Harvey Hotels & Restaurants on Route 66
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Though the famous Harvey House lunch rooms, restaurants and hotels pre-dated
there were many decades where the two happily co-existed. But,
change is inevitable and ironically, Route 66,
was in part, responsible for the death of this famous chain. As
the roads got better and automobiles more affordable, passenger
service on the many trains across America began a gradual decline. Overland trucking was also on the rise, reducing the amount
of cargo shipped along the rails.
Many of the old towns that sprouted up because of the railroad and
later survived primarily because of the many travelers of Route 66,
died when they were bypassed by the Interstate highways.
Fred Harvey was just 15
years old when he emigrated to the United States from Liverpool, England. He first worked as a dishwasher in New York for just $2 per day. Saving his money he soon moved on to New Orleans where he worked again in
the restaurant business learning the trade from the ground up.
In 1853, he moved on once
again, this time to
Missouri. Six years later, he and a partner opened a restaurant in
St. Louis. Alas, it was the just the day before the
Civil War broke out. His
partner soon joined the Confederacy and with no patrons coming
through the door, Harvey was broke.
Fred Harvey (1835-1901)
He soon took a
succession of jobs on the riverboats, then at the
post office. From there he sorted mail for the first railroad post office
During this time, the young entrepreneur
noticed that the lunchrooms serving rail passengers were deplorable and
most trains did not have dining cars, even on extended trips. The
custom at the time was typically to make dining stops every 100 miles or
so. Sometimes there would be a restaurant at the station, but more
often than not, there was nothing to feed the famished travelers. The dining stops were also short, no longer than an hour, and the
passengers were expected to find a restaurant, order their meal, and get
served in this short amount of time. Remember, in those days, there
were no fast food restaurants.
When the train was ready to go, it left, often leaving passengers stranded
at the station. Seeing all this, Fred Harvey drew on his prior
restaurant experience and came up with a new idea. However, when he
approached his manager with the concept of building a network of
restaurants along the AT&SF railroad line, it was refused. This
changed in a chance meeting with Charles Morse, superintendent of the
AT&SF. Again, Harvey pitched his idea. Morse, who was a gourmet, loved the
concept and fully supported Harvey.
Before long, the
first Harvey House
Restaurant opened in the Topeka, Kansas
Santa Fe Depot Station in 1876. Leasing the lunch counter at the depot,
Harvey’s business focused on cleanliness, service, reasonable prices, and
good food. It was an immediate success. Impressed with his
work, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe soon turned over control of food
service along the rail line. The Harvey Houses
became the first chain restaurants, with the Topeka depot becoming the
training base for the new chain along the Santa Fe Route.
Soon Harvey lunchrooms
extended from Kansas
California. By the late 1880's, there was a Harvey establishment every
one hundred miles along the Santa Fe line. Setting high standards
for efficiency and cleanliness, the food was always served on china and
customers were required to wear coats.
Harvey found that
the men he hired to work in his restaurants were as wild as the west was. Coming up with yet another new concept, he began hiring women at a time
when the only jobs for respectable females were as domestics or teachers. Harvey began to recruit them in newspaper ads across the nation. In
order to qualify as one of the "Harvey Girls,” the women had to have at
least an eighth grade education, good moral character, good manners, and
be neat and articulate. Harvey paid good wages, as much as $17.50
per month with free room, board, and uniforms. In return for
employment, the Harvey Girls would agree to a six month contract, agree
not to marry, and abide by all company rules during the term of employment. In no time, these became much sought after jobs. When they were
hired, they were given a free rail pass to their chosen destination.
In the 1890's, the Santa Fe Railway began
including dining cars on some of its trains with Harvey getting the
contact for the food service.
The La Posada Hotel today, Kathy Weiser-Alexander,
This image available for photographic prints
In the southwest,
Fred Harvey hired architect Mary Colter to design influential landmark
Santa Fe, and
at the South Rim and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The rugged, landscape-integrated design principles of Colter's work influenced a generation of subsequent western American
Mr. Harvey continued to improve his
service until his death in 1901, at which time his sons took over the
company. When the last of them died in the 1930s, the company
left Harvey control but continued to operate.
After World War I when
people began to travel in automobiles, the company began a gradual
decline. However, once again they adapted, moving away from full
reliance on train passengers. Soon they began to package motor trips
of the southwest, including tours of Indian villages and Grand Canyon.
During the depression,
the Harvey Company suffered along with the rest of the nation, as no one
could afford to travel. However, the trend was reversed with the
commencement of World War II. Suddenly the trains were filled with
troops and the Harvey Houses began to feed.
At its peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses. They
continued to be built and operated into the 1930s and 1940s, long after Fred
By the 1950s, the
railroads were cutting back as newer and better highways were being built
across the nation and people began to travel more by air. Passenger
trains were declining quickly and railroads gradually began to eliminate
In 1968, the Hawaii-based
Amfac Corporation bought the Harvey Company, applying its high standards
to Amfac's list of hotel and resort properties around the world. The Fred
Harvey Company ceased to exist, ending yet another era of the American
A Fred Harvey
museum is located in the former Harvey residence in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Page for Harvey Houses along Route 66
The Harvey Girls: Opportunity
Bound is a new documentary film from Katrina Parks that tells the story of
how over 100,000 railroad station waitresses opened up the doors of the American
West and the workplace to women and changed history. It was a finalist for a
James Beard Award, has been broadcast on over a dozen PBS stations and is
currently touring museums across the country.
The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound from Katrina Parks on Vimeo.
Another interesting resource is New Mexico Harvey
House Roll Call, a data base of Fred Harvey employees in New Mexico.
Signs of the
Valentine Diners Across the Mother Road
the Burma Shave Signs?
Whiting Brothers Empire
Old Harvey House in
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