Nestled in the tall evergreens of the Cascade Mountains lies a group of geothermal springs that have attracted visitors for generations. Breitenbush Hot Springs are situated in a natural clearing along the Breitenbush River some twelve miles northeast of Detroit, Oregon. To this day, visitors continue to enjoy the curative powers of the mineral water and meditative atmosphere of the landscape.
For thousands of years, the warm waters of the springs beaconed local Indigenous groups. Anthropologist Dennis G. Griffin identified the springs as being a favored hunting site and place for ritual purification and ceremonies. Not only did the Santiam Kalapuyans and Molallans visit the springs as they traveled to higher elevations in the North Santiam Canyon during warmer months, but also other Native tribes came from hundreds of miles away to enjoy the mineral waters. Breitenbush Hot Springs was a place of connection and community. Indigenous groups held rituals, feasts, and ceremonies as well as conducted trade near the springs.
In 1873, John Minto, a Hudson Bay fur trapper, led an expedition in the North Santiam Canyon in hopes of finding a passage through the Cascades to eastern Oregon. Minto recorded that his party came across a one-armed Dutchman, named John Breitenbush, who had settled near the springs in the 1840s. As Minto laid claim to the springs and river, they named both natural features after him.
In the 1880s, Judge John B. Waldo, Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, visited the springs. The aromatic forests, gurgling rivers, and warm waters of the Cascades inspired him. Determined to preserve the natural landscape, Judge Waldo wrote to President Grover Cleveland. He urged the President to act, telling him of how the landscape evoked a sense of “communion with untrammeled nature and the free air, the narrowing tendencies of artificial and petty existence might be perceived and corrected, and the spirit enlarged and strengthened.” In 1889, Judge Waldo began a campaign to protect the entire Cascade Range. Joint Memorial No. 8 suggested that a Cascade Forest Reserve be created, but it was stopped in the Senate. However, in 1893, President Cleveland designated 4,400,00 acres as the Cascade Forest Reserve.
The springs were homesteaded by Claude Mansfield in 1904, who died in 1906, leaving the land in question. Sometime before 1925, the Breitenbush Hot Springs Company published a business proposal that highlighted the medicinal properties of the waters. The waters were reported to have high levels of Arsenic and Potassium, which at the time were used in a variety of treatments for nervous affections and dermatological maladies. The Breitenbush Hot Springs Company planned on constructing four modern bath houses, all of which would have attendants to provide proper care and treatment for visitors. The staff would even confer with the patient’s physicians, sending a report back with the patient to give to their physician after their stay.  The Company also intended on installing a bottling facility to bottle and sell the mineral spring water. Although the Breitenbush Hot Springs Company did not build its resort, the hot springs did attract other potential buyers with a similar interest in making use of the waters’ curative powers.
Mark and Ada Skiff leased a parcel of land from the Forest Service to build a health resort in the late 1920s. In 1929, the Skiffs worked with two prominent garden architects, Elizabeth Lord and Edith Shryver to design the landscape. A quarter-mile up stream, Merle Bruckman purchased property and constructed a lodge and other buildings in 1927. The two resorts made Breitenbush Hot Springs a health and wellness destination in the North Santiam Canyon. Tourists, locals, and Native Americans enjoyed the hot springs and new developments surrounding the areas.
While the Skiff’s property eventually fell into disrepair, Bruckman operated his business until the mid-1950s, and the property was then purchased by various people until 1972 when it was closed.
Alex Beamer bought the property in 1977 with the hopes of building a new retreat and conference center. As he rebuilt the property, more people were attracted to the tranquility offered by the springs. The Oregonian reported [t]he therapy is both external from the dozen mineral hot springs that bubble to the surface and internal from the vegetarian meals served three times daily.” Beamer developed the hot springs and convention center as a worker-owned cooperative, fitting within the context of other utopian communities that emerged within Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s. However, restorative landscape was disrupted by the Detroit Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest creating a large timber cutting district near the property. Community members, such as Dinah ‘Mo’ Ross, tried to save the forest around the springs by starting campaigns and protesting the Forest Service in 1979. Her appeals were partially successful, and timber cutting has slowed in the area in the recent decades.
