First Harvey Houses

Fred Harvey

Harvey Houses

 

Fred Harvey worked for the railroad in the 1860’s, traveling to various places, where work took him.  For Fred the food service in most eateries back then was less than adequate.  When he would return to his office there were complaints of being on the road and having bad food.  So Fred took it upon himself to change that, with a partner.  Two restaurants were opened at main railroad stops out west.  The very first Harvey Restaurants were built in hotels at Wallace Kansas and Hugo Colorado on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, 1872.

A Harvey House and the Harvey Girls tend to be synonymous with the Santa Fe Railroad.   After the early success with other restaurants along various rail lines, The Santa Fe RR offered a contract to Harvey to build restaurants along their rail line.   By this time the partnership had broken up and Fred Harvey was no long employed by a railroad.  He was now opening a chain of restaurants across the country that would bear his name.

The restaurants were situated in Hotels and soon these would be replaced by new hotels and some bore his name.  The Harvey houses dotted the southwest at other places besides the railroad.  Some were at other railroads and a few were in National Parks.  Today a few of the old Harvey Houses still stand and some are museums or refurbished into new uses.

The first two restaurants of Fred Harvey met their demise when railroading policy changed.  Crew change points were shifted and much of the railroad business the first hotels and restaurants relied on was gone.  Wallace had been a town of over 4000 souls, with changes on the Smoky Hill Trail and the railroad, the workers of Wallace moved on to the next railhead and soon it was a shell of what had been.  Today Wallace has a population of less than 100 souls and the Wallace hotel is long gone.  The Kansas Pacific office building still stands; otherwise it is ghosts that wander through the now empty town.

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The nearby museum of Ft Wallace has new display in a back warehouse that has recreated the town of Wallace using store fronts.  The Wallace Hotel that housed the first Fred Harvey in Kansas is one of the fronts that has been built.  It is like walking down the streets of the old railroad town with all the different stores and shops from that era.

Hugo does not a display of any kind for where the first Harvey House was.  Roughly where the hotel had been, there is now an old empty gas station and the sign for Hugo.  Short distance east is where the Roundhouse had been, now a swimming pool occupies the land.  The depot is next block over and preserved as a community center.  The street one block north of this is lined with small old homes where the early rail workers and others lived.  Most of the homes on the north side date 1870-74 and that era.  The other side is the newer homes built where the railroad had their buildings.  Hugo has an original roundhouse on the SW side of town that is being restored and maybe there they will do something with the Hugo Harvey House.

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Both little towns were connected by the railroad and then by the first Harvey house.  Both sit astride the Smoky Hill Trail and had stage stops.  Today the railroad still sends the occasional train down the rails.  No longer is it the whistle echoing across the high plains with a cloud of smoke overhead.  The air horns of the diesel have replaced the whistle of the steam engines but the lore still whispers across the land.

 

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