Author Post: Buckhorn Mineral Baths & Wildlife Museum

Written by Jay Mark, co-author of Buckhorn: Mineral Baths and Wildlife Museum



Every February, thousands flee the long, icy fingers of winter for the balmy climes of Arizona’s Valley of the Sun. The excuse often given is the start of an annual ritual known as the Cactus League, when 15 major league baseball teams assemble ahead of the upcoming baseball season for a month of spring training.
 
It provides the “snowbirds,” as they are colloquially called, an opportunity to get up close to their favorite teams and players – all the while basking in the warmth of the Arizona sun.
 
It’s a ritual that has gone on uninterrupted each spring since 1948. Yet, while they sit in intimate ballparks, few know how or why Mesa, Arizona became ground zero for spring training. And they probably don’t care. They just happy for the opportunity to escape winter back home.
 
Oddly enough, the story of the Cactus League centers in great measure around the Buckhorn Baths, a unique resort that once was as an oasis out in the open desert, seven miles from Mesa’s town center.
 
Arguably, the Buckhorn was the catalyst for the creation of the Cactus League. And to think if it weren’t for a tragic fire, the spa might never have been built.
 
Ted and Alice Sliger operated a rented gas station, mini-market and souvenir shop, serving motorists driving along the Apache Trail on their way into Phoenix. After a disastrous Christmas Eve fire in 1935 destroyed their business, the couple decided to start anew on a property they could own.
 
They found an ideal spot on a stretch of brush-covered desert a couple of miles west. After two years of transporting water to their new home and  business, Ted Sliger decided to drill a well – a decision that would set the couple on a totally unanticipated path.
 
Just as they expected, they reached water several hundred feet below ground. But what they didn’t foresee was a well that produced 112° hot water.  Their initial disappointment over not finding potable water was soon replaced by the recognition of opportunity.
 
Ted sent a sample to California for analysis. Good news came back. The water contained a high mineral content that was ideal for therapeutic hot baths.
 
Wasting no time, Ted began erecting a four-tub bathhouse. And in 1939 began promoting their new enterprise – the Buckhorn Natural Hot Mineral Baths. Over the next decade, as word of the Valley’s only mineral spa spread, the Sliger’s kept adding to the bathhouse creating a labyrinth of tubs and massage rooms that still exists today. They also constructed cottages for guests desiring an extended stay.
 
In 1947 New York Giants team owner Horace Stoneham, who had a winter home in the Valley, chanced upon the Buckhorn’s therapeutic waters. That got him thinking about bringing his team to Arizona. After all why should he travel when the team could practice close to his home? Plus, he reasoned, maybe he could treat his star players to a week of pampering at the Buckhorn before beginning the rigors of training.
 
That began a decades-long tradition of hosting baseball teams – first the Giants, then Chicago Cubs, and other clubs, until Alice closed the baths in 1999.
 
How baseball’s Buckhorn experiences led to the birth of the Cactus League is told in a new Arcadia Images of America book. The remarkable Buckhorn story, a saga that began with a fire and grew into an empire, features more than 200 many never before seen illustrations.
 
Along with celebrity baseball players from Ty Cobb to Willie Mays, the Buckhorn also attracted a large cadre of celebrities – a record of which was meticulously kept by Alice Sliger.
 
In it’s eight-decade history, the Buckhorn Baths, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2005, became a local icon – from it’s distinctive neon sign, to its expansive wildlife museum representing, according to taxidermist Ted Sliger, the largest collection of Arizona wildlife anywhere.
 
Completely shuttered since 2007, and recently purchased by an owner who hasn’t expressed plans for its future, the fate of the Buckhorn is very much in question leaving the Buckhorn book as the only record of a unique, historic example of roadside Americana. 



The monumental neon Buckhorn sign could be seen from up to a mile away. Proprietors Ted & Alice Sliger were pioneers in the use of neon, outlining all the Buckhorn buildings with the colorful tubing – creating a bright, beacon in the night.                                                              Mesa Preservation Foundation
The monumental neon Buckhorn sign could be seen from up to a mile away. Proprietors Ted & Alice Sliger were pioneers in the use of neon, outlining all the Buckhorn buildings with the colorful tubing – creating a bright, beacon in the night. (Mesa Preservation Foundation)




The earliest known rendering of the Buckhorn was created by artist-in residence George Frederick in 1940. Although slightly modified over the years, all the original buildings are still in place.
The earliest known rendering of the Buckhorn was created by artist-in residence George Frederick in 1940. Although slightly modified over the years, all the original buildings are still in place.




The Buckhorn was an eclectic oasis out on the Arizona desert. Amongst its attractions was a Wildlife Museum displaying more than 450 Arizona specimens, each mounted by taxidermist and Buckhorn owner Ted Sliger.The Buckhorn was an eclectic oasis out on the Arizona desert. Amongst its attractions was a Wildlife Museum displaying more than 450 Arizona specimens, each mounted by taxidermist and Buckhorn owner Ted Sliger.




Baseball is what put the Buckhorn on the map. For more than four decades many players came to the Buckhorn each spring ahead of the start of the Cactus league for a week of pampering spa treatments.



For more, check out Jay Mark & Ronald L. Peter's new book: Buckhorn: Mineral Baths and Wildlife Museum







 
Posted: 11/10/2017 12:00:00 AM| with 0 comments


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