Sunday, May 16, 2010

Eldridge Hotel

Yesterday was graduation day at the University of Kansas--a day when the various professional schools and departments of the University have their respective graduation ceremonies.

After attending the graduation of the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, we decided to have lunch at the bar, The Jayhawker, of the Eldridge Hotel in downtown Lawrence.

I was reminded, upon entering the lobby, of the sprawling history of this old building--it's hard to miss this former cornerstone which calls out a couple of the scoundrels who were responsible for the building's demise in the 1800's.

The original building on the site of the current Eldridge was the Free State Hotel, built in 1855.  This hotel served as temporary quarters for settlers who came from the east--it was a place where they could stay as their homes were being built.  And, the name reinforced to these early settlers that the intent was for Kansas to come into the Union as a free state.

In 1856, the hotel was attacked and burned to the ground by sheriff Sam Jones, who headed a group of pro-slavery forces.  It would not be the first time this fate befell the building.

That same year, Colonel Shalor Eldridge rebuilt the hotel and added another floor--he vowed to do that each time the building was destroyed.  The hotel re-opened and stood until 1863 and the day when William Quantrill rode into Lawrence, with his raiders, and killed over 150 people, basically burning the town to the ground.

The hotel was quickly re-built by Eldridge and given it its current name.

In 1925, as the hotel began showing signs of serious deterioration, a group of Lawrence business leaders organized and tore down the building, vowing to rebuild it--again--and to restore the hotel to its former glory.  The business leaders, and the community, banded together and the hotel now stands as testament to the community's commitment.

Burned down, twice, in the past and now supposedly inhabited by ghosts, the Eldridge Hotel is a landmark in Lawrence, and in the state of Kansas.  The hotel represents the high tension which existed during Civil War days as eastern Kansas, and the western border of Missouri, became battlegrounds for pro-slavery and free state forces.  Thank goodness the city of Lawrence, and those who have managed the hotel, have done the right thing and ensured that this site, and building, remain a place where the history of Kansas is kept very much alive.

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