Local History: Eldridge Hotel has permanent spot in Lawrence history
photo by: Mike Yoder
When you think of historic places in Lawrence, there’s a long list to choose from, but high on it would have to be the Eldridge Hotel at Seventh and Massachusetts streets.
It’s not just the hotel, and its history that goes back to the 1800s, that make the site special. The land itself is noteworthy, too.
Situated on the comparatively high ground of downtown, the site offers a strategic vantage point. Looking to the west, one can observe a distinct slope which hints at the ravine that once was between today’s Kentucky and Tennessee streets — a hiding place during Quantrill’s Raid. This westward slope also caused the initial development of Seventh Street as a key intersection in Lawrence.
There have been four structures on this site. The first one, built by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, was called the Free-State Hotel. It was completed in early April 1856.
A Lawrence newspaper, the Herald of Freedom, on April 12 of that year noted that the three-story building featured a flat roof with 30 or 40 port holes in the wall, “plugged up with stones, which can be knocked out with a blow of the butt of a Sharpe’s [sic] rifle …”
This comment is evidence of the combative Kansas and Missouri conflict that heralded the national struggle five years away. On May 21, 1856, during the “Sack of Lawrence” the Free-State Hotel was destroyed by pro-slavery forces.
The second building was built by Col. Shalor W. Eldridge and his three brothers. It was started in 1857 and finished in 1859, and the hotel’s name was changed to the Eldridge House. It was at least twice the size and a story higher than the Free-State, and John J. Ingalls said it had “all the appointments of a first-class house.”
On Aug. 21, 1863, it fell at the hands of Quantrill’s raiders.
In 1865, a city bond election partially financed the construction of a three-story hotel, and Eldridge was awarded the contract to build it. Completed in 1866, by George W. Deitzler, it was operated and owned by various individuals.
Despite the changes, the name Eldridge was ultimately kept, and between 1866 and the early 1920s it continued to operate without major remodeling.
Dave Dary, in “Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas,” writes that: “By the early 1920s many citizens in Lawrence were calling for a new modern hotel in their city. In 1925 the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce initiated a fundraising campaign that produced $50,000. William G. Hutson, owner of the Eldridge House, was pleased since he could not afford to tackle a rebuilding program alone.”
Construction began in May of 1925 and was not finished until late 1928.
In the late 1960s, downtown hotels were becoming less popular. The Eldridge closed its doors as a hotel on July 1, 1970, and became an apartment building until 1985 when Rob Phillips, stimulated by the frequent phone calls from people wanting to make a hotel reservation and backed by a group of investors, committed to bringing back the Eldridge Hotel. The city of Lawrence authorized $2 million in industrial revenue bonds to match the $1 million from investors.
In 2004, the hotel was sold to another group, and by May 2005, after a multimillion-dollar renovation, the building was restored to much of its 1925 grandeur.