When it was built in 1916, the Rogue Elk Hotel was a first-class destination for visitors to Southern Oregon, flanking the mouth of Elk Creek and the Rogue River with luxurious accommodations and top-notch hospitality.
Financial woes in the latter half of the century found the hotel in a state of disrepair when Maggie Groves and David Kinyon purchased the inn in 2005 with plans for a full restoration.
Designed by Medford architect Charles Power, the inn was constructed by Canadian artist W.G. "Will" McDonald and his brothers.
McDonald moved to Medford in 1915 with visions of a fancy resort for the region's wealthiest residents — and a place to display his artwork.
About 30 miles from Medford on Highway 62, the Rogue Elk Inn officially opened July 22, 1916, announced by a Mail Tribune article proclaiming, "Handsome Resort on Rogue River Formally Opened." Some 200 Rogue Valley residents "motored to Elk Creek" for the grand opening, the newspaper reported at the time.
Dubbed one of the finest places in Southern Oregon for spending vacation time, the inn provided guides and horses for hunting and boasted of a "natural swimming pool." The structure is 5,300 square feet and still has its original eight-bedroom, 10-bathroom layout.
When first built, notable features of the structure included two massive fireplaces, made with 90 tons of native rock, and furniture handcrafted by the McDonald brothers from heavy oak and Indian tanned deer hides.
Famous visitors over the years included President Herbert Hoover, actor Clark Gable and writer Zane Grey.
Sadly, after financial hardship because of stock market declines and Will McDonald's death, his widow sold all interests in the hotel around the mid-1950s. The building gradually fell into disrepair, despite efforts by a handful of owners to restore it.
In 1983, the Mail Tribune reported that a family named Haselden had moved into the home 19 years earlier and begun to tackle much-needed remodeling.
Carol Harbison Samuelson, former library manager for the Southern Oregon Historical Society, said the building has a certain endearing quality for locals who have driven past it for decades.
"You see it and it's so easy to imagine it in its glory days," Harbison Samuelson said. "I've been driving past it for years and it just always struck me as such an attractive place with so much character. I always thought it would be great if anyone had deep enough pockets to really restore it to its former glory."
While the task seems incredibly daunting, Groves said she and Kinyon feel more connected to the old place with each and every tackled project.
At this point, Groves said little could dissuade her from restoring the old landmark. Its purchase in October 2005 came after sifting through a dozen pages of liens on the 13-acre property.
Since then, she's chiseled away years of bad paint, hauled away dozens of loads of old appliances, tires and mattresses and uncovered fine hardware and architectural features not seen in more than a half-century.
Currently living in the hotel, Groves said the project, for which she and Kinyon have declined to set a timeline, will be broken into five phases: First phase is restoration of the McDonald private residence, slated for final inspection this spring; second phase is the hotel's restoration; third phase is landscaping the upper level of the property; fourth phase is a decision regarding the Elk Creek restaurant nearby; and the fifth phase is developing a six-acre plateau tentatively for cabins, recreation and a wedding area.
Groves says she has every intention of seeing the Rogue Elk Hotel return to what it once was — a destination for Southern Oregon vacations, weddings and weekend getaways.