Berkeley hotels

History Tidbits of Orr Hot Springs – Mendocino Lighthouse


As a Kelley House docent looking for a book on the Orr Hot Springs area, I have amassed more information than I could ever use in what I plan to be a small post on the subject. . While the who, what, when, where, why, and how the facts are arranged chronologically, it’s the weird and poorly documented tidbits of information that continue to distract me.

For those who may not be familiar with this place, Orr Hot Springs was a popular resort and stopping place on the route between Ukiah and Mendocino, along the main fork of the Big River, which flows here in a wide and deep canyon. A hotel and cabins provided accommodation for the guests, and tents were erected during the summer when needed. Five springs spring up near the hotel, the temperature of which varies from around 70 ° to 104 °. One of the springs rises into a small swimming pool, and the others provided tubs and tubs. The resort still exists, but not in the same location it was in the late 1800s and the 20th century.

What about Orr Springs and methane production? Somewhere long ago in my mental inventory I heard or read that the complex collects gas bubbling with spring water. In a 1915 photo I recently found, there is a six foot high round cement dome attached to the side of the outdoor pool. Another comment I buried in my research papers said that the resort had collected enough methane to heat a mangle, which is a commercial iron.

Who taught the source owners how to capture natural gas and use it to run machinery? They were not very educated people, although Samuel Orr, the founder, was treasurer of Mendocino County from 1865 to 1867. They were fourteen miles west of Ukiah on Low Gap Road. Did a guest talk to them about the possibilities of using natural gas? Did they create their own equipment? Have they ever used gas to light up the complex?

A link with another mystery in history may be linked to methane. Under a current structure is a cast iron relic stamped “Cyclops Iron Works San Francisco”. He was staying in the 1938 hotel which burned down and probably fell through the ground during the fire. Cyclops Iron Works produced units of commercial refrigeration equipment that may have had their own generators. How was this unit powered? Could it be the methane gas collected? While older photos of the resort show the hotels, guests and amenities, the technical side of resort operations has rarely been photographed.

Then there is the advertisement in the 1901 Ukiah newspaper proclaiming “Oil! – A New Business in Mendocino County”. Gas was coming out of the rock crevices and if you put a match in it a constant flame was burning. There was oily scum on the rocks and Professor Le Conte of UC Berkeley said these were all indicators of high grade oil. The owners of the sources were looking for investments of $ 200,000 to $ 1.00 per share to start drilling an oil well. “This investment opportunity could not be exceeded! The offer must have been a total failure, as no word was ever seen in the press about the scheme.

How about a proposal to build a railroad in the Orr Springs area? In a 1935 Ukiah newspaper the headline read: “Narrow Gauge Railroad Will Run Mile And A Half In The Hills.” The tracks would run from Whipple Mill, west of the resort area, south to County Road. It was not possible to transport timber downstream of the mill in severe weather. The railroad would cross the side of the canyon. Seeing this proposal in the midst of the Great Depression was unusual, but the factory claimed a payroll of $ 5,000 a month and wanted to keep everyone fully employed in the winter. Again, nothing has ever been seen in the press about this proposal.

One historical mystery I came close to solving was a photo taken at the compound of an unidentified Chinese man dressed as a cook holding a white child. Orr Hot Springs employed Chinese cooks until the mid-20th century. We had to dig through the census records to find out who lived in this “household”. The Orr and Weger families were running the resort and yes they were listed, but also everyone on board. These included cooks, hosts, carpenters, housekeepers, laborers and others. In the 1910 census, Lim Chin, 45, a cook, was listed there. In the 1940 census, Jim Sook was a cook, with a man named Dea listed as Chinese.

So part of my writing a SHORT Tale of a Place focuses on the people and eliminates the details… so the methane gas and the Cyclops engines and a railroad a few miles away won’t be in the book. , but Chinese cooks will.

If any readers have personal knowledge of Orr Hot Springs before 1970, or photographs, and wish to share information, contact me at [email protected] Expect a little book on the history of Orr Hot Springs next year.

Katy Tahja is a longtime Kelley House volunteer and educator who often brings her research and writing skills to this column. She has published numerous local history books, which can be purchased at the Museum, in our online store and at local bookstores.