History of Downata Hot Springs
By Fern Hartvigsen, Penny Greaves and Darlene Downs
Memories of Downata Hot Springs, located three
miles south of Downey, belong to many people. Just the mention of
"Marshall’s Springs" brings a flood of memories to old timers who can
still remember the chronology of owners Will Evans, Isaac
Marshall, the Johnson family, the Raymond Horsley family, the Elton Nead
family and currently, a conglomerate of several owners.
The hot water bubbles up from a rock-bottomed spring
south of the pool, and test 109 degrees. It is piped to the swimming
pool where cool water is added to make it comfortable for swimming.
In 1907, Alexander Marshall, his wife Diannah Bloxham
Marshall, and their family moved to "The Springs" and since then the
resort has been operated mostly as a family enterprise. Marshall had
purchased the land and hot springs from Andrew Morrison, who had bought
the homestead of Robert Miller. The Marshalls were the first to build a
swimming pool, located south of today’s pool, and featuring rock sides
and a mud bottom. Two or three dressing rooms were built, and later 25
were added, along with a plank wall around the pool. Travel was
difficult but many families came to swim for pleasure and the warm water
was often used for baptism by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. Mrs. G.F. Dewey (Lottie Marshall) remembers that they were the
only family among their acquaintances with a swimming pool in the back
yard. Isaac Marshall, now of Robin, remembers hatching baby chickens by
using the warmth of the hot water.
South of Downata, high on a hill, lies the grave of Eddie
Miller Gladness, a daughter of the original homesteader, Robert Miller.
She had requested prior to her death that she be buried there, and her
father carried out her request. The Marshalls, helped to build a fence
around the grave and care for it.
Much work and planning went into the resort, with Isaac
Marshall and Wills Evans adding land from part of the original homestead
of Ray Underwood. Jennie Marshall, who sold the property, were part of
the original Marshall family. The Evans and Marshall families worked
through the winter of 1929 to build the resort, shortening the route to
the hot springs by building a road across the marsh directly west from
highway 91, and a half-mile entrance to the resort made it more
accessible. It took tons of gravel all hauled in a pickup and
laboriously spread to create a road. The late Turner Cutright built the
first log bridge that crossed Marsh Creek on the road and today the road
belongs to the county road system.
The men dug a 50-by-100 foot hole and built the new pool
with a cement bottom, new dressing rooms, a powder room, showers and
other conveniences. When the resort was ready for opening, 30 gas
lanterns lighted it for evening activity. Later, a gas plant was
installed, and finally, electricity. The operation called for an ice
house, which Tyndale Evans says he remembers along with memories of
working the old handle washer used to keep the suits and towels clean.
In fact, every member of the two families worked-Mrs. Evans, Stan
Tyndale, Gwin, Mrs. Marshall, Marjorie, and Jean (Mrs. Jack Hadley of
Downata). Stan and Tyndale were the first life guards at the pool. An
open-air dance hall was added to the facility, with Friday night and
midnight dances a popular attraction. A Hawaiian orchestra and one from
Malad City provided favorite dance music, and Isaac Marshall recalls
paying $300 one night for the Old Mill Orchestra from Salt Lake City.
Enthusiasm for dancing waned, and roller-skating mania took over for a
while, but the swimming pool continued to be a favorite.
Marshall sold his
interest to Evans in 1937, and in 1939, the Johnsons-Osbourn, Edna,
Cliss, Joyce and Durke, purchased Downata and did some remodeling to the
living quarters. The family worked through the winter and built a
recreation hall, viewing windows, a snack bar and walk-in refrigerator,
as well as renovating the dance floor. East of the pool, 75 Chinese elm
trees were planted, along with fingerling pines at the front. West of
the pool were a flower and rose garden. Later a night club was added.
Patrons from Malad, Preston and all of Marsh Valley frequented the
Raymond and Maxine Horsley and boy’s Ray, Spence and
Scott, who had been operating a drive-in restaurant in Salt Lake City,
became a new owner of the resort in 1959, just in time to clean up and
open at Easter. In the years of their ownership, they added a sun deck,
kiddie pool, "Dipsy-Doodle," slides, a pavilion and fireplaces. They
also offered Red Cross swimming classes for 300-400 children a year.
Elton Nead, a former tugboat captain on the Columbia
River, and wife Pat and their children, James, Colleen, Thomas, Paulette
and Lauralee, of Stevenson, Washington, bought Downata in June 1974.
They tore down the old dance hall and added a game room, and remodeled
the dressing rooms, as well as the reunion rooms. They also made park
improvements and added a miniature golf course and gift shop. They also
bought the Downey Theater and operated it while owning Downata, selling
it in 1983 to the Heugley family.
In July 1979, the Neads sold Downata to Wayne McQuivey
(Salt Lake City) and Brent and Fred Coats, brothers
from Dayton. Karl and Kade McQuivey came from Salt Lake to assist Wayne
as managers, and they added all new dressing rooms, the first green tube
slide in Idaho (1980) and the first "Black Hole" slide in the state
(1983). They tore down the existing golf course and installed a new
miniature golf course at the park, added tepees for rental, built an RV Park north of the park and installed bathrooms for the R.V. park. In
1985, when Wayne left, Kyle and Kathy Nielsen McQuivey joined Karl and
Kade in managing the resort, which by now was known for family
entertainment, youth groups, and a great place to have a reunion. In
1987, the Coats brothers, sold their share of the business to an
investment group of businessmen from Utah, California, and Idaho, with
Wayne maintaining his interest in the business.
