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Sunday, July 21, 2024
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New Book Explores the History of Mendocino County’s Renowned Orr Hot Springs

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The following is a press release composed by Sid Cooperrider, an employee of the Orr Hot Springs:


The cover of Katy Tahja’s new book

In one secluded spot in a narrow canyon on a twisty road, curious folks can find 160 years of recent history and a place special to natives for centuries. Local historian Katy Tahja announces her new publication about a place that has been a site of action and adventure for the ages: “Orr Hot Springs: A Brief History” is now available at local museums and bookstores.

So what’s so special about this wide spot in the road? The steaming hot waters emerging there have been soothing aches and pains for passersby long before pioneers arrived. Natives regarded hot springs as openings to the spirit world and such places were neutral territory where no hostilities took place.

Claimed by many, including early pioneers and often doctors, the springs came into Samuel Orr’s hands in the early 1860s. Today, Orr Hot Springs could proclaim itself to be the oldest business in Mendocino County, operating under the same name for more than 150 years.

Guests gathered outside the former Orr Hotel

“Taking the Waters” was a Victorian-era tradition of going to a spa, a place to relax and rejuvenate, and soaking in and drinking mineral water to restore health. Mendocino County was discovered to have five such mineral springs, two of which still provide hydrotherapy to this day. Orr Hot Springs is the best.

A trip to these springs was a major undertaking from the 1860s to the 1920s. Health seekers would first travel to Ukiah by train where they’d then load up for a stagecoach ride, which took them over Low Gap Road, then back east on Comptche Ukiah Road before finally arriving at the Springs.

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Big, ornate two-story buildings were constructed, but Orr Hot Springs was prone to disastrous fires. In 1867, and again in 1894, the place burnt to the ground but each time was promptly rebuilt. When it burned a third time in 1938, it was rebuilt as individual cabins for camping rather than as stately buildings for hotel accommodation .  

The Orrs had big families that intermarried with the neighboring property owners, the Wegers. For 70 years, the two families worked together operating the resort. Criminals liked to hide out at Orr Hot Springs, and Katy Tahja’s new publication spotlights some of these stories along with the attendant whispers of stolen wealth hidden in the hills.

The Chinese people always played a part in Orr Hot Springs history. They were the cooks for the resort and appeared in the census records at that location over the decades. Once roads from Ukiah to the coast were improved, more visitors came to what slowly evolved into a family resort in the 1930s. Hunting, fishing, hiking and picnicking for families was publicized with only minor mention of the healing hot springs. 

Men playing billiards at the Orr Hotel

Patronage was declining and in the 1970s the resort was advertised for sale and unlikely buyers were found. A hippie collective of 10 individuals pooled their financial resources, forming an intentional community, — the Orr Springs Association. They considered themselves caretakers of a very important piece of land rich in history. The collective maintained the baths, pool, lodge, cabins, and campground and offered workshops and retreats.

By 1993 Leslie Williams bought up the ownership shares of his fellow Orr Hot Springs Association associates and became the sole proprietor. Williams improved and developed the resort to be what it is now: a tranquil 21st-century eco-retreat where soaking in the mineral waters is the main attraction. Just a short walk from the tall trees at Montgomery Woods State Reserve and at the headwaters of the Big River, the resort delights visitors just as it did more than a century ago.

To learn more about the history of Orr Hot Springs, author Katy Tahja is available to present lectures with photographs for interested museums and civic groups. Tahja has written five books on local Mendocino County history and has lived just down the road from the springs in Comptche for 47 years. Call 707-937-5854 or email ktahja@mcn.org for speaking engagements.

Contact Orr Hot Springs directly at 31201 Orr Springs Road, Ukiah, CA 95482 or phone 707-462-6277 or contact them through the website www.orrhotsprings.org to arrange to have a copy of the publication mailed to you.


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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
Editor's Note: Whenever an article's byline reads "MendoFever Staff", the contents of that article were not composed by any of our reporters. Types of writing that will be attributed to "MendoFever Staff" include press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, obituaries— essentially writing that is not produced by a reporter.

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