History of Boulder Hot Springs Inn, Spa and Retreat Center

Nestled in the foothills of Montana’s snow-covered peaks of the Elkhorn Mountains is a place called Peace Valley.

This place was named Peace Valley by the First People of this land because they believed that all people should be able to come here to heal in the hot mineral waters. This valley was a place of healing, gathering, and celebration which gives it a unique history of being a place of peace and healing with no hostilities.

Boulder Hot Springs Inn and Spa is an historic landmark which once catered to Presidents, celebrities, and wealthy ranchers. It is reported that Teddy Roosevelt stayed here during his time in office while hunting in the area, that Warren Harding stayed here and FDR made a stop here after visiting associates in Butte.

Boulder Hot Springs B&W PostcardThe first of the buildings on this site was constructed in 1863 by a prospector, James E. Riley. Mr. Riley built a saloon and bathhouse catering to local miners and ranchers who came here to soak, bathe, and enjoy the amenities.

In 1881, Riley enlarged the hotel at the springs, and the following year began to construct a new hotel that would accommodate fifty people. In September of that same year, Riley died of smallpox.

After Riley’s death, Abel C. Quaintance and Cornelius Griswold bought the springs and the hotel was completed.

In 1890, C.K. Kerrick of Minneapolis secured a ten-year lease on the property. He supervised the construction of a large addition to the old hotel structure, resulting in a Victorian hotel with veranda surrounding the building. He renamed the hotel the Hotel May after his daughter.

At the time of the lease, the hotel was two hours by rail from Helena and Butte. The Elkhorn line of the Northern Pacific completed that year brought rail service to the hotel. Kerrick disposed of his interest in the Hotel May that same year to a local businessman. During this time period, the Keeley Cure, a treatment for alcohol and drug addiction, was available at the hotel.

The property changed hands several times, and in 1909, James A. Murray, a Butte millionaire miner and banker, purchased the springs.

In 1910, the hotel underwent a thorough renovation. Murray hired an interior decorator from New York City who redecorated the card room in a Chinese motif and added fancy fresco work in the huge lobby. Murray also hung the lobby’s 12-foot ceiling with light globes of exclusive amber glass reportedly made by Tiffany’s of New York.

Murray, who frequently visited California, was enamored with the architecture there, and added arches and fountains to the hot springs building plus having it stuccoed. The result was a huge building, resembling a Spanish mission and built in the California Mission Arts & Crafts’ style.

Boulder Hot Springs in the 1920s

During the Murray years, there were many managers of the springs, and it was often closed until someone would lease it. During the early ‘30’s, gambling was legal, and it was also the time of the “Big Bands,” so Saturday night in Peace Valley was a big night.

After the death of James A. Murray, his nephew, James E. Murray, later to become United States Senator, became the owner. He operated the hotel, with various managers, until 1940, when he sold it to C.L. “Pappy” Smith. Pappy Smith changed the name to the Diamond S Ranchotel by which it was to be known for the next 35 years or so.

The ranch was operated as a dude ranch, complete with trail rides and cook-outs. In about 1960, Smith’s nephew Art Hulbert and his wife Beth, came to work for him and instituted the tradition of Saturday night smorgasbords. These sumptuous meals, featuring baron of beef prepared by Walt Nettick, were enjoyed by as many as 400 or 500 people, with lines extending far out into the lobby.

Mr. And Mrs. Albert Lane purchased the Diamond S from Smith in 1960 and the ranch became a functioning cattle ranch. They also operated the guest hotel, bar and dining room.

A number of other owners were involved with the ranch/hotel over the years from 1965 through 1972, at which time Willard Mack and Robert Ryan from Billings purchased the property and subdivided the ranch.

The next owner, Stuart Lewin, changed the name back to Boulder Hot Springs and had it placed on the National Historic Register. Lewin attempted to make a success of the place for 11 years and was finally forced to close the Hot Springs in 1989.

In his years as owner, Lewin made many improvements to the hotel. Eventually, the property was returned to the former owners, Willard Mack and Robert Ryan.

In early 1990, the Hot Springs was purchased by Anne Wilson Schaef and it is now owned by a Limited Partnership. Under the present owners, the plunges were tiled for the first time, the bathhouse was completely renovated, an innovative heating system was installed using the thermal waters, and the East Wing was completely renovated with new heating, plumbing and electricity as well as custom-made, natural-wool carpeting in the hallways and rooms.

The rooms have been furnished with antiques and art relating to the history of the hotel. The veranda has been restored with the traditional fifty rocking chairs looking out over Peace valley. After a great deal of time and money was spent on renovation and repairs, the Boulder Hot Springs again opened in the summer of 1991. The spa buildings, the small dining room and the east wing of the hotel have been completely refurbished.