If old buildings could talk, what stories they would have to tell!
And the Greenwood Hotel on 300 North Main in Eureka, Kansas, could tell its fair share of tales of railroads and cowboys, oil men and visionaries, neglect and preservation.
It all started in the days of cattle drives, when Texas Longhorns filled up the summer pastures to fatten on bluestem grass before being loaded onto train cars to be shipped east. In 1879, a branch of the Santa Fe Railroad was completed as far as Eureka to pick up some of these cattle. The Missouri Pacific followed in 1882.
Railroads and cattle brought quite a bit of business to the town, and residents decided that they needed a hotel. The Eureka Hotel Company was formed on August 4, 1882. Charles W. Squires of Emporia was hired as architect later that year, and work began in March 1883.
The new hotel was to be called “Greenwood Hotel” in honor of Greenwood County, of which Eureka is the seat. Greenwood County was in turn named for Alfred B. Greenwood, Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President James Buchanan.
Slowly the Greenwood Hotel took shape, a brick-and-limestone structure rising three stories high and containing 43 boarding rooms. It was completed in October 1883 at a cost of $23,000. A grand opening ball was held on March 7, 1884, and the hotel began its long history of useful service.
Right from the start, the Greenwood Hotel became the place where cattlemen congregated. This practice prevailed even after the cattle-drive era was well over:
The lobby of Eureka’s largest hotel is a sort of small livestock exchange. There are the same men with broad-brimmed hats and whips that the visitor sees in Kansas City’s exchange building in the first floor’s corridors. Always they are “talking cattle.”
—Kansas City Star, 1911
By the 1920s, oil barons began to mingle with the local ranchers in the hotel lobby. It has been reported that the Greenwood Hotel saw million-dollar deals made on a regular basis. Between the two thriving industries, Eureka was set for a period of unprecedented prosperity.
Up next: Part 2—Remodeling