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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Meet Historic Kansas

Meeting in Kansas can take groups back to a time with the West was still wild.

The state’s history dates back to before the Civil War, when homesteaders flocked to the area to start a new life. Today, groups can meet at a number of historic sites around the state that played roles in America’s westward expansion.

The Historic Eldridge Hotel

Lawrence

The Historic Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence served as the epicenter of the abolitionist movement in Kansas. At the time the hotel was built in 1855, the Jayhawkers were battling the Border Ruffians for control over whether Kansas would be a free or slave state. The hotel was where the abolitionists held their meetings.

The day of the hotel’s grand opening, a Border Ruffian burned it to the ground. Col. Eldridge, a railroad man who came from a wealthy family, stepped in and rebuilt the hotel bigger and better. In 1863, William Quantrill and 200 Bushwackers attacked the town. Quantrill used the hotel as his headquarters while he was burning down the rest of the town. He destroyed the hotel when he was finished.

Col. Eldredge rebuilt it again, and it was thought to be the finest hotel west of the Mississippi. It eventually fell into disrepair, but in 1925 a hotelier stepped in to restore it to its original grandeur. Bonnie and Clyde stayed there in 1932 as they surveyed the bank that would be the location of their first robbery.

The hotel still retains its historic exterior but now features all of the modern conveniences. It has 48 guest rooms, and its Crystal Ballroom can host 140 for a banquet and up to 225 when the ballroom is paired with the hotel lobby and bar. The Big 6 Room can seat 100 for a banquet.

eldridgehotel.com

Midland Railroad Hotel

Wilson

Midland Railroad Hotel was built in 1889 to serve visitors coming to Wilson by train. The historic town of 750 residents, which was settled by Germans and Czechs, is in the middle of Kansas, about a two-hour drive to Wichita, a three-hour drive to Kansas City and two miles off of Interstate 70. The hotel has 28 guest rooms and several meeting and event spaces, including a 1907 barn that was recently converted into a conference center. The former stud barn, which used to sit on the parking lot behind the hotel, was relocated years ago to a farm.

The property’s current owner returned the barn to its original site as an event space. It still retains its original woodwork and horse stalls. The first floor of the barn can host groups of up to 60, and the hayloft can accommodate up to 150.

In the hotel itself, the upstairs and downstairs dining rooms can each host 45 guests. A patio outside is well suited for live music, receptions or team-building events.

Wilson is about 10 miles away from the clearest lake in Kansas, where groups can go fishing, swim, or rent kayaks or pontoon boats for an afternoon of leisure. A top-rated mountain bike trail nearby is perfect for bicyclists of all skill levels. About 30 minutes south of town is Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, a wetland that attracts hundreds of migratory birds. The town is also home to the world’s largest decorated Czech egg.

midlandrailroadhotel.com

Historic Elgin Hotel

Marion

Like many historic properties across the country, the Historic Elgin Hotel in Marion has gone through numerous incarnations, from a hotel to an apartment house and back to a hotel. Built in 1886, the property was a symbol of Marion’s plans for growth. The citizens of the town believed they needed a first-class hotel to compete with neighboring communities.

When no outsiders stepped in to fulfill that need, community members pooled their funds to build a three-story hotel with 40 sleeping apartments, an elegant double parlor, a bathroom, a fine dining room, a washroom and a reading room. It featured all the modern appliances and comfortable furnishings.

The property remained a hotel until it closed in 1967 due to disrepair. It was turned into the Elgin House Apartments in 1977. In 2006, new owners invested $1.9 million to restore the property to its former glory. It reopened to the public in 2009 as an eight-room bed and breakfast with a ballroom, conference room and foyer on the first floor.

The current owners added four additional guest suites with private baths, a full commercial kitchen and dining room that can hold 40 guests, as well as a private dining room for eight and an outdoor patio for 24. The hotel features a fitness center, a library, a game lounge and Parlour 1886, a full-service restaurant. The Victorian ballroom can seat 75 for a banquet, while the courtyard also can host 75 guests.

historicelginhotel.com

Depot Theater and The Santa Fe Depot

Dodge City

The Depot Theater in historic Dodge City got its start as the Boot Hill Repertory Company, which performed a Christmas review and plays at town’s popular Boot Hill Museum. Eventually, the theater company parted ways with Boot Hill to form a dinner theater. Depot Theater is located in the original Harvey House and Depot, a red brick building that was built in 1898 by the Atchison and Santa Fe Railway.

The railroad donated the building to the Dodge City government in 1996. An $8 million grant helped restore it to its former splendor and create a home for the new state-of-the-art dinner theater. While the performers waited for the theater to be completed, the Elks Lodge, which was a later addition to the depot building, was turned into the Homestead Theater, and the west half of the building, which at one time served as a dormitory for the Harvey Girls who worked as waitresses in the Harvey House and dining room, was turned into storage space for props and costumes.

In 2004, the theater company moved into its new home as the Depot Theater, which can seat up to 160 guests. Other venues available on-site include the former Homestead Theater, which can seat 80, or the El Vaquero dining room, which can accommodate 100 at banquet tables. The Fred Harvey Hotel lobby can host a reception or wedding for 100, or groups can rent out the entire building.

depottheater.com

The Brown Grand Opera House

Concordia

The Brown Grand Opera House in Concordia will celebrate its 117th anniversary in September. The theater was built by Col. Napoleon Bonaparte Brown, a wealthy man who moved to town in the mid-1870s. He opened a bank and built a 23-room mansion. He and his son, Earl, got the idea to build the Brown Grand because the city was a major stopping point for visitors traveling between Denver and Kansas City. They thought a theater would be a great way to bring money to town.

After Brown and his son passed away, Earl Brown’s wife, Gertrude, turned the theater into a movie house. Then, in the 1970s, the community came together to restore the theater to its original splendor. Its grand reopening was in 1980.

The theater is famous for its Napoleon Grand Drape, a replica of the original stage curtain that hung in the theater until 1967 that features a painting of Napoleon Bonaparte. The building is painted in gold, ivory and green tones. Groups can rent out the 534-seat theater for events or host a banquet for 150 on the stage.

browngrand.org