By Cory Peterman
Marble Hot Springs
Many residents and visitors of Sierra Valley may be familiar with Sierra (Campbell Hot Springs near Sierraville, but may not realize that over 50 years ago, another natural mineral spring formation in the valley, known as Marble Hot Springs, that rivaled the hot springs in Sierraville, was open to “public” use (I use the term “public” loosely – you’ll see why shortly. Though the Marble Hot Springs are technically in Plumas County, they were important to the residents of Sierra County and should be written about. This article was at the suggestion of John Ponta, who inquired with me on the closure of the Marble Hot Springs.
The hot springs are named after Solomon Marble (1837-1904 who owned the ranch where the springs were first located. Many sources state “He heated his large, two-story home from the steaming spring water, and the house was a popular gathering place for nearby ranchers.” One of Solomon’s sons, Harry, built another house nearby, where Harry’s daughter Alice Marble (1913-1990 was born. Alice later became a famous tennis player that won eighteen Grand Slam championships. However, she did not learn tennis at the ranch, for when she was five years old, her parents sold the place and relocated the family to San Francisco.
The following owners of the ranch included the McKissick Cattle Company, James L. Humphrey, then Frank P. Carmichael, who closed the hot springs down in 1972. Up until its closure, the Marble Hot Springs was open to the public, despite being on private property. The Feather River Bulletin of June 14, 1956 reported “Two versions of a story have been in circulation for over 30 years to the effect that the public has free access to the springs. One version says that the Marbles gave the spring outright to ‘the people.’ One version says that in transferring title to the land, the Marbles included in the deed a reservation to the effect that the public was always to have access to the water, even though the actual property would be privately owned.
Both Jim Humphrey and Frank Carmichael have been quoted to the effect that no such provisions exist, and a search of county records back to 1919 show no reservation of any kind in any deed concerning the area where the springs are located.”
Over the years since the Marble family left the property, several structures, including a bath house, were built by visitors to the hot springs, along with chutes and pipes to direct the water, which is said to be 120 degrees on the surface at its coolest. Users of the springs came from all over the country.
Unfortunately, visits to the springs didn’t go well for everyone. The Portola Reporter of September 12, 1940 reported the following: “Indian Drowns While Bathing at Marble Hot Springs – An aged Indian drowned this week at Marble Hot Springs while bathing in a run-on ditch, about 500 feet from the hot well. The Indian, James Edwards, was 86 years of age and a member of the Kancow tribe.”
For many years, the grounds were kept up well at the springs. It was reported “The steam and bath rooms and the grounds are, according to a neighbor and long-time resident, ‘kept up by everybody and nobody.’ The buildings were built and are kept in repair by those using the facilities.” However, clashes began in the early 1970s between the Hippie subculture and the traditional users of the springs. Ranch owner Frank Carmichael was quoted as being caught between the two factions and wanted to get out, refusing “to discuss anything on the subject except to say he was sued… by someone claiming to have been injured at the springs.”
The Sacramento Bee of March 23, 1972 reported “Hippie Squabbles Close Plumas Spa – Marble Hot Springs, scene of recent squabbles between hippie-type young people and the more conservative users of the mineral waters, has been closed and the area posted against trespassers.
Owner Frank Carmichael, plagued with repeated reports of partying youths at the natural health spa, tore down the four crude shacks which house the steam room and baths. Carmichael would not comment on the closure and posting of the area other than to say he is protecting his property.
During the last year or so, many of the middle-aged and elderly users of the natural sauna, who have been coming to the springs for decades to soak out aches and other miseries, have complained of the takeover by hippies who they say indulge in wild parties and frolic in the nude. Several times last summer sheriff’s deputies arrested partying youths at the spa, charging them with drug violations.
The closure has brought protests from those who have long frequented the baths as a health spa. Others, however, feel the springs draw an unsavory group to the area and that the closure is long overdue.”
At least residents and visitors of Sierra Valley still have Sierra Hot Springs to enjoy!