The McQuivey family left the Springs in 1988, and were
replaced as manager by Nate Hale of Preston. A year later, in 1990, Hale
was replaced by Larry and Marilyn Lathen, a young couple from Moscow,
Idaho. Under the direction from the cooperation, now called Downata
Ranch & Recreation, the Lathens supervised the tearing down of the old
entrance building and game room, which was replaced with a chain link
fence to allow spectators free view, remodeled the building west of the
pool to accommodate a family restaurant and snack bar and new reception
area, added lifeguard room, tore down the old house northwest of the
slides to create a picnic area, tore out the miniature golf course and
added a double sandpit volleyball court.
In October of 1993, owner Marilyn Gunnell reorganized the
operation, naming a management team of Darlene Downs, Julie Anderson,
Connie Johnson, and Melissa Wakley, with Terry Morrison as Pool
Operations Director. After refurbishing the dining room, the team
sponsored a contest with Downey Elementary children to name the
restaurant, The PoolSide Restaurant, which will be open for holiday
Darlene’s husband, Bret Downs, joined the team in 1994 to
manage the 2,000 acre ranch and help manage the swimming resort. Bret
and Darlene Downs are the general managers of the resort along with
Melissa Wakley, Joni Sorensen, Ryan Howe, Kathleen Miller, and Earl Owen
as the management team. Leonard and Edna Zeedyk are currently living on
the grounds in a new home and are the campground managers. Special event
and activities have been added for weekend fun at Downata. Hot Air
Balloon rides, Wagon rides, and Horse activities are just a few. The
fall of 1994 two-lovely Bed & Breakfast houses were completed and will
accommodate about 20 guests. An amphitheater in the new Cedar Campground
above the resort was completed in 1996. The Downata Corporation
purchased fourteen snowmobiles the winter of 1995 which are rented out
to vacationers. Guided Tours will be offered the winter of 1997 in the
Cottonwood and Oxford Peak area.
A camp store was created in the building that was part of
the old snack bar building. The new entrance made a better access for
wheelchairs and strollers. Nine new hookups were created to replace the
popular non hookup spaced at the bottom of the park. A new pavilion in
the soccer baseball field was added in the summer of 2001 and a roof was
built over the top of the top of the slide platform. Floor heating fed
by the springs was installed in the dressing rooms.
The summer of 2002 was full of construction. A new sewer
system was installed. New sidewalks and pavement in front of the resort
were poured and a new entrance for handicap access was created to
replace the old stair way entrance. New floors were installed in the
dressing rooms and RV bathrooms. Two showers were added to the RV
bathrooms for campers to use during closed hours. A new water playground
was built in the slide area along with a new picnic area and sand
volleyball area. Four new pavilions were built in the picnic area.
Improvements in the campground included a new paved entrance and level
gravel pads in the RV hookups. A self-serve area was added to the snack
bar for food and drink items. At the beginning of 2003 and a new slide
was installed in the pool area to replace the old famous silver slide.
Memorial weekend of 2004 another slide was added to the pool to replace
the old white curly slide.
In 2004 a
new cooling device called the water cannon was added to cool the hot water during the hot summer days.
A new pavilion was also built to replace the old west court picnic area.
The old basketball court was replaced by a new cement court down
by the volleyball area.
The year 2005, brought more sleeping accommodation. Four Yurts
were built where the tepees were once located. The tepees were
moved to the soccer field area and new trees were planted.
Cabins and a new wall
tent were added in 2006. The Bunk House was moved and sold to the farm
bordering the hot springs. The cabins were built where the Bunk House
was located. The new wall tent is located by the tepees. A new covered
pavilion was added to the large group tenting area #1 next to the wall
tent. Several other improvements were made in the pool and picnic
areas. In 2007 three more cabins were added with kitchens. In 2008 a
new meeting room and ADA bathrooms were added to the main building along
with a ADA ramp and observation deck to the pool and slide area. A
Tranquility room with sauna and massage was also added in 2008 for
sweetheart retreats. 2009 new pool decks were poured with the geo
thermal heat so the sidewalks will not be icy in the winter time.
In 2010 more improvements were made to this 100 year old ranch. The
hydro tube slides were refinished. Some large trees were removed in the
picnic area and were replaced with another restroom building with
showers. More hookups were added to the campground and large group area.
A new main entrance for summer arcades and pool observation. The pool
offers Red Cross swimming lessons and Lifeguard training sessions to
provide the twenty five employees needed each summer with lifesaving
skills. Arthritis Foundation and low impact water aerobic classes and
fitness room facilities are offered year around for area exercise
Bret and Darlene Downs still manage the resort operations along with
a couple from Twin Falls, Katie and Larry Hall, who manage the
campground and live on site.
Each owner and manager has left a mark on Downata Hot Springs resort,
making it a four-seasons resort for all of south- eastern Idaho and
travelers from afar.
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