The Windsor Hotel
Wildhorse traders and hunters came to this region in the 1870s to round up animals for the markets in the east. John Stevens, along with brothers, William and James Fulton, foraged along the Pawnee for mustangs and buffalo. Noting the picturesque, grass-covered plain near the wide Arkansas River, the three men decided to file homestead claims and thereby make their fortunes by selling town lots to eager homesteaders.
By 1885 the new city boasted a population of 378. John Stevens, acting on information and intuition, prepared for the onslaught of eastern homesteaders looking for the "Promised Land." Here, on the dirt main street, he began construction, in 1887, of the hotel that came to be known as the "Waldorf of the Prairies."
The most important land office in the country between 1886 and 1887 was located in Finney County. By 1887 the population of Garden City was 2,379 and in the county, 8,064. Encouraged by speculators, thousands of hopeful settlers made their way to the southwest corner of the state. Rainfall was plentiful and crops were good. It looked like a paradise.
The western boom was on; future-minded people like John Stevens were ahead of the pack. Stevens built an Opera House and grand hotel on his homestead site. The hotel and ground floors offered 55,000 square feet, 200 feet for Main Street business locations, 125 rooms and a large dinning room/restaurant. The hotel was to become the social center of the community and a landmark for the region. Its beauty and spaciousness remarked upon by all.
The Windsor Hotel opened in February of 1889, two years in construction. On November 20,1889, a formal opening was held with "Promenades through the spacious court, corridors and parlors," while music played and sumptuous refreshments were served. The local papers exclaimed that the opening of the hotel marked an "epoch in the building of Garden City and the beginning of a new era of prosperity."
The Windsor Hotel must have been a wonderful place for children to explore but filled with temptation. A favorite story passed down from the Menke family, former hotel owners, concerned their young daughter, Olivia and her playmate, Cidi Wirt, a granddaughter of town founder William Fulton.
"One day when the lobby was brimming with gentlemen guests, Cidi dared Olivia to slide down the long banister from the second floor to the main lobby. The two little girls came sliding clear down from the top of that great long banister - landing on the main lobby floor, all bloomers and petticoats very much topside! Pa Menke was so angry he confined Olivia to their rooms in the Windsor for two weeks. Cidi's father laughed, thinking it a wonderful joke and didn't punish Cidi at all!"
The atrium on the second floor extends upward for three stories and is topped by a vaulted skylight. Balconies with mahogany balustrades surround the court on three sides; and the graceful stairways on the fourth side converge on the central court floor. The hotel rooms are arranged in two rows around the court, the interior row opening onto the central court.
The second floor of the hotel contained the large parlors, dining room, the Presidential Suite and John Stevens' private living quarters. The suite opened onto the court and folding doors provided direct access to the Opera House.
The Presidential Suite was a series of three rooms overlooking Main Street. One room was large enough to hold three large beds with room to spare. The most distinctive feature was a solid cherry wood fireplace decorated with hand painted Italian tile. It was reported that Lillian Russell, Eddie Foy, Buffalo Bill Cody and Jay Gould enjoyed the stately comforts of the Presidential Suite.
From 18,958 entries of land transactions in 1886, the number gradually dropped to 620 by 1894. Drought and depression broke the spirit of many and the boom was over. A drought set in and over speculation soon caused a mass exodus from Finney County. Stevens lost the hotel in 1893. An eastern trust company took possession of the hotel and soon named D.R. Menke as manager.
After the bust of the late 1880s, the Windsor Hotel became the headquarters for heads of wealthy cattle firms. "Its spacious corridors and spindled patios were constantly thronged with booted and spurred cowmen. Cattle deals amounting to millions of dollars have been transacted over the long table in the great inner court."
Through several economic cycles the Hotel changed hands many times until the Garnand family acquired ownership in 1938. Garnands operated a furniture store on the ground floor. Garnands hired Raymond Baird as manager of the hotel, which he served as for 25 years.
In 1972, the Windsor Hotel was placed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places. It was one of four locations in all southwest Kansas to carry that distinction. It continued in use as a hotel until 1977, when it was closed by the State Fire Marshal.
The Windsor hotel is truly unique not only in style and design but purpose as well. It is not just another building in a small Kansas town. It stood for opportunity and enterprise, for accommodation and dreams of wealth, a promise of a better future.
Last Updated: 20-Jan-03
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