Years before Phoenix would become a mecca for wintertime visitors in the early 1900s, a remote little spot in southern Yavapai County was the spa choice of the rich and famous.
In its heyday, Castle Hot Springs — a desert oasis discovered by Anglos in the 1860s and established as a resort in 1896 — attracted a veritable who’s who of famous names of the 1800s and 1900s.
Rockefellers, Wrigleys, Cabots, Vanderbilts, Astors, and Fords were among the regular names on the resort’s guest list at the turn of the 20th century. Early-century presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge were also said to have been resort guests.
Then, during World War II, when Castle Hot Springs was being used as a rehabilitation center for the U.S. military, future President John F. Kennedy famously recuperated there from injuries he suffered during the sinking of his ship, the PT-109.
Before the end of 2018, guests will once again be able to lounge in the pure, 122-degree mineral water that springs from the castle-like rocks of the resort.
Currently, dozens of workers are onsite, renovating historic structures, building new bungalows, and planting a garden that will supply the resort’s restaurant.
Steve Sampson, director of national sales for Westroc Hospitality, says the Scottsdale-based company plans to reopen the resort on Oct. 1.
That will revive an institution that was in place throughout much of the first three-quarters of the 20th century. Since the 1970s, when fire destroyed the main building, the resort has been largely deserted.
A host of development plans have come and gone over the years. Sharlot Hall Museum’s files include renovation site-plan information dating back to the 1980s, as well as real-estate brochures from the early 2000s.
“Since 1980 to now, there have been four or five different owners,” Sampson said.
Westroc has been working on its renovations since about 2015, he said, adding that the company’s goal is to bring Castle Hot Springs back to its former glory.
And that glory can hardly be overstated. A report at Sharlot Hall Museum notes that not only was Castle Hot Springs the first resort in Arizona, it also served for a time as the “first territorial winter capital of Arizona.”
“The governor’s office, and the local jail were located at the hotel,” the report states, adding that Arizona’s first telephone was installed there as well. “The property was given the telephone number ‘1,’ and retained that number of many years,” the report adds.
Castle Hot Springs’ 1896 opening occurred decades before the 1929 openings of grand Phoenix resorts such as Arizona Biltmore and the Wigwam, and it also predates the 1905 opening of the Grand Canyon’s historic El Tovar.
A 1984 article by Budge Ruffner, a local historian and past Courier columnist, explained that the history of the springs goes far beyond the early resort activity.
“The Indians called it ‘Medicine Waters’ and before the white man came into the country, many tribes from the Southwest and Mexico came to the water to cure their ills and replenish vigor,” Ruffner wrote. After being discovered by a detachment of soldiers in 1867, the hot springs soon became a magnet for people with hopes of curing their ills, according to Ruffner’s column.
Referring to a 1980s-era attempt at reviving the resort, Ruffner concluded: “No Arizona resort has a prouder past or a brighter future. Because of the extraordinary service that Castle Hot Springs Hotel rendered the United States airmen, the Congress of the United States passed a special bill, granting the resort authority to fly the American flag 24 hours a day.”
Once complete, Castle Hot Springs will offer 32 accommodations, consisting of a variety of spring bungalows that will have private outdoor spring-fed hot tubs, and sky-view cabins that will capitalize on the dark skies of the desert location.
Guests will also have access to the resort’s original swimming pool and the network of palm-tree-bordered pools that are fed by the spring water cascading down the mountainside.
A 5,000-square-foot garden featuring rows of rare fruits and vegetables is also in the works.
Ian Beger, the garden’s chief farmer, was busy at work on the garden recently, tending the already flowering varieties of greens. The garden will have several hundred varieties of fruits and vegetables, he said, noting that tomatoes alone will come in 34 different varieties.
Other planned resort amenities include: a brewery — housed in the former laundry building — that will produce Castle Hot Springs’ “Lithium Lager”; a general store in the old stables building; and a fountain and fire pits.
Sampson said guests at the resort can expect “a high-end experience” that will offer a serene adult retreat. Because of the remote location, he said the resort would offer a variety of activities and entertainment.
Although pricing is still being finalized, Sampson said nightly rates would likely be in the $800 to $1,000 range, which would include meals. The resort is expected to be seasonal — operating from about October through May.
Booking is not yet available, but information about the resort’s progress is available at: https://www.castlehotsprings.com/; and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WestrocHospitality.