Alaska News

This Arctic hot springs resort will cost you $3 million -- but the ghosts come free

The owners of a landmark Interior Alaska lodge say it can be yours, complete with the grounds and any ghosts that may live there -- if the price is right.

The now-closed Arctic Circle Hot Springs Resort, near Central and almost 30 miles from Circle, was posted on Craigslist two weeks ago at an asking price of $3 million. According to the post, the buyer will gain access to 400 gallons a minute of 139-degree "gin clear water," flowing year-round on a federal homestead free of property taxes.

A series of photos shows the historic resort and some of its associated cabins during its heyday, alongside text mentioning the 150-guest facility's potential as either a lodge or a corporate retreat. But it needs some serious attention.

"Please know this is how it used to be but would take a tremendous amount of renovation to return to its old glory," the sellers write. "It will take a dedicated individual or group with a mind more towards history and comfort than the bottom line."

The resort's owner, Laverna Miller, said Friday that she hopes to sell the resort this summer. Her husband Robert, who bought the property in 1980, died in 2014.

"I'm not young myself -- that's the main reason," Miller said. "I'll be 81 this summer, so I'd like to have things settled with the estate."

Miller said the first non-Native to discover the spring was a prospector in the 1890s who was chasing a wounded moose during a hunt and encountered a surprisingly warm stream, then followed it to its source.

The man most responsible for the modern shape of the resort, Franklin Leach, was born on a farm in Onaga, Kansas, in 1878. He first came to Circle Hot Springs in 1905; by 1909, he had recorded a 320-acre homestead and he received a patent to the 160-acre springs property in 1918.

Miller said Leach and his wife, Emma, who met him while tending an injury Leach had sustained on the property, gradually expanded and renovated the property. Franklin added a pool, as well as a garden and chickens so visitors could dine on produce and eggs, while Emma established a post office.

"At one time they had a big hole in the ground where people were bathing," Miller said. "Mr. Leach had continually improved the buildings and the grounds, and made many improvements there."

Franklin died in 1955, followed nearly two decades later by Emma in 1974. After Robert Miller bought the property, the Millers operated it as a resort until 2002.

The Millers were dealt a financial setback in 2008, when a federal judge threw out a $1 million lawsuit filed over damage done to the resort in 2004.

Hundreds of federal firefighters had used the property as a base to fight the Central Complex group of wildfires, which ultimately burned more than 450,000 acres. Robert Miller claimed in court that fire crews had "trashed" the resort, and that he hadn't received any funds from more than $100,000 the government had paid to a caretaker -- money Laverna Miller said the couple never saw after the suit, either.

"There was a large sum of money that was designated and we did not receive it, but you can't go back," Miller said. "It was a big loss on our part."

During the property's time as a resort, it acquired a reputation among staff and guests for signs of the paranormal. One day, Miller said, her entire kitchen staff heard an unexplained noise from the kitchen's back room and pantry.

"They said they heard this whistling and whistling and they couldn't see anything, and it went all the way out through the back door all the way outside," Miller said. "You just have to be your own judge on what you think, but a lot of these things happen out there."

In a separate incident, a California teacher visited with a video camera and traveled upstairs through the resort's four-floor main building, saying he sought a "confrontation" with the ghost of Emma Leach.

"When he got up to the fourth floor, he said, he really felt a presence of her," Miller said. "The windows were closed but the doors were opening; he (filmed) the doors opening all by themselves."

Asked if she believes the resort is haunted, Miller said she's seen things she can't explain either.

"Well, I've sat in the lobby and watched the chandeliers move when there's no wind around," Miller said. "I didn't believe it myself for a long time -- but when you hear all the stories, it kind of makes a believer out of you."

A crew from "The Dead Files," a Travel Channel paranormal TV show, visited to film an episode in 2012. Miller said she agreed to let them shoot but disagreed with the malevolent spin that the resulting episode, titled "Arctic Wrath," put on the resort.

"I thought it would be an encouragement for the spring, but when I saw it it was like, 'Why would you want to go there?'" Miller said. "Mr. and Mrs. Leach were good people, but I didn't know where they came from with that."

The resort's earthly prospects appear brighter these days, according to Miller, with a number of serious offers already having been made for the property. Miller said that despite the work needed to reopen the facility, its proximity to a functioning state-owned airstrip and 85 miles of newly paved road offers ready access to a destination that's off the beaten path.

"There's a lot of possibility up there, a lot that can be done up there at the springs," Miller said. "When you go up that direction you're in a totally new area of Alaska -- it's a beautiful trip up there and people don't really see it."

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.

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