JFK in Arizona

JFK in Arizona, Arizona history, Arizona historian, AZHistorian, John Larsen Southard, John Southard, Southard, Castle Hot Springs, historic preservation

Page from a 1959 Castle Hot Springs brochure touting the history and amenities of the springs and resort.

Fifty years ago on this day, as reported by a November 23rd, 1963 Arizona Republic headline, “3 Shots Plunged [the] U.S. Into Grief.”

President John F. Kennedy, the charismatic young leader cut down by gunfire in Dallas five decades ago today, has a little-known connection to our state. This link is not through electoral results (he lost Arizona to Richard Nixon in 1960 and likely would have lost the state to native son Barry Goldwater in the 1964 campaign), but instead as a result of his recuperative visits to Arizona’s warm, sunny climate.

After suffering severe injuries while commanding his now-famous Navy vessel, PT-109, Kennedy convalesced at Castle Hot Springs, a resort destination northwest of Phoenix normally frequented by moneyed elites bearing names such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Wrigley. However, the posh hotel and spa served an entirely different purpose during World War II, when it was used as an Army Air Forces recuperation facility. Having already experienced the restorative powers of our year-round sunshine during a 1930s stint as an Arizona ranch hand, JFK and his family saw potential in the state’s warm winter weather and the “health-giving effects” of the resort’s namesake hot springs.

The hot springs were long-known by inhabitants of the land that would become Arizona, with Native Americans reputedly enjoying the health benefits of the 122-degree water long before any European nation controlled the area. The commercial appeal of the natural attraction proved irresistible by 1896, when the first resort opened at the site. Mid-century advertising for the Castle Hot Springs Hotel boasts of spring water “most palatable and wonderfully relaxing to bathe in.” Excluding a brief break in operations during the Second World War, the facility welcomed guests seeking the supposed revitalizing power of its waters for a full eighty years, closing in 1976 after falling victim to a catastrophic fire. The grand desert destination later served as an ASU-owned conference center, but is now all but abandoned, existing only as a handful of shuttered buildings awaiting a renewal akin to the those experienced by so many of its aching guests.

Arizonans Should Celebrate Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthday

Theodore Roosevelt's birthday, Roosevelt Dam, Reclamation Act, 1911, Arizona history, Arizona historian, AZHistorian, John Larsen Southard, John Southard, Southard

The recently dedicated Roosevelt Dam dominated the colorful cover of the August 12th, 1911 edition of Scientific American.

Renaissance man Theodore Roosevelt was born 155 years ago yesterday in New York City, a place very different from the far-off and not-then existent Arizona Territory that would later derive great benefit from his presidency.

Roosevelt is most closely associated with our state through his leadership of the courageous Rough Riders of Spanish-American War fame, many of whom hailed from Arizona. While not as widely known and arguably far less interesting than the battlefield heroics of the all-volunteer Rough Riders, Arizonans should also recognize Roosevelt for signing the 1902 Newlands Reclamation Act into law. This landmark legislation authorized several large-scale water reclamation projects in the arid lands west of the 100th meridian, including our Roosevelt Dam.

Completed in 1911, the $10 million Roosevelt Dam helped to ensure Valley residents a reliable water supply, thereby largely ending the decades-long struggle against unpredictable supplies of water that left Phoenix-area farm fields flooded in times of overabundant precipitation and parched in times of drought. The project’s significance was not lost on local residents or the press, as evidenced by the March 19, 1911 edition of the Arizona Republican that bore headlines proclaiming “Life Blood of Valley Turned Into its Arteries by Theodore Roosevelt,” thus signaling a “Triumphant Ending of the Great Project.”

Today just one among the string of several dams along the Salt River, the now-enlarged Roosevelt Dam has been vitally important to the vitality and prosperity of the Phoenix metropolitan area for more than a century. However, the dam’s importance – widely recognized during its construction and through the present day – and Roosevelt’s much-publicized 1911 visit still failed to deliver Arizona’s 1912 electoral college votes to third-party candidate Roosevelt, who fared better in the state than Republican Howard Taft, Socialist Eugene V. Debs, and Prohibition nominee Eugene W. Chafin, but couldn’t top the vote tally of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.