In 1985, the Breitenbush Community, originally founded by Beamer and who are the current owners, bought the property and created the Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort and Conference Center. Community members reclaimed surrounding the trail network surrounding, and the hot springs continue to be used by more than 12,000 visitors each year. Tucked away in the forest, the Breitenbush Hot Springs have played an important role in the preservation of North Santiam Canyon and remain an integral part in the area’s culture, heritage, and economy.
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 Dennis G. Griffin, “Prehistoric Utilization of Thermal Springs in the Pacific Northwest” (Master’s Diss., Oregon State University, 1985), 36-37.
 Beverly Elizabeth Lowe, A Biography of an Oregon Pioneer: John Minto man of Courage, 1822-1915 (Salem: Kingston Price and Company, 1980), 78. Some sources contested that John Breitenbush was the first Euro-American settler near the springs. In a letter to the editor of an Oregon newspaper on April 29, 1922, David B. Smith shares that his father, Don A. Smith spoke of other white men visiting the hot springs before the Dutchman. While in 1938, Frederick Breitenbusher claimed that the one-armed hunter was his father, Lewis Breitenbusher See Smith, David B., “Early Trip to Hot Springs,” unnamed newspaper, April 29, 1922, Folder 1, VF Breitenbush, Oregon Historical Society, Portland. See also “Breitenbush Hot Springs Pamphlet,” Breitenbush Hot Springs Company, date unknown, folder 1, Breitenbush, North Santiam Historical Society, Mill City, OR, 1
. Jeff LaLande, “A Wilderness Journey with Judge John B. Waldo, Oregon’s First Preservationist,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 90, no. 2 (1989): 159.
 Ronald Eber, “’The Eternal Battle’ The Success of the Wilderness Act at 50,” Sierra Club, https://orsierraclub.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/the-eternal-battle-the-success-of-the-wilderness-act-at-50/.
 Cook, Travis J. “From Hot Springs to Heritage: A Cultural History of the Breitenbush Hot Springs.” Willamette Valley Voices: Connecting Generations 2, no 2. (Summer 2013): 53-80. Learn more about his analysis of the Breitenbush Hot Springs Company’s pamphlet and its Progressive Era rhetoric.
 “Breitenbush Hot Springs Pamphlet,” Breitenbush Hot Springs Company, date unknown, folder 1, Breitenbush, North Santiam Historical Society, Mill City, OR, 10.
 “Breitenbush Hot Springs Pamphlet,” 15.
 Cook, Travis J. “From Hot Springs to Heritage: A Cultural History of the Breitenbush Hot Springs.” Willamette Valley Voices: Connecting Generations 2, no 2. (Summer 2013): 70.
 Ada V. Skiff to Elizabeth and Edith Schryver, August 12, 1929, Call Number 98, box 4, folder 7, Lord-Schryver Correspondence, University of Oregon, Eugene.
 “It’ll be a hot time in the hot springs tonight,” Oregonian, December 31, 1987, sec. C8, folder 1, VF Hot Springs, Oregon Historical Society, Portland.
 Kopp, James J., Eden Within Eden: Oregon’s Utopian Heritage (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2009), 163.
 Cook, 77.
 Michele Field, “Breitenbush Hot Springs,” Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon Historical Society. Last updated September 14, 2022.
- Cook, Travis J. “From Hot Springs to Heritage: A Cultural History of the Breitenbush Hot Springs.” Willamette Valley Voices: Connecting Generations 2, no 2. (Summer 2013): 53-80.
- Lang, William L. “John Minto (1822-1915).” Oregon Encyclopedia, Oregon Historical Society. Last updated June 15, 2022.
- Kerr, Andy. “A Brief Political History of Oregon’s Wilderness Protections.” In Oregon Wild Endangered Forest Wilderness, edited by Andy Kerr, 48-63. Portland: Timber Press, 2004.
- Griffin, Dennis G. “Prehistoric Utilization of Thermal Springs in the Pacific Northwest.” M.A. Thesis, Oregon State University, 1985.
- Rakestraw, Lawrence and Mary Rakestraw. History of The Willamette National Forest. Eugene, Ore.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1991.
Klade, Rachel. “Restorative Waters—Breitenbush Hot Springs.” The Atlas of Drowned Towns (blog). August 25, 2023.