The Story of the Buckhorn Baths

Highway 60 is still one of the main roads into Phoenix.    Back in the day, it was *the* road if you were coming in from the East.    It runs through Mesa Arizona first, and there’s still parts that retain its past of epic sized neon signs and old school road trip memories.    The Buckhorn Baths is the king of those places in the area.   It just stands out.    When I first saw it, it reminded me of Roys in Amboy on route 66.    I liked this place immediately, and wanted to know its story.

Buckhorn Baths Sign in Mesa Arizona
The Buckhorn Baths Motel.    This sign was built to not be ignored.    There’s a ton of Arizona history here.  

Ted and Alice Sliger started the Buckhorn Baths.    Ted was was an entrepreneur and a Texan, but found his way to Arizona and in the 30s, started a gas station on the corner of the Apache Trail and the bush Highway on the way to Saguaro Lake.     A fire later destroyed their business.      Ted, ever the opportunist bought a homestead on the far edge of highway 60 into Mesa to start over and try again.

With the brutal desert heat and water a necessity, The couple got tired of hauling in water and put together enough money to drill a well.  It didn’t go so well.   The results were an undrinkable, hot, odorless Mineral Water.  Ted made the most out of it and they started the  Buckhorn Mineral wells in 1939.

The Buckhorn Hot Mineral Wells.    

 

It didn’t take Long.   Right down the middle of the Apache Trail and right in view of the superstitions – the Buckhorn brought in travelers, and started to grow.

More and more people were travelling by car, and the Buckhorn started getting more and more business.  Ted and Alice’s venture started to grow.  They put in a cafe, motel, Curio shop and even a 9 hole golf course.  They bought old bricks for $5 per thousand from a local school that was being torn down and built a trading post complete with a greyhound bus station.   When local cowboys came through town and needed food and a place to stay, they’d be put to work in exchange for labor to expand his new enterprise.   Ted was also a skilled Taxidermist and started a small animal museum to bring in customers.

New York Giants 1947
The Buckhorn became the home of the New York Giants for Spring Training in 1947

Arizona seemed like a great place for Baseball spring training, and in 1947 Ted capitalized on an opportunity.   His Motel and therapeutic mineral waters were a perfect fit to house baseball players.  He cut a deal to have the world champion New York Giants stay there for spring training.  He outfitted locker rooms into the facility for the team which are still there.    This was the Giants spring training home for 25 years.  Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and a list of baseball players all stayed here.    Other teams soon followed into Arizona, and the cactus league was formed.   Today, more than 1/2 of the Major League Baseball teams train in Arizona. It all started with the Buckhorn.

Buckhorn Baths Postcard
Any good curio shop has self promoting postcards with “World Famous” In there somewhere.     

 

Buckhorn Baths Arial View 19402
Buckhorn Baths Arial View 1940s

 

Swimming Pool at the Buckhorn
All the amenities of the day:  Kicking back at the Swimming Pool 

 

Buckhorn Baths 1950s
The Place was packed.  

The Buckhorn continued to thrive through the 60’s and 70’s.   The staff of 25 made beds, sold admission to the museum, cleaned and made food.   The business had 27 stone tubs, 15 adobe style cottages with attached carports to get out of Arizona sun.   The wildlife museum had over 450 animals, some that were extinct in Arizona.   Ted and Alice lived on the property and continued the business of hospitality.

When Ted Passed away in 1984, Alice continued to run the place for 15 more years    When route 60 was re-routed in the mid 1990’s, traffic all but stopped and Alice finally shut the doors for the last time at the age of 93 in 1999.

There’s been some on and off discussion on what to do with the place:   The city of Mesa spent a couple of years trying to acquire the property but they weren’t able to pull it off.   The whole 15 acres is currently for sale.    Its currently listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

 

Inside its still a time machine:

 

Inside: Ted Sligers Taxidermy still displays proudly
Inside: Ted Sligers Taxidermy still displays proudly

I busted out the drone and got some Arial shots…

Just a cool old place, with a great Story.   God, I love Arizona.

13 thoughts on “The Story of the Buckhorn Baths”

  1. My wife has an original gift box that was given to all the guest back in the day. She was there several years ago with The City of Mesa when they were trying to preserve the property. The owners gave her the gift box. It’s still complete and very old. Pretty cool.

  2. Where were the wells dug? And across the street, did they dig wells there before the 9 hole golf course was built? And is it true that the mineral water is a river flowing underneath the trailer park that is now in the place of the golf course? Can any one tell me please?

  3. What a great site. Preservation of history doesn’t seem too important nowadays, so this is very much appreciated. I’ve lived in the Valley for over 60 years, knew OF the Buckhorn Baths, but didn’t REALLY know about the place. Thanks again.

  4. Sue Mizzles Bussey

    Ted and Alice befriended poor barefooted children who lived walking distance between cotton fields on the corner of Recker and Broadway. We were allowed to go in the museum to watch TV, we didn’t own one. We were expected to behave and have manners, which we did! Our father later worked part time as a groundsman and we eventually used the entire place as our own playground, of course with respect and manners! I remember the fig trees they allowed us to eat off of. We still remember nearly every inch of Buckhorn Baths! They always let us know when special guest were there so we could come meet them. We have returned many times after we grew up and maintained friendship with Ted and Alice util they both passed away. Alice even gave my husband and I a complimentary spa, massage and bath treatment in the 90’s. The spa lady had known my parents and remembered us! My older sister may still keep in contact with their children. Lots of great memories! We even played with the four-horned ram before he passed away and Ted mounted him over the fireplace! My fondest wish is for someone to preserve the history and buildings of Buckhorn Baths! There is great potential there!

  5. Well if we could of kept it going we would have but my husband and his Uncle owned it after gramma passed, we just could not come to terms with His uncle so they had to sell, ppl think it hard to see it the way it is falling apart, my husband grew up there all our grandkids got to stay there with all of us on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The hardest thing we had to do, we haven’t even drove by there since it sold!Ppl don’t know how much work it needed the well caved in some years back and we had to go on city water! So please don’t ack like you could of saved it unless you are millionaires!

    1. So Sad, we grew up there and wish we were millionaires to save it. Such rich history and memories. My father worked very hard as a part-time grounds keeper as well as the huge cooling towers! But this too shall pass, all on this earth will pass, as will we…

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