By Michelle Stoffel Huffman, Yahoo Homes
Nestled among the Rocky Mountains in western Montana, a tiny island floats in Salmon Lake.
The island is remarkably isolated, accessible only by boat or helicopter in the summer, or by brazenly driving a car over the ice when the lake freezes over in the winter.
A lodge sits there on the pleasantly named Sourdough Island, playing host to weddings, family reunions, pajama parties and escapes for powerful players in Hollywood. It’s owned by the University of Montana, which is putting the whole property on the market for $6.5 million.
But it wasn’t always a private resort. Twenty-five years ago it was the luxurious mansion of multimillionaire Bruce Vorhauer, inventor of the Today contraceptive sponge. It served as a monument to his massive success -- and to its unraveling.
Vorhauer built the 18,000-square-foot mansion in 1984. The new contraceptive device that he’d been working for the better part of a decade had hit the market and the public initially loved it. His company, VLI, went public and he sold some of his stock for millions, giving him the first taste of the wealth he had envisioned, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But the stock value and sales plummeted after an (unfounded) news report linking the device to deadly toxic shock syndrome, the L.A. Times reported.
Then in October 1984, while driving on an icy road near his home in Montana, he skidded into a tree, critically injuring his fiancée, who died in a coma eight months later. Her parents later sued him for the accident.
The late 1980s were filled with infighting at his company until it was sold to American Home Products. Vorhauer netted an estimated $3.75 million, the L.A. Times reported. He moved to Montana full time and started investing in real estate and biomedical companies.
He also took out loans. Many loans.
There he decided to start a political career. He ran for one of Montana’s U.S. Senate seats in 1990. He lost, and was left with mountains of debt. He fell behind on mansion mortgage payments.
He tried selling the mansion on Sourdough Island, first for $7.5 million, then $5.5 million, but no one was biting, the Times said. His yacht in Seattle, once owned by actress Julie Andrews, went on the market too, but again he found no takers.
In May 1991, a lawyer told him he had 24 hours to pay the more than $1 million he still owed to Dennis Washington, the man who'd sold him the yacht. The mansion was collateral on that loan.
The June day before the yacht was to be repossessed, the yacht burned.
Vorhauer said he'd been making repairs to prepare for the turnover but left a blowtorch on. He filed an insurance claim for $1.3 million.
The insurance company was suspicious. An inquiry led to an arson investigation, according to the Seattle Times.
The bank and Washington both seeking foreclosure on the mansion. His debts loomed, and arson and fraud investigations targeted him. In September 1992, Vorhauer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Not long afterward, Vorhauer drove to his mansion at Salmon Lake. He sat on the lakeshore across from his mansion, connected a hose from his tailpipe to the car window, and sealed himself inside. He died in his 1985 Oldsmobile Toronado on Oct. 1, 1992, according to the Missoulian, the nearest local paper out of Missoula, Montana.
The island mansion was purchased for $2.2 million at a foreclosure sale by Dennis Washington, the man who was about to repossess Vorhauer’s yacht before it burned. Washington later transferred the title to the UM Foundation in 1995—the same year the Today sponge was discontinued.
The mansion has been fully converted to a lodge, with a bar, large hotel lobby-like dining room, and 10 different individual rooms with one massive master suite on the first floor. There’s a caretaker’s cabin on the lake as well, and nearly 30 acres of property on the mainland.
Click on images above or click here to view image gallery of the isolated lodge in remote Montana.