Castle Hot Springs History

POSTED BY IN CHS ON August 23, 2018

Rediscovered…reinvented…but not forgotten. Castle Hot Springs returns from forty years as a ghost town. After the devastating fire of December 1976, like the Phoenix it arises from its ashes and resumes its place among the celebrated resorts of the world.

Fed by an enormous cistern that is estimated to be 10,000 feet deep, the hot springs produces over 200,000 gallons a day of pure, odorless, crystal clear 120-degree mineral water.

For millennia, the hot springs was a medicinal healing ground for Native American tribes. In October 1867, a gang of robbers raided a mining camp in the Bradshaw Mountains. Colonel Charles Craig, quartermaster for Fort Whipple, a U.S. Army post that served as the territorial capital of Arizona, marshaled a troop of cavalry soldiers and pursued the robbers on horseback south from Prescott.

After riding a day through the rugged terrain, shots are fired and arrows were launched, and Colonel Craig captures the clan on the trail just west of Salvation Peak. After securing the bandits, he has the men set camp, survey the area, and they find the fabled hot springs.

Enter Frank Morrill Murphy. Murphy was a self-made millionaire from Wisconsin and the owner of the legendary Congress Mine, which produced over $8 million in gold from the late 1880’s through the first decade of the 20th century. Murphy had a vision to take advantage of the curative mineral waters of Castle Hot Springs for affluent families and leaders of industry. He would spend $75,000 to clear a 23-mile road from the train station in Morristown, Arizona, and have stagecoaches transport guests to his luxury-healing habitat.

In 1896, Murphy opened Castle Hot Springs and throughout the late 1890’s and the early 20th century, frequent guests included the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Wrigleys, and Vanderbilts. Castle Hot Springs would become one of the most desirable resort destinations in the world. Presidents Wilson, Coolidge, and Hoover all made visits during the 1920’s and 30’s.

Joining Murphy in his new venture was his brother Warren Oakes Murphy, who, with the assistance of his brother and newly elected President William McKinley, became territorial Governor of Arizona in 1898. Governor Murphy moved his Arizona territorial office from Prescott to Castle Hot Springs during the genial winter months. It has been reported that the first telephone in Arizona was installed at Castle Hot Springs for Governor Murphy’s use. That phone booth still exists in the main Lodge.

In June 1917, Frank Murphy died and left Castle Hot Springs to his estate to be managed by his attorney T.G. Norris. In 1923, Norris hired the young, but experienced Walter Rounsevel. Rounsevel served as General Manager and briefly as owner from 1923 until his retirement in 1963. Rounsevel, an elegant and urbane hotelier, was the perfect choice to interact with the aristocratic guests of this era.

During World War 11, Castle Hot Springs closed due to rationing and food shortages. Following the war, Rounsevel leased the property to the US military for recuperating pilots and injured officers. In January 1945, a 28-year old John F. Kennedy, at the urging of his father Joseph P. Kennedy, an acquaintance of Rounsevel, came to Castle Hot Springs to recover from his PT-109 back injury. Kennedy convalesced at Castle Hot Springs until April 1945, soaking daily in the hot springs, hiking the trails around Salvation Peak, and playing the golf course on property.

With the lease to the US government, Castle Hot Springs earned special dispensation to allow the US flag to be flown 24 hours a day on Salvation Peak, high above the resort.

In the early 1970’s, Castle Hot Springs was sold to the Talley family and run by Mae Sue Talley, wife of Franz Talley, who was the CEO of Talley Industries, a leader in the aerospace industry and owner of the famed Arizona Biltmore. In the early hours of December 11, 1976, a spark flew from a fireplace in the Palm House, and burned the main hotel building to the ground.

Following the fire, the Talley’s donated the property to Arizona State University, who maintained the resort as a conference center until selling it in 1987 to Charles and Steve Trainer. The Trainers were the grandsons of Joseph Uihlein, who had been the owner of the Schlitz Brewing Company. He was a friend of Walter Rounsevel and a perennial guest of Castle Hot Springs.

The property exchanged hands a few more times before being purchased by Mike and Cindy Watts, long time Arizona residents, business owners, and philanthropists. They, along with Westroc Hospitality who will manage the property, are committed to restoring and returning the original grandeur to the resort. It is their strong desire to bring it back to life and share it with others.

Rediscovered…reinvented…but not forgotten. Castle Hot Springs once again emerges from the ashes.

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