Rock Island Line 1st Coach
The Liberal, KS. Rock Island Railroad Depot & Hotel
Thanks for joining us here in the first coach. You presence shows that you have an interest in the history behind the Rock Island Railroad. Gather around and learn from the things you will find in this room and, by all means, get in your two cents worth! You can contribute to this collection of information by forwarding your historical facts...or personal stories about the CRI&P...to the Conductor.
Two Monuments to Liberal's Beginnings
All images before & after images of the Liberal depot and Hotel on this page are copyright 1998, Lidia J. Hook-Gray
"The city of Liberal owes it's humble beginnings to the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.
The track layers reached Liberal in February 1888 and then pushed on four and one half miles Southwest to "no man's land." This end of the line was called, "Old Tyrone." It was to be the end of the tracks until 1902, when the railroad built on through Texas County and later joined tracks with the Southern Pacific in New Mexico.
The first depot, a three-story wooden structure, was built in the latter part of 1888. It had a 21 room hotel with a restaurant that was operated by W. Omer ---- but the town's boom period lasted only three months, and the hotel and restaurant soon closed.
Later in 1889, the T.J. McDermont family opened the restaurant and used only 10 rooms of the hotel. They operated this business for the next 17 years. In 1906, the John Grier Company, which operated hotels and restaurants for the Rock Island Railroad, took over the operation of the local railroad hotel and the restaurant.
On Friday evening, March 11, 1910, when the rest of the town was at it's evening meal, fire alarms signalled that the old wooden depot and Grier House were on fire. In a few minutes, hundreds of citizens gathered at the scene. It was soon apparent that there was no hope of stopping the blaze and everything possible was carried from the building. The flames roared for nearly three hours. The railroad estimated the loss of the buildings and their contents would amount to nearly $70,000.
The railroad soon informed the town that two new brick structures would be built as soon as possible. The city was quite pleased with the
news, as it was said that the new buildings would be furnished as well as any on the line. Architect A.T. Hawk of Chicago was called upon to draft the blueprints for the structures with the floor plan of the eating house and the hotel based on the guidelines and suggestions from J.J. Grier. The new hotel and depot were to be built side by side in the Spanish mission style, with concrete-faced brick walls resembling stucco and red tile roofs. Both buildings would be two story structures, but the eating house was planned with a wide veranda around the first floor and deep overhanging eaves.
Surveyors came to Liberal on September 23, 1910, and set the stakes for the new hotel and depot. The Liberal Independent, the local newspaper at the time, said, "It is plainly evident that the buildings will be something of which Liberal may justly feel proud."
The Independent's October 7, 1910 article read, "A goodly number of Mexican and Italian laborers were unloaded here Tuesday to be used in the preliminary work leading to the construction of the depot and Grier eating house. It is claimed that 150 men can be used to good advantage in all departments."
By November 18, 1910, the brick work on the hotel had been started. A December 1910 article in the Hutchinson News commented, "The new Rock Island passenger depot and new eating house and hotel for the railroad are fine buildings. The road will spend in the neighborhood of $75,000. It will be the best depot the railroad has in Kansas".
The opening day for the hotel and depot was Friday morning, June 23, 1911. The first meal was breakfast, and the manager of the hotel was Mr. and Mrs. Simon. The depot and hotel were said to be the finest and most modern between Hutchinson and El Paso, Texas. The final cost was $175,000 and, as was said in the paper on the opening day, "This is one of the finest structures in the town, and being near the station will probably draw more attention to the town than any other building in the city."
It takes only a little imagination to hear the many voices from the past echoing throughout the depot. The hope and anticipation of early settlers as they arrived. The dreams of financial success from cattleman, merchants, broom-corn buyers, farmers and other businessmen as they stepped from the train. Happily reunited families of the homesteaders who had come on ahead West, struggling to make their claim in this semi-arid country.
During World War I and II, the sad goodbyes as soldiers left their loved ones, some never to return --- and the jubilant welcomes for those that did. My own wife stepped from the train in August 1954, arriving from Wichita to visit her fiancé and his family.
Even though badly neglected, the buildings still command a unique grandeur. As was said 84 years ago, "The buildings will draw more attention to the town than any other single building in the city". How can we even consider demolishing these buildings? We have a responsibility and obligation to preserve the heritage of these buildings for the future generations to see and appreciate."
--- Paul Boles is a local farmer and Seward County historian.
This is a brief article that was in the Liberal newspaper and it is written by Paul Boles of Liberal. It was forwarded to me from Lidia J. Hook-Gray. She is on the Board of Directors for Heritage Depot, Inc. They are responsible for the restoration of the Rock Island Depot and Hotel.