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Hot Lake — resort/hotel has storied history

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A brochure from the early 1970s shows the Hot Lake Resort and Retirement Center overlooking the lake.

Through the years, Hot Lake has been a happening place for visitors during the summer. Along the way it also earned the reputation of being haunted.

Joe Drazan’s Bygone Walla Walla Blog features brochures and photos of the site, located outside La Grande.

Native Americans living in proximity for thousands of years headed to what they called Valley of Peace to for the curative powers of its water. They declared it neutral ground and banned conflicts between tribes.

The old Oregon Trail wended by there and in 1812 a member of the Hunt-Price expedition came upon the 200-degree steaming water generated by underground geothermal springs. After setting up a trading post at Astoria, Oregon, that party was on the return trek to St. Louis, Missouri.

A colonial revival hotel was originally built there in Union County in 1864, housing a post office, barbershop, bathhouses, blacksmith shop, drug store and barbershop.

A physician bought the place in the early 1900s and dubbed it Hot Lake Sanatorium, installing a hospital on the third floor. After his death in 1931, the sanatorium was closed.

A fire destroyed more than half of the building in 1934 and it went into decline. During World War II it was revived for training nurses and as a flight school.

It became a nursing home in the 1950s and reportedly was an asylum for a time.

New owners tried a restaurant and nightclub, which closed after two years.

In the early 1970s, the mineral hot springs facility was called Hot Lake Resort and Retirement Center. It offered hotel and cottage guest accommodations, mineral baths and massages, a heated swimming pool and convention facility as well as skilled nursing care, old time music and arts and crafts activities for residents.

After being neglected and vandalized over a 15-year span, native Walla Wallan and noted sculptor David Manuel and wife Lee Manuel bought it in 2003 and invested millions in restoring it before selling it more recently.

Haunting by a gardener who died by suicide, screams from hospital patients and a piano playing on its own are among the paranormal activities reported by former guests.

It has showcased antique hospital equipment in a museum and a sign invites, “keep your voices low and be sweet.” It has been a bed and breakfast in more recent years, but appears to be closed based on an online search.

Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at 509-526-8313 or

annieeveland@wwub.com.

Annie joined the U-B news staff in 1979 and since 1990 has written Etcetera, a daily community column. She was promoted to a copy editing post in 2007. She edits copy, designs and lays out pages, including the weekly arts and entertainment guide Marquee,