Hot Lake Hotel

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Oregon’s Hot Lake Hotel
By Tyler Wilford

The Hot Lake Hotel in Union City is about 10 miles from La Grande, Oregon, and may be one of the most mysterious and fascinating places I’ve ever been to. The area was first “discovered” in 1812 by Robert Stuart, of the Wilson Price Hunt party. Native American tribes used the nearby hot springs as a place to nurse their injured or sick on neutral ground. Then in the 1840s Hot Lake became a resting place for families who were traveling along the Oregon Trail. The first hotel was constructed in 1864 and was complete with bathhouses, a post office, dance hall, barbershop, and even a blacksmith. Until 1884, this isolated hotel was relatively unknown. This was this year the Union Pacific railroad put Hot Lake on the map, linking Oregon with the transcontinental system and attracted visitors worldwide. The property continued to grow and in 1908 the 105-room brick building was completed. The second floor was made up entirely for guests, where for $2.50 you could stay for the night, and enjoy a meal for just 25 cents.

In 1917  Doctor Phi purchased the property. Under the new owner’s direction, the hotel took on a dual purpose, housing a hospital on the third floor, complete with a surgery and rooms for patients. He renamed the resort to Hot Lake Sanatorium and began experimenting with the geothermal waters to treat various ailments. Between 1924 and 1934 the resort/hospital caught worldwide attention as the hotel averaged 124 new guests daily. 

Unfortunately, on May 7th of 1934 a fire broke out and destroyed much of the resort, reducing it to roughly half the size it once was and leaving only the brick building standing. Due to the devastating fire and the depression, business was never the same at Hot Lake.

During World War II, the location was used as a pilot’s school and nurse training center. Until 1975 it operated as a nursing home and asylum. When the nursing home closed it became a restaurant and country western nightclub but that closed due to lack of business. It wasn’t until 1983, Dr. Lyle Griffith took over, and started the Hot Lake Company, which was a bath and massage business. That failed as well and the hotel fell into ruin. 

In September of 2000, my sister and I drove to Oregon just to see this place. We toured the long abandoned facility all by ourselves. Talk about an eerie feeling and this is where my story begins. By this time the Hot Lake Hotel had earned a reputation for being extremely haunted. Over the years many witnesses claim to have heard strange things, and see things which they could not explain in and around the resort. Visitors often recount seeing spectral figures walking around the grounds. Strange voices, screams, whispering, and footsteps in the various parts of the hotel are just some things reported by guests. 

One of the more common stories is about a former gardener who committed suicide on the property. People report an apparition of a man wearing work clothes walking around the old swimming pool.  When the resort first opened a piano formerly owned by Robert E. Lee’s wife was acquired and placed on the hotel’s third floor. To this day people hear this ghosty piano playing by itself.
As we walked around the hotel we entered what must have been a grand suite. It was a large room, had an oversized tub in the bathroom, and a picture window that you could see what remains of Hot Lake. In fact a breathtaking view. As we entered the room both of us looked at each other. I was the first to speak, “Can you feel that?”

My sister looked at me and confirmed. It was like the room was electric. Chills went through my body and as I looked at my sister I could see her hair begin to stand-up on its own like some crazy Tesla machine. Then the door to the room slammed shut. I ran to the door, threw it open, and looked down the hallway. Nothing, not a single person in sight and no reasonable explanation as to why it closed.

I heard my sister scream. Running back into the room I found her on the floor completely shaken. She grabbed my arm, pulled herself up and said, “Get me the hell out of here!”

We left the hotel, jumped in the car and didn’t stop for anything or anyone until we were back at our motel in Union Oregon. Later that evening my sister had recovered enough to tell me what had happened. She said when I left an apparition came in from the bathroom area, floated straight at her and passed through her. The chill she felt was pure evil and she nearly passed out. She fell to the floor screaming.

Fast forward to 2003, and the Hot Lake Hotel was purchased by David and Lee Manual. They spent millions of dollars over the next seven years restoring the property. In 2008, the west wing of the building collapsed. As of 2010, the building now functions as a bed and breakfast, with dozens of restored rooms, a spa, restaurant, and a museum. 

This Week’s Podcast:

On the program this week we take on the theme of the ghost hunter. We have stories from them and other surprises including an OTR episode from Suspense called Ghost Hunt. You can listen to this podcast on Thursday at Ron’s Amazing Stories, download it from Apple Podcasts, stream it on Stitcher Radio or on the mobile version of Spotify. Do you prefer the radio? We are heard every Thursday at 10:00 pm and Sunday Night at 11:00 PM (EST) on AMFM247.COM. Check your local listing or find the station closest to you at this link

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