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Mike and Eve Art
Chico Hot Springs Resort
Pray, Montana

A Story of Love and Survival in Paradise Valley, Montana

Mike and Eve Art

It started out innocently enough -- a family that loved the outdoors came to vacation in Montana in 1973 to hike, ride horses, hunt, and fish. This introduction to a way of life far different from their lifestyle in Cleveland, Ohio, where the Art family ran a clothing store, planted a seed in their minds that eventually grew to be a reality.

Mike Art, the patriarch of the family, who is now affectionately called "The Godfather of Paradise Valley" by some locals, came back to Montana later in the year for a hunting trip and discovered a dilapidated hotel nestled in a lush river valley surrounded by mountains of the craggy Absaroka range about 30 miles from the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

It was love at first sight when Mike learned about the history of this property, which seemed to beckon him to start a new life for both of them. Even though it was neglected and in extreme disrepair, Mike was confident that he and his family were capable of reviving all that this establishment has meant to visitors and locals in the past while, at the same time, infusing the Art family's own vision. He bought the property on the spot.

When Mike Art called home to share the good news with his wife, Eve, she asked, "What bar are you calling from?" Mike responded, "Ours." Eve recalls her reaction as not being positive initially. And when she first saw the neglected historic property, seemingly crying out for help, she was reduced to tears of despair. But the overwhelming beauty of the area was spellbinding and soon the couple and their two young daughters moved to Paradise Valley. They finally were "home."

Chico Hot Springs Resort began in the late 1890s when a pioneering couple, Bill and Percie Knowles, opened a modest boarding house near a natural hot spring. They catered to fortune-seeking miners during the height of the Montana Gold Rush. It was luxurious for miners to have a respite from campfire meals and washing their clothes in the creek. Bill and Percie offered home-cooked meals in addition to a clean bed, hot bath, and a bowl of fresh strawberries with every meal. Word got out about the fine food and good soak and soon people made this idyllic place a destination stop. In 1900, Bill and Percie Knowles opened the Chico Warm Spring Hotel with great success, and a year later added more rooms to the two-story clapboard structure.

When Bill Knowles died years later, Percie decided to make the Hotel into a health spa. She shut down the saloon and stopped serving alcohol. Percie also procured the services of a physician to be available to cure a variety of ailments. To meet these new needs, a 20-room hospital was added.

The establishment hit hard times during the Great Depression. Room rates dove to $2.75 per day ($17 a week) and that included breakfast and dinner and use of all bathing and plunge facilities. In 1946 there was a rate hike of $4 per day ($24 a week) but interest in Chico dwindled. After Percie's death, her son sold the hotel which resulted many changes at the hands of various owners. It went from being a health resort to a dude ranch, religious retreat, and roadhouse. It eventually ended up in complete disrepair.

When Mike and Eve purchased the property in 1973, the hotel was falling apart, the pool was filled with algae, and only a few intermittent guests came to visit. Mike, Eve, and their daughters, Jackie and Andrea, began ownership that winter with only three loyal employees. The family members cleaned rooms, cooked family-style meals, washed dishes, repaired leaky roofs and the heating system, and worked the front desk. Jackie and Andrea were horse wranglers and Mike tended bar and also took frequent 200-mile drives to pick up fresh seafood for the dining room. Additionally, Andrea apprenticed under master chef, Larry Edwards, who was responsible for initiating the innovative and refined style of cuisine that was new to Montana dining in the early 1970s
The decision to offer this unique dining experience drew people to Chico Hot Springs Resort from far and near. Long-standing signature dishes including Beef Wellington, Fennel Breadsticks, and Flaming Orange are revered. Patrons appreciate that the dining room offers Montana fish and lamb, wild game, regional trout, and fresh produce and herbs from Chico's gardens and year-round greenhouse.

The Arts' plan to create a Montana icon worked. They established a place where people from all walks of life return year after year. Eve and Mike Art have been married 60 years and, during their past 38 years together at Chico Hot Springs Resort, have welcomed generations of families from all walks of life.

Some famous guests have crossed the portals of the Resort, including the artist Charles M. Russell who, over one hundred years ago, periodically sketched on napkins in exchange for drinks or dinner. More recent luminary guests include Jeff Bridges, Steve McQueen, Ali McGraw, Dennis Quaid, Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Charles Kuralt, Tom Brokaw, and others. When guests come to this extraordinary place, they arrive as strangers and leave as friends. Just as the natural thermal spring flows through Mike and Eve Art's Chico Hot Springs Resort, the rich experiences and relationships they have garnered through their hard work will forever be part of their legacy.

And so, a helpless, downtrodden historic gem on an idyllic patch of land, protected by mountains and sustained by its lifeblood of a thermal spring flowing through it has been rescued, and its history will include the years of hard work and dedication by the Art family to achieve that goal.


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