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Harvey House History

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Harvey House Museum   The Harvey House in Florence, Kansas was originally known as the Clifton Hotel and was built on a beautiful spot in a wooded area, south of the tracks and southeast of the depot. It was a magnificent structure for those times, one of the most beautiful in Kansas. It was lighted throughout with coal oil lamps and candelabra. The front yard was landscaped in true English fashion with a huge fountain on each side of the entrance. William Scott of Topeka laid the stonework around the two fountains, which were fine specimens of work.

Mrs. Fred Harvey went abroad to choose all the furnishing for the hotel so that they might be in harmony with the beautiful edifice. She went to England where she chose all her china and silverware. Imposing heavy carved walnut furniture also was imported. Only Ireland could furnish the beautiful hand-made linens which could satisfy the taste of Mrs. Harvey. (Both the Harveys were from the British Isles.) -they imported their linens from John S. Brown and Sons, of Belfast. To the end of the Harvey Houses, linens still came from that company. Harvey originated the oversize napkin (which is still used on the dining car) to accommodate the gentlemen who tucked them into their waistcoats. The linens were made of an exclusive pattern to match the imported china.

In March 1879, owing to increased demands for more hotel accommodations, Mr. Harvey decided to enlarge his hotel. When the hotel was finished it was one of the largest buildings in Central Kansas. Its size was 30 by 300 feet and it contained enough rooms to stow away all the people in a young city. The new addition was divided into office rooms, sample rooms and chambers. Business was good in 1879, for over 2,300 guests were lodged in the Clifton House during a six-month period.

Fred Harvey's success was, of course, fine foods. He went to great lengths to get and prepare it for his customers. He believed in serving large portions of food in his restaurants so that there would be no complaints about their size from customers with enormous appetites.

Harvey also believed in serving food on a fine chinaware. If he found a cracked plate or a chipped glass on a counter or on a dining table he would throw it on the floor and make the person responsible pick up the pieces.

He was a firm believer in customer courtesy and stressed the fact to his organization of this importance .... that they must at all times be given the courteous and considerate treatment in order to preserve the good will of their customers. He always had a "coat rule." From the restaurants' earliest days it was accepted that all men eating in the dining room should wear coats. To insure that no one was turned away because of inappropriate attire, a supply of dark alpaca coats was always kept on hand.

The Clifton House was the center of all social events, including a Calico Ball. "The ladies wore beautiful calico gowns" the paper said, and "the men wore tails with cravats and handkerchiefs to match." The ladies dresses were made so that they could be worn at any time after this occasion. Most of the leading dancers of Florence were present.

Bill Phillips, head chef from the Palmer House in Chicago, was secured as general manager of the Harvey House System at a salary of $5,000.00 a year. He lived for some time at the Clifton House and was said to have been the wealthiest man in Florence. He paid young boys around Florence to bring him food for the table. He paid $1.50 a dozen for prairie chickens, 75 cents a dozen for quail, 10 cents a pound for butter, and equally high prices for vegetables and fruits.

On June 28, 1879, the paper made the following announcement:

Every Tuesday and Friday the ladies of Florence may have the use of the bathrooms at the Clifton Hotel .... this will be a luxury which will be duly appreciated.

All other days the bathroom was open to gentlemen. A large tank was placed in the attic. A float with a string attached hung down. When the tank was full the string hung low .... when the string neared the ceiling the employees knew someone had to pump water from the cistern to fill it. For 25 cents one could take a rainwater bath, and many people availed themselves of this luxury.

One summer, Mrs. Bowman, a sister of Fred Harvey, came from England with her children and occupied a suite of rooms at the fashionable Clifton House. She brought her own tea service, as well as her own tea, and served it each afternoon. Many world-famed notables were at one time or another guests of the Clifton House.

By 1880 the Harvey House in the Clifton Hotel was in full swing. Mr. Harvey placed ads in the eastern papers for "young women of good character, attractive and intelligent, age 18 to 30." The starting wage was $17.50 a month with keep. Many flocked to Kansas to work in the Harvey House System. Young and pretty, they brought culture, refinement, beauty-romance. More than 20,000 marriages of Harvey girls took place in the west. To work for Harvey was known as a sure way to get a husband. It has been estimated that about 4,000 babies born to former Harvey girls had been named Fred or Harvey after their former employer, Fred Harvey.

Eight trains passed daily, with an average of fifty persons on each train. Meals were served family style, at tables that seated ten persons, and there were six tables in the dining room. There were four Harvey girls in the dining room and three cooks in the kitchen with two chambermaids who helped out during rush hours. The Harvey girls who served in the dining room wore their traditional black shirtwaist dresses, with an "Elsie collar" and a black bow, crisp white apron and caps. Their hair had to be plainly done and ornamented only with a white ribbon neatly tied.

J. Irwin ran the Harvey dining room, John Hess was the head pastry cook and Mr. Gindough was the head chef. Meals were 75 cents for the passengers and 25 cents for crew members. The first cashier was B. K. Graham, father of Frank Graham, president of the Florence State Bank. He worked as cashier for his room and board.

