For James Longmire, the sight must have been awesome as he approached Mount Rainier on a crisp morning in 1883. Imagine steam vapor billowing about the ferns and evergreens of the ancient forest, revealing the location of mineral hot springs and a place of amazing beauty. Longmire and his partner, William Packwood, had been exploring this area to develop a main route from Puget Sound to Mount Rainier by following ancient Native American trails. The discovery of the hot springs was too good to pass up. He filed a claim, constructed a rudimentary trail and handcrafted a small cabin. His family, who had traveled west on the Oregon Trail 30 years earlier, joined him to build and operate the first tourist Inn on Mount Rainier. The rustic accommodations were regularly filled within the first few years of operation.
By the summer of 1890, “Longmire Springs” offered a small two-story hotel of split cedar, with five small guest rooms upstairs and a lower floor lobby. Several bathhouses were built by digging out springs and sinking tubs into the ground. In addition to the mineral baths, reputed to have curative powers by the local Indians, guests enjoyed mud baths and sulfur plunges.
James Longmire died in 1897. Two years later, Mount Rainier was established as a national park. In 1906, the Longmire family faced their first competition with the construction of the National Park Inn, a three-story hotel that would accommodate 60 guests. In 1907, the first vehicles were allowed in the park at a toll charge of an extravagant $5.00 per vehicle. Automobile stages were introduced in 1910 to carry tourists in comfort.
1916 saw the formation of the Rainier National Park Company and the construction of the Paradise Inn began. RNPC obtained a 20-year concession contract and purchased the Longmire family buildings for $12,000. The company intended to market the hot springs but was prohibited by the Park Service when the waters were tested and proved to have no medicinal value. RNPC decided to burn down the old Longmire Springs Hotel and moved an annex next to the National Park Inn. A fire completely destroyed the original National Park Inn in 1926 but the annex was untouched. The annex exists today as the National Park Inn.
Rainier National Park Company sold their interests to the federal government in 1940 but retained the right to lease all business opportunities until 1968 when the corporation was dissolved. In 1973, Government Services, Incorporated obtained the contract to operate the concessions in Mount Rainier National Park. This same company, now known as Rainier Guest Services, operates the facilities in the Paradise Inn, Jackson Visitor Center, National Park Inn and Sunrise Lodge.
The National Park Inn underwent renovation in1936 and 1990. The Longmire area was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1987. Today, the National Park Inn offers 25 guest rooms, a casual dining restaurant, a guest lounge, and a country store. Open year-round, visitors from around the world stay at the Inn to enjoy spectacular views, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and legendary hospitality.
Longmire has undergone tremendous changes since that chilly morning in 1883. Gone are the bathhouses, wagon trails, and antiquated facilities. But the lush vegetation, stunning vistas, abundant wildlife and majestic splendor of Mount Rainier still endures.