The history of Vichy Springs Resort spans from the pre-written history of the local Pomo Native Americans (over 5,000 years ago) to the present-day spa operations. The actual springs are estimated to be well over ten million years old. Extensive travertine and ancient travertine onyx deposits are indicators of the various springs’ ages. The Pomo used the springs during their sole residency in the Yokayo Valley. They used the waters, according to personal verbal revelation to Gilbert Ashoff from Edna Guerrero and Elsie Allen both aged elders in 1978, for gout, arthritis, rheumatism, poison oak, burns, cuts, psoriasis, and eczema.
During the early 1800’s the entire Ukiah Valley (an Anglicization of “Yokayo” which means “deep valley” in the local Pomo dialect) was granted by Mexico (California was then part of Mexico) to Cayetano Juarez. Señor Juarez owned extensive holdings elsewhere and never developed much in Ukiah. Credit for discovering the spring is given to Frank Marble the first “Caucasian” to arrive in the Ukiah Valley in 1849, the year of the big rush of gold seekers to California. Squatters followed and by 1852 William Day had established his residence and had completed at least three cottages at “Day’s Soda Springs” in Ukiah. These three cottages still stand and are in use at the resort to this day.
History does not tell us what happened to Mr. Day, but in 1865, after California had become a state of the USA, Señor Juarez’s claim to the Ukiah Valley was upheld by the US Supreme Court.
Juarez subsequently sent Col. William Doolan, a Union Civil War veteran, to sell his rancho in parcels to the squatters who had lived on and used his rancho. Doolan either threw Day off or presumably Day had left already or did not have the hard cash required to buy his Soda Springs. Doolan wound up owning and operating what he renamed “Doolan’s Ukiah Vichy Springs”, named after the famous French springs because of the water’s striking similarities so noted by, presumably, French gold seekers.
Doolan expanded and operated his Vichy Springs from 1866 to 1896. He was ranked as the 2nd wealthiest man in Mendocino County due to his prominence and ownership of these incredible springs. It was also, by far, one of the largest businesses in Ukiah and Mendocino County with accommodations for up to 200 guests at its peak of operation. Doolan added new concrete baths, the “Vichy Plunge” (swimming pool), a bar and restaurant, dairy farm, dance pavilion, bowling alleys, croquet, gardens, cottages and rooms. The two rows of rooms built by Wm. Doolan circa 1866-1870 still stand. All of his, up to 65 single wall no foundation, cottages have disappeared.
Doolan was a developer and risk taker and leveraged his properties many times to finance other ventures. The deepest, though not as long as 1929, depression in the U.S., 1893-1897, closed 500 banks and bankrupted 15,000 businesses in the country.
Doolan lost Vichy Springs to a foreclosure on a $10,000 note owed to A.F. Redemeyer, owner of the Bank of Ukiah (forerunner of, the now, Savings Bank of Mendocino County) and considered to be the wealthiest man in Mendocino County. Redemeyer sold the resort in an “inside” transaction for $10.00 to his two daughters and son John. John within two years bought out his siblings’ interests and operated the resort until his death and estate probate in 1948. John Redemeyer, as had Doolan, operated the resort between May 1st and the first rains of October. The Russian River and Vichy Creek became impassable for stagecoaches, gigs, and the modern autobus and cars of Redemeyer’s era. Bridges over the Russian River came later. The first short-lived bridge was built by Redemeyer.
It was mostly during the Doolan and Redemeyer eras that the rich and famous in California history visited Vichy Springs. The Ghirardelli family, Political boss in San Francisco Abe Roef, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and William Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt and daughter Alice, Mark Twain, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, bare fisted boxers Jim Corbett and John L. Sullivan. The list goes on. Today’s politicians have visited including Governor Jerry Brown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressmen Frank Riggs and CA Attorney General and Congressman Dan Lungren, as well as movie stars Bo Derek, John Corbett, Dustin Hoffman and James Coburn and TV’s Larry Hagman. Sports figure Sandy Koufax was also a guest and left an autographed baseball.
Gertrude Redemeyer White born at Vichy Springs in 1894 and died at her ranch north of Ft. Bragg in 1995 at 101 years of age. She attributed her longevity, as she told to Gilbert Ashoff in the 1980’s, to her parents making all the kids go to the Vichy Spring each morning before breakfast and drink a large glass of Vichy Water. Gertrude was John Redemeyer’s daughter and was raised in the summer months, May to October when the resort was open, at Vichy Springs. She told many stories. One involved Abe Ruef a notorious political boss and gadfly from San Francisco. He called her “Gertie.” One day she was passing by the cottage where Roef was staying and he yelled out at the 8 year old; “Gertie, do you know how to play poker? We are short one hand.” She replied no and he said, “get over here and we will teach you.” She did and being a mathematical prodigy (grandfather was the wealthiest man in the county and a banker) she said that after they had a few glasses of whiskey she cleaned them out. It then became a thing each summer for them to “beat Gertie.” Roef went to jail for 5 years as a result if his activities in San Francisco, and the “beat Gertie” challenge renewed when he got out with then teen-aged Gertie.
In 1948 two brothers, Arnold and Henry Erickson purchased Vichy Springs. They never achieved their goal of fully operating the resort as such but turned it into a local watering hole complete with bar and restaurant serving a large steak at a moderate price whilst the resort, while operational, languished due to lack of maintenance and marketing. The resort facility and cottages were allowed to deteriorate, many beyond the point of no return. The current owners, Gilbert and Marjorie Ashoff first leased the property in 1977 and built and established a bottling plant with eyes on the old resort for the future. The future came faster than they expected. The Ericksons announced a plan to clear cut every tree on the 800-acre Vichy Ranch in order to re-grade it and build an 800-unit mobile home park on the property. The Ashoffs were horrified at the prospect of the resort being leveled, only to be forgotten and a “Ukiah style” mobile home park put in its place, complete with certain destruction of the pristine and irreplaceable mineral springs.The only thing that stood in the way of the mobile home park was an option that the Ashoffs had acquired in October of 1979 to purchase the resort property from the Ericksons. The Ashoffs hatched a plan to purchase the resort’s 800 acres by developing part of it (110 acres), downstream and away from the springs, into a residential subdivision. The remaining 700 acres would remain the resort and ranch it had been since the 1800’s.
The resort renovations began in 1982 after the exercise of the aforementioned option in October of 1981. Beginning in 1982 the forty-six years of neglect, accumulation of hundreds of tons of debris, trash, and hazards were removed and all the buildings that could be saved were renovated from their foundations up. This process extended from 1982 through 1992. The resort fully opened in 1989 with Day’s two 1854 cottages and twelve rooms in Doolan’s “long row.” Day’s other cottage was the office from 1989 – 2002 for the resort. It is now once again an overnight accommodation. Two buildings were remodeled into a private school the Ashoffs had created to educate their 4-year-old daughter. That school grew to 85 students and a second daughter arrived in the process. After 17 years it closed in 1996 and the buildings were converted to resort use.
Never closed since 1854, the reopening of overnight rooms in 1989 created, once again, the only destination resort in Ukiah since Vichy Springs was last fully open in 1941. Over 50,000 visitors used Vichy Springs in 2018, up from 100 in 1988. The naturally warm and carbonated “Vichy Baths” are once again being used by Californians and guests from all over the world to relieve the stresses and strains of urban and city life. Guests enjoy hiking to Chemisal Falls, walking the pathways through oak and madrone woodlands, picnicking, experiencing the “cures” of the phenomenal Vichy Baths and sharing romantic interludes as they have for almost 170 years at Vichy Springs Resort.