Opening Mount Rainier
Neither the architecture nor the guest experience at Longmire Springs Hotel had any great historic significance; there should be no tears shed about its demise almost a century ago. The significance to the facility is not in its structure, but rather in the role the Longmires played in opening Mt. Rainier National Park to the public. It is also significant in that it provided the National Park Service with a "bargaining chip" to coax the Rainier National Park Co. into building better accommodations.
James Longmire discovered the "mineral springs" at the site in 1883, and built a wagon road to the area. He soon staked a claim, and built cabins on the property. Within a few years he was advertising the curative powers of the springs and hosting guests. Together with his son Elcaine and sizable family, Longmire established hiking paths to Indian Henry's Hunting Grounds and Paradise, providing another attraction for guests. By these activities and his dogged pursuit to make Rainier a National Park, James Longmire was really the catalyst for public visitation to the mountain.
In the early years, Longmire was undisputably the most important and influential individual at Mount Rainier. A typical summer season in the 1890s brought 500 visitors -- total -- to the mountain. Most of them stayed at Longmire's "hotel." Unfortunately James Longmire died prior to establishment of Mt. Rainier National Park, but perhaps it's fortunate that he didn't see the eyesore his property would become.
By 1907 the relationship between the remaining Longmires -- led by son Elcaine -- and park rangers was rather contentious. Park officials objected to the haphazard property at Longmire, and more or less handed the Tacoma and Eastern Railway Co. an opportunity to build a newer, more worthy hotel across the street. With electric lighting, legitimate plumbing and nightly entertainment, the new National Park Inn put a severe damper on the Longmire's fortunes.
The family answered this salvo by opening a saloon in yet another hastily built shanty on the property. The acting superintendent of Mt. Rainier NP went through channels to have it closed down, and was quickly successful. The Longmires responded by reopening the building as a rather tawdry pool hall, which park officials could do little about.
It was around this same time that the Longmires attempted to claim more acreage, constructing another cabin and bringing in livestock to support their claim. Keep in mind, this was an era during which the rights of private property were enthusiastically protected with firearms, and the concept of a "National Park" was only a few years old. The local land office had far more power and authority than any tinhorn park ranger. Fortunately, park officials got word of the Longmires' move and legally blocked the homestead application. They flexed some early muscle in the process by burning the remote cabin that had been placed on park land.
At the turn of 1910 the Longmire Springs Hotel was a bonafide mess. Buildings were in disrepair, the mineral springs baths were unsightly, and promotional placard were placed all about a perimeter fence. But unlike the cabin, park officials were powerless at that time to do much about the Longmire's shenanigans on their private inholding.
As the parks in general gained momentum and Elcaine Longmire gained in age, his interest in carrying on the fight waned. He eventually promised to find legitimate business operators for the property, who would clean it and maintain the hotel, cabins, and mineral baths. Following Elcaine's death in 1915, the establishment of the National Park Service was imminent, and with it the looming specter of Stephen Mather, the Longmires leased the family business to the newly formed the Longmire Springs Hotel Company. Sources conflict as to the partners involved in this new company; some list J.B. Ternes and E.C. Cornell, while other sources name a Judge Snell, L.M. Dickson, and Mrs. Alexander B. Jones.
The new management cleaned up the property, built a better hotel, and re-worked the mineral baths. At some time between 1916 and 1919 all of the operations at Longmire -- both the Springs Hotel and the National Park Inn -- were promoted and seemingly operated by the Rainier National Park Company. Very little is known about this arrangement. Regardless, the Longmire Springs operation wasn't up to the new standards expected in a National Park, and Mather wanted it gone.
In 1919 the NPS negotiated a complex deal with Ternes, Cornell, the Rainier National Park Co., and of course, the Longmires. The buildings -- including the new hotel and cabins -- were sold to RNP Co., of which Ternes received considerable stock and a key management position. The Longmires were given a sizable stipend for a 20 year lease on their property by the NPS.
In May of 1920 the 1916 hotel and perhaps some of the newer cabins were moved across the street to become the "annex" of the National Park Inn. [Refer to NPLAS National Park Inn site for continuing saga of annex] Most of the structures, including James Longmire's original 1890 hotel, were torched. Only one of Elcaine Longmire's rugged cabins was spared, left to benign neglect until it was renovated by the CCC and finally rescued by a wave of historic preservation in the 1970s. As for the rest of the resort, no tears were shed in 1920, and none should be shed now.
The issue of the Longmire inholding remained in hibernation until 1939 when the NPS lease was set to expire. If any of the family members did have an interest in re-developing the property, they faced a post-depression economy in which investment capital was scarce, and a very powerful National Park Service that could tie up plans for years. The family elected to cash out. The inholding was sold to the NPS, and the issue was finally closed for good.
The importance of Longmire Springs Hotel is its historical impact on the development of lodging within Mount Rainier National Park. It led to construction of the National Park Inn, and ultimately became part of it. Thus, its legacy and its fascinating history is worth preserving. Its structures were not, although the Elcaine Longmire cabin is worth preserving as unobtrusive physical evidence of the facility.