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Beacon Senior News

The naked truth: 100 years of Orvis Springs

Jul 31, 2019 11:19AM ● By Dorothy Causey

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Orvis Hot Springs. But not many people remember the varied history of the place or the family behind the name.

The Ute Indians were the first to use the Uncompahgre Hot Springs, located on reservation land near Ridgway. Translated, Uncompahgre means “hot water.” Today this water warms the 100-year-old Orvis Hot Springs, a public spa visited by thousands year-round.

Sarah Orvis

The spa’s origins date back to when Sarah Jarvis Orvis and her first husband, A.H. “Billy” Jarvis, squatted on reservation land in 1876. They subsequently claimed the hot springs as part of their ranch, which was such prime property that it had to be defended against claim jumpers, who reportedly tried to slip onto the property in the guise of mailmen.

Billy died in 1879. In 1882, Sarah remarried to Lewis Orvis Sr. and they continued to live on the ranch.

Lewis Orvis Sr

In 1881, local Indians were forcibly moved to Utah and the couple was eventually given a government patent to the land. The Utes continued to use the hot springs but were unhappy with Orvis’ ownership of the land.

Sarah recalled in her latter years that Ute leader Chipeta was particularly bitter about the encroachment of the white people.

“The Orvis ranch was always popular with Indians because of the hot springs. The [Indians] always stopped there to bathe and dance when they were in the country,” Sarah said in a 1934 interview.

Native Americans from Manitou to Ignacio knew of and used the spring.

The Orvis Plunge

In 1919, Lewis, Sarah and Lewis’ son opened the Orvis Plunge, an enclosed swimming pool. They piped extremely hot water, about 127 degrees Fahrenheit, from the spring to the pool and cooled it to a comfortable temperature. At the time, the construction of the pool and enclosure cost $1,500.

Eventually, other improvements were added, including a fishing lake and a clubhouse. All that remains of the clubhouse today is the fireplaces. In 1933 they sold Orvis Plunge. It had a succession of various owners until it fell into disrepair in the early 1950s when the roof caved in and the building was badly damaged. In 1961, a fire destroyed what remained.

All in the family

Lois and Paul Witt constructed the current building and ran a chiropractic practice for a number of years. The building continued to change hands until Jeff Kerbel bought the property and received permission from the Orvis family to call his business Orvis Hot Springs. He started the clothing-optional rule, which was continued by the next owner, Jack Cosgrove.

In 2005, the Orvis family reacquired the business, now run by Kenneth Orvis.

The Orvis Hot Springs today looks totally different from the 1919 Orvis Plunge. A decorative wall encloses five pools of varying water temperatures. A horticulturist on staff keeps ornamental flowers and bushes along paving stone walkways that discretely accent the pools. Clothing is still optional—one of the requirements when Kenneth brought the business back into the family. The modern Orvis Hot Springs also includes an indoor pool and two private tubs.