The Story of Hot Springs goes back long before the establishment of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai (CS&K) Reservation, and the opening of the reservation to homesteaders in 1910. The Pond d'Orielle Indians knew of the healing waters even before trappers and settlers discovered them, and called them "Big Medicine."
The town itself has a checkered history, having begun life as Pineville in the 1890s, literally cheek to cheek with another small town, Camas. The Hot Springs post office was opened in 1913, and as Hot Springs grew, Camas shrank. To outsiders, we were known as Camas Hot Springs for years - and still are to many people. As the fame of our wonderful hot mineral springs grew, accommodations were built to house our international visitors and in 1948 the tribes completed their beautiful new bathhouse and swimming pool complex. At various times we had a saw mill, several grocery stores, a movie theater, a hospital, six bars, a car dealership, a number of garages, and one can only guessat the array of restaurants. At our peek, our population was over 1,000 residents.
But hard times hit the town. Fire destroyed most of main street in 1918, and again in 1931. The sawmill also burnt down. The hospital was closed. Finally , in 1985, the tribes closed the bathhouse, dealing a devastating blow to our economy. Shortly thereafter the Hot Springs Mercantile burned to the ground. To top off the bad news, cattle prices sagged the area logging was severely curtailed. The population of the town dropped to about 400 by 1990.
A group of residents determined that, since our healing mineral water is the one unique and most marketable resource we have, the reopening of the bathhouse was essential to the town's health. After several false starts, the Camas Redevelopment Company was formed, and this group worked for over six years towards this goal, and came very close to succeeding.
They say, "Close only counts in horseshoes," but we know better. We still hope the CS&K Tribes will see the economic possibilities of reopening the bathhouse under professional management in the near future. But those efforts brought other good things to Hot Springs. We now have a bank on the old "Merc" site. We have a clinic open five days a week, instead of one afternoon. The historic Symes Hotel is under new ownership, almost completely renovated, with an outdoor plunge added. The community has built a public swimming pool, utilizing the mineral water. The Hot Springs Artist Society brings in performing artists for pass-the-hat concerts twice weekly, and sponsors various community-wide cultural activities.
Our quiet community has attracted painters, potters, jewelry makers, and other craftsmen to become permanent residents. The population is up to about 600 happy people, and growing. Every year thousands of people find relief from stress, soothe their aches and pains, meet old friends and make new ones, while soaking in our mineral waters and mud.
We still stand behind our motto - "Limp in, leap out."
History written by Liz Fee