Just over Howell Mountain and only 20 miles from the heart of wine country sits a peculiar site not dotted on any tour guide. Built in the 1870’s to attract wealthy tourists from San Francisco and Hollywood, the expansive site included more than 30 structures including guest cabins, a social hall, dining rooms and various other luxurious accommodations.
This area was first settled by frontiersman who were drawn to the area as early as the 1850s after the discovery of a quicksilver mine. Soon after, natural soda springs were uncovered and by 1877, the Aetna Springs Resort was attracting tourists who were sold on the idea that the natural soda could provide an enhanced or extended life. By 1891, a 9 hole golf course had been installed and is reputed to be the oldest course west of the Mississippi.
Having operated continually for 98 years, Aetna Springs certainly endured considerable changes in economy, tourism and historic periods. During the Prohibition Era, the ‘Soda Fountain’ operated as an undercover bar and the building still stands today. Just 30 years later and Ronald Reagan was announcing his bid for California Governor from the steps of the Aetna Springs Social Hall.
But that would be the end of the story for Aetna Springs as it has previously been known. In the 1970’s, the property was sold to Reverend Sun Myung Moon and the resort was used as a retreat for the ‘Moonies.’ The site began its fall into disrepair and was eventually sold to a developer in 2006. It has been locked up in redevelopment negotiations ever since.
For more photos from Aetna Springs, see the full set on flickr