Friday, 19 July 2024

Bartlett Springs lodge destroyed; arson suspected

The third Bartlett Springs Resort lodge, pictured May 6, 2007. This lodge was built after its predecessor blew down in a 1988 windstorm. The lodge was destroyed by a fire Saturday. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



BARTLETT SPRINGS – This weekend, two local buildings with important connections to the county's past met very different fates.

On Sunday, the Ely Stage Stop began its move to a new museum location. A day earlier, the reconstructed Bartlett Springs Resort lodge was burned to the ground.

“It's completely gone,” said Zane Gray, the resort's caretaker since 1982, of the main lodge building.

The fire was reported Saturday afternoon, said Gray. On Sunday, he went to survey the damage, which included five acres of brush land and the building.

A US Forest Service investigator is working to determine the fire's cause, Gray said. The Mendocino National Forest office in Willows couldn't be reached over the weekend for comment.

However, Gray said he believes it was arson, saying that fire officials told him Sunday that the fire appears to have started in the lodge building.

“It couldn't have started by itself,” he maintained, explaining that the propane tanks were removed several years ago, and the electricity was turned off.

“Somebody had to match it, that's all,” he said.

The lodge building that burned Saturday was located at the site of the resort's original lodge, which burned down in 1934. It was rebuilt, with that incarnation of the lodge blowing down in a windstorm in 1988, said Gray.

“I had the building all totally rebuilt in 1989,” said Gray. “It cost the company $171,000 at that time to do the upgrade on it.”

The nearby gazebo, said Gray, was spared in Saturday's fire. “The fire burned right to it but never touched it.”

Gray said he rebuilt the gazebo in 1985, installing new timbers and lumber in an attempt to put it back the way it was at the turn of the 20th century.

The Bartlett Springs Resort's history stretches back to the 1870s, after a mineral spring was discovered there by Napa resident Greene Bartlett during a camping trip, according to The Bartlett Springs Area: Past & Present, written in 2005 by Upper Lake resident Michelle Wells.

Bartlett, who suffered from rheumatism, believed in the springs' healing abilities, Wells' history reports, so he filed a claim for the 160 acres around the spring.

A resort would later be built there, Wells wrote, that included three hotels, camping areas, two stores, mineral steam baths, a bottling facility, a concert hall, stores, a doctor's office and numerous recreational activities – swimming, golf, croquet, tennis, riding, bowling and more.

A Justice of the Peace and constable even were stationed at the resort, Wells wrote, explaining, “because it was so isolated it became more like its own little town as well.”

Known by friends and neighbors as “the mayor of Bartlett Springs,” Gray, who will be 80 in September, has cared for the 1,990-acre property for the last 25 years.

A self-described “pretty tough old man,” Gray is a World War II veteran who moved to Lake County in 1978 with his wife, Frances.

During the time Gray has acted as caretaker, the resort has changed hands a few times, purchased by the French water bottling company Vittel in 1984, who later sold the property to Nestle in 1993. The Vittel bottling plant was later sold separately, and is today the home of Tulip Hill Winery in Nice.

Gray has worked hard over the years to preserve and improve the remaining resort buildings.

The resort suffered damage in the 1996 Fork Fire, said Gray. The two-week Fork Fire reportedly burned 83,000 acres in the Mendocino National Forest and on private property, destroying 11 structures.

Of those structures destroyed, one was a small second house on Gray's 12-acre property near the resort.

A member of the Northshore Fire Protection District, Gray helped fight the Fork Fire and tried to protect the resort then as well.

“We were able to save the lodge at that time and all of the buildings, except for two of the old cabins that were from the 1890s era, and I had just restored them,” he said.

In recent years, despite his care, Gray has been fighting a losing battle against vandals intent on destroying the resort buildings.

Vandalism has been going on in Bartlett Springs “nearly forever,” he said, adding, “It's picked up in the last two years.”

He's found a lot of people on the property – mostly young people, he added – and despite chasing them off the problems have continued.

A visit this reporter made to the lodge in May – granted access by Gray – revealed windows, walls bashed in, bullet holes, kicked in doors and evidence of parties, including trash and beer bottles.

There have also been bouts of arson in the area, said Gray, with a “firebug” around caught there a few years ago after setting some fires.

Gray said he notified Nestle of the building's destruction, and hasn't received word what the company might do. He said he doesn't think that they will rebuild the lodge.

Editor's note: Zane Gray is the great-uncle of Lake County News Editor Elizabeth Larson.




The historic Bartlett Springs Resort gazebo, restored in 1985 by caretaker Zane Gray, pictured on May 6, 2007. The gazebo escaped the fire that burned the resort's lodge on Saturday. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

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