Murrieta remembers the legacy of Katie E. Sleeper, owner of the Fountain House

Katie E. Sleeper, her niece E. Hale Sykes, and her nephew, George Hale, stand in front of the Fountain House in 1912. The E. Hale Curran Collection photo
Katie E. Sleeper, her niece E. Hale Sykes, and her nephew, George Hale, stand in front of the Fountain House in 1912. The E. Hale Curran Collection photo

Jeffery G. Harmon

Special to Valley News

Katie E. Sleeper was the proprietor of the Fountain House, a hotel built west of the Murrieta Train Depot. The hotel was built to accommodate railroad travelers as an overnight and meal stop. Sleeper operated the hotel from 1907 until her death in 1921. She was a strong, independent woman, who raised her niece E. Hale Sykes as her own child. As challenges and changes arose in the Murrieta Valley, Sleeper was ready to serve her community and her guests.

She was born June 13, 1861, in Corinth, Vermont, and was the daughter of George W. Hale and Emma Jane Moulton. She had an older brother named Van A. H. Hale and a younger sister named Ethel Louise J. Hale. Sleeper married George W. Chamberlin, a young medical student July 4, 1879. Once George received his medical degree, he set up his practice in Hanover, New Hampshire. It is unknown why Sleeper’s first marriage dissolved.

Her second husband was C. L. Sleeper, who may have died in 1889. Afterward, Katie never remarried and never had any children of her own.

Katie’s father died Jan. 5, 1881. Her mother, never remarried, but remained close to her three children. Emma Hale moved to Nebraska in 1886 and to Murrieta, in 1894. Sleeper and her two siblings followed their mother to California.

The Fountain House is a memorable piece of Murrieta Valley history. The E. Hale Curran Collection photo
The Fountain House is a memorable piece of Murrieta Valley history. The E. Hale Curran Collection photo

Van Hale had married in 1888, but a year later his wife Lucida J. Hale abandoned him and refused to live with him. Van Hale filed for divorce in 1898, and it was granted. He ran a grocery store in Murrieta for a short time. He married Hattie Hurd Maydole in July 1900. They had one son, George S. Hale.

Ethel L. J. Hale was a young single woman when her mother settled in Murrieta. She was the bridesmaid for Grace Sykes who married Charles North in June 1897,in the Murrieta Methodist Church. North’s groomsman was Harvey Sykes, the brother of the bride.

Over a year later, Harvey Sykes and Ethel Hale were married Oct. 20, 1898, in Emma Hale’s home. Harvey Syke’s parents Mr. and Mrs. Henry Sykes were the only invited guests.

Ethel gave birth April 11, 1900, to Emma Hale Sykes at their home in Murrieta. A week later, Ethel contracted blood poisoning and died April 19. She was laid to rest in the Laurel Cemetery in Murrieta. Recently widowed with a week-old baby girl to care for, Harvey Sykes did not have many choices open to him. Emma Hale and Sleeper took charge of his child as he grieved over the loss of his wife.

Meanwhile, Sykes’ father who had been running the Fountain House decided to retire. His 12 children were grown with families of their own. Many of his grown children had moved to Santa Cruz County in California. Henry Sykes began searching for someone to rent and operate the hotel.

In 1907, the announcement was made that the Fountain House had a new landlady.

“Our new landlady, Mrs. Sleeper, with her mother, Mrs. Hale, has arrived from Ocean Beach and will before long assume the management of the Fountain House, which has so long been run by Mr. Sykes’ family. These ladies are both well known in Murrieta, having lived here a number of years ago. We extend a hearty welcome to them, while we do regret the removal of Mrs. Sykes and family from our midst,” the Riverside Independent Enterprise said in their newspaper Feb. 21, 1907.

In August, Sleeper took her niece and nephew on a vacation to San Diego before the new school year began. Her brother ran the hotel during her absence. Van Hale had also been hired to repair and repaint the Murrieta schoolhouse. By October, Van Hale leased a ranch and moved to Lake Elsinore. E. Hale Sykes’ father had remarried and settled in Olive, California.

E. Hale Sykes passed her eighth-grade examination in June 1915. In August, Sleeper took her niece and nephew on their annual vacation to San Diego. During her absence, a Mrs. Miller had charge of the Fountain House.

America declared war on Germany April 6, 1917. Forty-two Murrieta men registered for the draft, and soon the town was a hive of activity. The Riverside County Chamber of Commerce held its monthly meeting May 1917 in Murrieta to discuss county business and the possible labor shortage. Delegates toured the Murrieta farming community and the Murrieta Hot Springs Resort. In the evening, they held their meeting and dinner at the Fountain House.

“A splendid chicken dinner, served by Mrs. Kate Sleeper, capable manager of the Fountain House, was appreciated by appetites sharpened by the long drive. The hotel dining room was filled to capacity, and a second table had to be set for a number who could not be seated at first. The tables were prettily decorated with roses,” the Riverside Daily Press said May 23, 1917.

Sleeper was always willing to help her family. By December 1917, Van Hale and his family had moved back to Murrieta and lived at the Fountain House. They stayed for several months before they found another house to rent.

A few months later, an estimated magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the region April 21, 1918.

“The earthquake did quite a bit of damage at Murrieta yesterday afternoon, the Fountain House suffering the most from falling plaster and cracked chimneys. Stock in the stores was thrown from the shelves, but the buildings escaped with slight or no damage whatever,” the Riverside Daily Press said April 22, 1918.

The Armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1918, and the Great War had come to an end. Murrieta’s doughboys began to return to their homes. The newly completed grain elevator, built just north of the Fountain House, greeted the young men as they arrived at the train depot.

Sleeper and E. Hale Sykes traveled to Santa Cruz, August 1920, to attend Mr. and Mrs. Henry Sykes’ 50th wedding anniversary. The Sykes family had 12 children, 30 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. The large family celebrated being reunited.

Fire once again threatened the Fountain House January 1921. The Saturday night fire started in a barn owned by George Lambert. It leaped to the stable and out buildings of the Fountain Houseand threatened to destroy the hotel. Bucket brigades were quickly formed to pass water up to the top of the hotel; the roof was ablaze three times before they put it out, but the heroic work of the bucket brigade saved the buildings. While the men were fighting the fire with buckets, big trucks were brought into action, and like an army tank, they attacked the outbuildings, including the windmill pump and water tank, and razed them to the ground. This work checked the fire’s path of destruction.

E. Hales Sykes turned 21 in April that year, and in June she received a new Ford roadster.

In October, Sleeper’s health began to decline. Sleeper died Nov. 13, 1921, at the age of 60. She was laid to rest in the Laurel Cemetery near her mother and sister. She left her estate including the Fountain House to her niece.

Sleeper left a lasting legacy to her niece, E. Hale Sykes. She had taught her the strength of being an independent hardworking woman in a competitive and challenging world. Sleeper was a beloved proprietor and hostess to countless residents and travelers who had stayed at the Fountain House. Her dedication to her family and her contribution to the town of Murrieta should always be remembered for generations to come.

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