Resthaven Hotel

Also known as: New Tribes Bible Institute
915 N. Hartwell Ave., Waukesha, Wisconsin

A Y-shape structure, built as a luxury hotel, used as a VA Hospital and now serving as a school


Overview Looking North

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in April 2016



Spring City - The Saratoga of the West 

Written by J.R. Manning

There was a time when Waukesha was a destination, the summer home of thousands who came to partake of the healing waters, abundant in the springs. In fact, one of Waukesha's nicknames is Spring City.

The story goes that Colonel Richard Dunbar came to visit his relatives who were living in Waukesha. Dunbar suffered from diabetes, probably Bright's Disease. He developed a terrible thirst while on a ride with his wife's sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Carney. She guided him to a nearby spring where he partook of one cup, then another cup, and continued drinking the spring water. He noticed relief from his affliction. After he returned to New York, so did his diabetes.

When he returned to Waukesha the next year, the spring water again renewed him, so he bought the land with the spring and began bottling the water under the name Bethesda, after the biblical spring. He laid out Dunbar Avenue and built a spring house. He began selling his Bethesda water all over the country.

Word of the healing powers of Waukesha water spread. Chicago entrepreneur and millionaire, Richard Laflin, pledged enough money to build what would become the Silurian Spring. The hotel and casino was immensely popular, and soon resorts sprang up all around Waukesha.

The social elite from around the country came to Waukesha, known as "The Saratoga of the West" to summer in the grand resorts and partake of the healing waters. Great social events, such as the annual Pink Ball, were grand affairs for the belles and beaux.

The haven lasted for about 30 years. Along with the dawn of the automobile came changes in American society and life, and miracle drugs that actually cured the ailments that formerly were purportedly cured by Waukesha's healing waters.

The last of the grand resorts was the Resthaven, built in 1905, high upon the hill that had been the J.K. Anderson farm. Marketed as club, hotel and sanatorium, the resort operated for about 15 years. It was the lap of luxury with European paintings, Oriental carpets, a golf course, tennis courts, a solarium (extant) a gymnasium and of course, mineral baths. Built at the tail end of Waukesha's golden days as the Saratoga of the West, the hotel never really fulfilled its promise.

After the War to End All Wars, the federal government took over the hotel and made it into a veteran's hospital. In 1944, it underwent a quarter-million dollar renovation to become a tuberculosis hospital for veterans. By the late 1950s, new drugs reduced the time a patient needed to stay and the population dwindled.

In April of 1963, the property was purchased by the New Tribes Bible Institute. The nondenominational school trains Christian missionaries for work overseas. Founded in 1955 in Milwaukee, New Tribes operates two campuses including this one.

The building was added to the NRHP in 1983.

Today, Dunbar Avenue passes the Bethesda Park and Laflin Avenue is a contributing component of a NRHP historic district.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on October 28, 1983
Reference number
Architectural style
Late 19th and 20th Century Revival: Classical Revival
Areas of significance
Commerce; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Current function
Church school
Period of significance
Significant year
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 1
Non-contributing buildings: 5

Update Log 

  • February 23, 2017: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • April 17, 2016: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated status and added photos