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Monuments and Milestones
The Eldridge Hotel
The Eldridge Hotel, still located at the corner of Massachusetts and Seventh Streets, was established in 1856 as the Free-State Hotel. The New England Emigrant Aid Society of Massachusetts built the hotel to accommodate new settlers arriving in Lawrence until their permanent houses were built. The structure consisted of three stories, including a basement, offering guests fifty rooms, outhouses, a flat roof for promenades, and stables for up to fifty horses with extra room to shelter vehicles. Construction costs totaled about $20,000. The building took two years to complete. A year prior to the hotel's completion, Shalor Eldridge and his brother, Thomas, leased the entire hotel temporarily for their friends and family after moving from Kansas City.
Since the primary reason Lawrence was founded was to populate the new Kansas territory with anti-slavery advocates, the city and the Free-State Hotel became a symbol of defiance against the pro-slavery legislation and its supporters. To learn more about the founding of Lawrence, click here.
In early May 1856, a month after the hotel opened, the Douglas County Grand Jury recommended the removal the Free-State Hotel as well as Lawrence's two newspapers, the Herald of Freedom and the Kansas Free-State, citing them as "nuisances." The Sheriff of Douglas County, Samuel Jones, was sent to Lawrence to make several arrests and carry out the recommendations of the Grand Jury.
On May 21st, Sheriff Jones, and his posse, assembled outside the Free-State Hotel and gave the Eldridges until 5 PM to leave before the building was destroyed. While the hotel was being vacated, a portion of the angry mob destroyed the offices of the town's two newspapers and their printing equipment. Before the 5 PM deadline, several of Jones's men began to ready the canon placed in front of the hotel. Impatient, the men began to fire the canon, but luckily, the Eldridge family had evacuated the building by then. When the canon failed to produce the damage necessary, the men lit barrels of gun powder in the basement to implode the building. When that failed as well, they took printing paper from the recently destroyed newspapers and set the hotel on fire.
In the summer of 1856, the Eldridge brothers purchased the former site of the Free-State Hotel from the Emigrant Aid Society. They spent $80,000 and one year constructing a four story hotel, which they renamed the Eldridge House.
The fight over the slavery issue was still ongoing in Kansas and the surrounding area. Across the border in Missouri, William Clark Quantrill began to gather a group of border ruffians to protect their land from Kansas Jayhawkers, anti-slavery guerilla fighters who were also raiding Missouri lands. As the border ruffians increased in numbers, they raided larger towns and caused more devastation along the Kansas border.
By 1863, almost ten years after Sheriff Jones's attack, residents of Lawrence had begun to feel secure in their daily lives since rumors of further raids turned out to be untrue. Quantrill and his men had been traveling through Kansas under the disguise of new Union troops. On August 21st, 1863, they reached Lawrence during the pre-dawn hours with Quantrill giving the order to kill only men, leaving the women and children unharmed. Upon entering town they stationed themselves outside the Eldridge House where the Provost Marshal of Kansas, Alexander R. Banks, displayed a white sheet outside his window, declaring sanctuary for those inside the hotel. Hotel guests were removed and escorted across the Kansas (Kaw) River to the City Hotel while the remaining men burned the hotel to its foundation. In keeping with the Provost's request, Quantrill ordered that the guests at the City Hotel be left unharmed, adding that the proprietor at the City Hotel had had previously shown him great hospitality. After Quantrill left, several drunk and disgruntled boarder ruffians returned to the City Hotel, ordered the inhabitants outside, and opened fire. Only one man survived by playing dead.
Once again, Shalor Eldridge decided to rebuild, using money collected from Lawrence residents and a city bond totaling $17,000. Having only completed the first floor, his funds were depleted and the hotel was sold to George W. Deitzler, who completed the hotel in 1866 and retained the name Eldridge House. The first floor was used as space for business rentals, while the hotel occupied the second and third floors, which contained sixty-four rooms, space for domestic help, and a dining room.
Under this new ownership, the Eldridge House was successful for a time, but between 1876 and 1915 the hotel changed hands multiple times. The newly minted Eldridge Hotel ultimately fell into disrepair prompting the residents of Lawrence to call for a remodel. By 1925, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce initiated a fund of $50,000, resulting in the tear down of the hotel and the building of a new structure in its place. Experiencing many delays, the hotel opened to a grand reception in 1929 after four years of construction. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that the hotel was ornamented with ivory and gold, the coffee shop ornamented in jade and green, and the grill room embellished with tinted bricks. Pennants from the "Big Six" athletic teams were inlaid on the tile floor.
During the 1960s, when interstate highways made traveling easier, less expensive and easily accessible, motels became popular. The Eldridge Hotel, like many other downtown hotels across the country, was forced to close their doors. Afterwards, the structure was remodeled for aparments. In 1985 citizens of Lawrence raised funds totaling three million dollars to rebuild the Eldridge Hotel. The new hotel is five floors and features forty-eight two-room suites.
The hotel was renovated one last time in early 2005, after it had sold at auction to a group of University of Kansas alumni and local investors. Upon reopening in early 2005, the new owners hoped to restore the glory associated with the hotel in the 1920s. The Eldridge Hotel continues to uphold the principles of tenacity, pride, and hospitality. Standing on the site of the former Free-State Hotel, the Eldridge Hotel still welcomes people to Lawrence.