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Before the Lodge: Slide show Focuses on Sun Valley’s Early Resorts
Monday, June 22, 2015


The Sun Valley Lodge reopened to much fanfare last week.

            But the Sun Valley Lodge was not the first elegant lodge to become the toast of the valley.

            The three-story colonial-style Hailey Hot Springs Hotel not only featured incandescent lights but its 100-degree water was touted as “unsurpassed for the care of rheumatism, kidney, malarial and all diseases humanity is subject to.”

And its herd of 150 Kentucky cattle was said to be “the finest herd west of Iowa.”

The Guyer Hot Springs Resort just west of the ski lifts on Warm Springs Road was said to feature springs equal to those in Germany, as well as “a first-class bar” stocked with the best brands of liquor and cigars. It also boasted an outdoor dance pavilion with small orchestras providing the music.

            “They used to have lavish plays—they based a Midsummer’s Night Party on “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” said John Lundin. “Union Pacific Railroad boasted there was no more attractive place in the Northwest to spend a hot summer. And in 1991 railroad magnate Jay Gould bought a party in by private train. He liked it well enough he returned the following year.”

John Lundin will offer a free presentation boasting plenty of pictures of these historic hotels at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, at The Community Library in Ketchum.

He will follow this presentation up with a presentation on the Philadelphia Smelter at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 30.

Lundin, an attorney who divides his time between Sun Valley and Seattle, has immersed himself in the history of the Wood River Valley while writing a book inspired by his great-grandparents.

Matthew and Isabelle Campbell McFall, Scottish immigrants who met in a Nevada silver mining camp in the 1870s, moved to the Wood River Valley in 1881 where they built the International Hotel in Bellevue. They moved to the railroad junction of Shoshone in 1893 when the Silver Depression toppled silver prices and built the McFall Hotel, which still stands.

It was the arrival of the Oregon Short Line at Hailey in 1883 that opened up the Wood River Valley as a tourist attraction.

JLG Smith created a first-class Hailey Hot Springs resort 1.5 miles near Democrat Gulch in the early 1880s. But he didn’t live long to enjoy it, as his wife killed him with a shotgun. His reputation for cruelty preceded him, as she was acquitted.

In 1888 a company of investors led by Union Pacific publicist Robert Strahorn bought the town of Hailey, the 2,500 acre Croy Ranch where the hot springs sat and the 8,000-acre Quigley Ranch for $100,000. They were looking to make a killing when the Oregon Shortline built its Wood River Branch terminus.

The company also bought and developed the towns of Shoshone, Mountain Home, Caldwell, Weiser and Ontario, Ore.

Newspapers reported that Strahorn had every painter and paper hanger in town employed at the hotel—way before the Holding family would do the same for the Sun Valley Lodge.

Between 50 and a hundred guests a day paid $2.50 to $3.50 a day to stay at the first-class hotel, which featured separate men’s and women’s plunges, a ballroom and a bowling alley and hunting and fishing that were reportedly “unsurpassed.”

A hospital on the grounds used the mineral water for curative properties.  

A newspaper noted that the hotel bought in as much as $500 to the local economy: “The visitors to the springs were not the eastern penny-pinching class of tourists. They were very wealthy people who demanded the best there was to be had, expecting to pay well for it.”

But the hotel burned down in July 1899 and was never rebuilt, even though the hot springs continued operating.

Henry Guyer and Isaac Lewis, who operated freight wagons that ferried ore from the mines, built the two-story, 10-room Guyer hotel in 1882. It included tennis courts, croquet grounds and swings. Ladies wore plumed hats and 16-button gloves and splashed in the plunges in long pantaloons and dresses. And guests flocked to the hotel to cross-country ski during winter.

It cost $3 to ride excursion trains, which left Shoshone at 8 a.m., arriving at Ketchum three hours later. It cost 90 cents to hop the train from Bellevue and 65 cents from Hailey. An orchestra played along the way.

In 1914 Capt. Guyer’s son Raymond built a new $25,000 two-story hotel with gables, 18 rooms upstairs a beautiful lobby with fireplace, small cottages and a turbine that provided lighting. Its springs were marketed as “one of the famous hot springs of the world.”

Guyer brought in the manager of the Idanha Hotel in Boise to manage the hotel. And he offered motor tours of the Stanley Basin--what he called “Sawtooth National Park”—even though there was no such park, noted Lundin.

The Brandt family bought Guyer Hot Springs Resort in 1927 and paid $30,000 to have a wooden pipe laid along Warm Springs Road to bring the 160-degree hot water to a new Bald Mountain Hot Springs resort built in 1929.

 About 60 houses along Warm Springs Road still use that hot water, said Lundin.

 The pool, however, closed in 1988 and the log cabins were razed in 2003 in preparation for a new hotel. This July—12 years later—Aspen Skiing Company will finally break ground  for yet another four-star hotel that will add to the valley’s legacy of hotels.

            “The important thing to note is that tourism didn’t start here with the Sun Valley Lodge,” Lundin said. “The railroads promoted these hotels as a way to get people to come here on their railroads long before 1936.”

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