Breakfast at the Harvey House would consist of thick steaks, with eggs atop if desired. These, with a platter of hashed brown potatoes formed a firm foundation for the ensuing six-high stack of pan-sized wheat cakes with maple syrup, topped off with apple pie and coffee.

After patrons had seated themselves for their meals, they were asked whether they preferred coffee, tea, iced tea or milk. The waitresses then fiddled with the cup before each patron and went away. Then there appeared the "drink girl" who magically poured the patron's preferred drink without asking. This was accomplished by a cup-code. If the waitress left the cup right side up in its saucer, that meant coffee. Upside down meant hot tea. Upside down but tilted against the saucer meant iced tea. Upside down, away from the saucer meant milk. Patrons who changed the positions of their cups were out of luck.

Among the many girls who worked at the fashionable Harvey House were four from Florence, and surrounding vicinity. Mrs. Matilda Thomas of Cedar Point, mother of Mrs. Russell Cain, and grandmother of Mrs. Ralph Linnens, worked as a Harvey girl in 1880. Mrs. Thomas was born in Belgium and came to Florence in 1879 from Brussels with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Eliza J. Legere. Mr. Legere homesteaded a quarter section of land near Cedar Point, and later secured another quarter section by planting timber. Mrs. Thomas had a vivid recollection of her work for Fred Harvey. When she started working in Florence she was the youngest girl, sixteen years old. She remembered her first meeting with Fred Harvey when he told her "don't throw the dishes so hard or you'll break them. " He was very friendly and a nice man to work for. Other people she recalled working at the Harvey House were Bill Phillips, the chef from Chicago; Mr. Benjamin, a very jolly accountant; and Mary Kusick, an Irish housekeeper from the Fred Harvey home in Chicago, who worked in Florence for a while.

A short time before this, a young widow came to Florence from Keewanee, Illinois, with four small children, three girls and a boy, in need or work to support herself and the children. She found a job washing dishes in the kitchen of the Harvey House, and little Phebe Amelia Lofgren, who was small for her age, helped her mother with the dishes. She was so tiny she could not reach the big tubs, so a huge dishpan was inverted for her to stand on. She was paid 75 cents a week and her mother got from $16.00 to $17.00 a month. She was also a Swedish interpreter for the Swedish colony before she married John Padgett, a Civil War veteran. She had eight children, three who died in infancy. Two of her daughters, Harriette and Edna, taught school in Florence for many years. Her daughter, Azelea Burkett, lives in Vandalia, Illinois. Her son, Curtis, and daughter, Grace Selvey, lived in Florence.

Another Harvey girl was Leah Meredith, who became Mrs. J. 0. Bibler, mother of the late C. A. Bibler of Florence; Mrs. Maude Bibler Robertson of Grand Island, Nebraska; and Mrs. Ada Bibler Reynolds of Florence.

Minnie Fink Ginette, one of the Harvey girls, was born in Attica, Indiana. She is the mother of the late Ralph Jackson of Cedar Point, and Blanche Ginette Cox of Florence.

The last train whose passengers were fed in the Florence Harvey House was No. 7, on the night of March 31, 1900. The Clifton House was closed later in the year, and sat empty until 1904, when the laundry, which was separate from the hotel itself, was sold to Bob Belton. He moved the building to lots north of the Catholic Church and made it into a residence, where he lived until 1913. The Catholic Church purchased the house from him and used it as the parsonage for the priests until the new parsonage was built in 1951. The west part of the Clifton Hotel was sold to Andy Price, who moved part of the building to Main Street, just north of the railroad and the Price Hotel was made from this part of the building. The original part of the Clifton Hotel was bought by Jacob (Jack) Frantz, who moved it to its present location at 204 West Third Street, and made it into a rooming house for various men who worked on the railroad, and the train crews. Mrs. Emma Frantz kept the rooming house after the death of her husband. She later married Mike Flynn, survived him, and at her death the estate was sold to L. D. Maloney. After a few years, John D. and Mabel Foley purchased the house, living there until February 13, 1956, when the property was sold to Lillian Jackson. Mrs. Jackson maintained it as her home and a boarding house until she sold it to the Florence Historical Society on April 1, 1971.

Some of the Harvey House is still intact. The original "pass through" window used back in the late eighties in the butlers pantry exists. There are eight bedrooms on the second floor. One was made into a bathroom. The dining room, kitchen and three rooms in the apartment on the first floor are still the same. The original floors on the second story are all made of wide pine flooring, familiar to those who have been around since the late eighties and early 1900's.

The Florence Historical Society was organized as a non-profit organization and the committee signed incorporation papers June 25, 1969. Officers were elected and by-laws drawn up. The Mayor and City Council were asked to levy 2 mills to assist in the purchase and restoration of the Harvey House, which they did. Many expressed interest in the project and became members of the Society. The Harvey House is an asset to the community as it is something of historical value saved for posterity.

Work to make the house into a museum began in June, 1971, and by September 6, 1971, three of the rooms were ready for showing. The first Historical Society officers were: Mrs. Marion Suffield, President; Mrs. Noel Dannenfelser, Vice-president; Mrs. James Farley, Secretary; and Mr. F. B. Graham, Treasurer.

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