the date for “the end” came and went and life continued on as always, there were a few followers, it seems, that were somewhat disappointed. But, that is a whole ‘nother story . . .
The pool walls, tattered plunge, and stone chimney of the old clubhouse still stand proudly, mute monuments to the once grand old Corwin Hot Springs Hotel.
Left: View of the Corwin Plunge, ca1990
Right: Corwin Plunge, 2014, Google Earth view.