Before the Civil War, Lawrence, Kansas lay amid the vicious Missouri/Kansas Border War, and this old hotel was burned down twice in the mid-1800s.
The original hotel, called the Free State Hotel, was built in 1855 by settlers from the New England Emigrant Aid Society. It was named the Free State Hotel to make clear the intent of those early settlers — which was that Kansas should come into the Union as a free state. The Free State Hotel was intended as temporary quarters for those settlers waiting for their homes to be built.
On January 3, 1855, Colonel Shalor Eldridge arrived in Kansas City from New England, where he purchased the American House, which General Pomeroy had bought for the Emigrant Aid Society.
This house was the headquarters of the Free-State men. In early 1856, Shalor leased the Free State Hotel at Lawrence, equipping it as a first-class hotel.
But, just months later, on May 21, 1856, the hotel was attacked and destroyed by Sheriff Samuel J. Jones and his posse. Leading a group of pro-slavery forces, Jones aimed a cannon at the hotel and burnt it to the ground.
In 1857, Colonel Eldridge, along with his brothers Edsin, Thomas, and James, re-erected the hotel for $80,000, vowing that it would be rebuilt again if it was destroyed.
Perhaps his statement was a prediction, as the hotel was again destroyed in 1863 when Quantrill and his raiders attacked it.
William Clarke Quantrill, an Ohio native, had joined the Confederate forces several years prior but was unhappy with their reluctance in aggressively prosecuting Union troops. Therefore, the young man took it upon himself to take a more aggressive course with his own-guerilla warfare.
In 1862, Quantrill began his infamous raiding career in western Missouri and then across the border into Kansas by plundering the towns of Olathe, Spring Hill, and Shawnee. His raids gained the attention of other desperados.
By 1863, Quantrill recruited others who joined his company, including “Bloody” Bill Anderson and the James brothers. In the summer of 1863, they set their sites on Lawrence, Kansas – the site of their most infamous destruction.
Early on the morning of August 21, 1863, Quantrill, along with his murderous force of about 400, descended on the still sleeping town of Lawrence. Incensed by the Free-State headquarters town, Quantrill set out for revenge against the Jayhawker community. In this carefully orchestrated early morning raid, he and his band, in four terrible hours, turned the town into a bloody and blazing inferno unparalleled in its brutality. Quantrill and his bushwhacker mob of raiders began their reign of terror at 5:00 a.m., looting and burning as they went, bent on total destruction of the town, then less than 3,000 residents. They had killed approximately 180 men and boys by the time it was over and left Lawrence nothing more than smoldering ruins.
The proud City of Lawrence was determined to rebuild and quickly adopted the motto “from ashes to immortality.” Using an original cornerstone from the burned hotel, Colonel Eldridge promptly rebuilt the hotel, which opened again in 1865 with a new name — The Hotel Eldridge.
In 1867, Colonel Eldridge built the Broadway House in Kansas City, now known as the Coates house. In 1877, he built the Eldridge house at Coffeyville and the next year the Otis House in Atchison. Colonel Eldridge died January 16, 1899, in Lawrence at the age of 82.
For the next several decades, the Eldridge Hotel stood as one of the finest hotels west of the Mississippi River. It continued to play an essential role in the early development of Lawrence and the State of Kansas. But by 1925, the hotel had begun to deteriorate when a group of Lawrence business leaders decided that due to the hotel’s importance to the city, it should be torn down and rebuilt to its former dignity and elegance. The community stepped forth to ensure the success of the undertaking, and the hotel again displayed its former splendor.
However, by the 1960s, it had again begun to deteriorate and trends had changed. Downtown hotels were no longer popular, given over to the many motels springing up on the outskirts of town. Finally, the old hotel closed its doors on July 1, 1970, and was converted into apartments.
However, in 1985, a new group of investors again wanted to restore the old hotel to its former splendor. The City of Lawrence supported the project by committing two million dollars to match the one million raised by private investors. The hotel’s top four floors were completely rebuilt and converted into 48 two-room luxury suites, and the lobby was restored to its original elegance.
It is no surprise that the hotel hosts some ghostly spirits with its rich history.
The fifth floor is said to contain a portal to the spirit world – especially room 506. In this room, witnesses have reported breath marks on recently cleaned mirrors, doors opening and shutting on their own, and lights turning on and off by themselves.
Others report cold spots throughout the old hotel. Some guests have even encountered apparitions on the fifth floor, and an “elevator ghost” likes to open and close the elevator doors on the fifth floor. Several photographers have also mentioned having inexplicable technical difficulties with their cameras when near the elevator.
The hotel is located at the corner of Massachusetts and 7th streets in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.
© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2022.
Lawrence, Kansas – From Ashes to Immortality
Bleeding Kansas and the Missouri Border War
William Quantrill – Renegade Leader of the Missouri Border War
William Quantrill – The Man, the Myth, the Soldier by Paul R. Peterson