Historic Greenwood Hotel
By Doug Rich
Sitting in the restored lobby of the Greenwood Hotel in Eureka, Kan., you can almost smell cigar smoke and hear the jingle of spurs that would have been common there when the hotel was opened in 1884. From the very beginning the hotel, located in the heart of the Flint Hills, was a gathering place for cattlemen.
A reporter from the Kansas City Star described the lobby at the Greenwood Hotel as "a sort of small livestock exchange" where they were always talking cattle. It is estimated that one billion dollars' worth of cattle changed hands in the hotel during its prime.
Ownership of the historic building changed hands several times over the years. The "new" portion of the building was added in 1926 when H.D. Hoover added 12 rooms on the east side of the building, converted the pool hall into a cafÃ© and converted the dining room into a pool hall. A new sign was added to the exterior of the building at the third floor level.
In 1979 Richard and Becky Potts sold the hotel at auction to Mrs. Ralph Marling, Mrs. T.W. McCarthy, and Mrs. George Jackson for $31,500. After that sale the historic structure sat vacant for much of the 1980s. Later a few storefront businesses used the building but no renovation work was done. The Greenwood Preservation Society was formed in 2001, but before any work could begin GWPS needed to obtain legal ownership of the hotel.
By that time two of the ladies that owned the building had passed away leaving one sole surviving owner. Working through estates and attorneys, which took years to accomplish, GWPS eventually took ownership of the hotel in 2008. Then they had to get the building on state and national historic registries, which was completed in 2006. There were years of paperwork to be done before they ever swung a hammer.
"We were deemed completely insane at the time but we have worked our way up to moderately respectable," Heather Huntington Fuesz, past president of GWPS, said. "That is about as high as you can get in preservation work."
The Greenwood Hotel was placed on the state and National Historic Registries in 2006 and GWPS finally took ownership. When these hurdles were cleared GWPS could start applying for grants and other funding sources. In 2007 and 2008 GWPS received a community Service Tax Credit from the Kansas Department of Commerce and a National Trust for Historic Preservation grant. The renovation effort really took off when GWPS was awarded $990,000 by the Kansas Department of Transportation Enhancement reimbursement program.
Fuesz said they had the building inspected and found it to be structurally good, but as a fixer-upper it was a horrible project. The old archway between the lobby and the sitting room was covered, there were two sets of drop ceilings, and a weight-bearing wall had been cut through at some time. A portion of the roof had been blown off by a storm and then several windows were broken.
"It was not something that you or I as individuals would take on," Heather said.
As with any renovation project there are always unexpected repairs that need to be made. At the Greenwood Hotel that turned out to be the basement. Marilyn Brink, a local rancher and GWPS president, said they found a 12-foot, hand-dug, spring-fed well in the basement.
"Which explained why the basement flooded so often over the year," Brink said.
At first they thought it was a cistern. The construction crew would pump it out every day, and overnight it would fill up with water. After testing the water they discovered it was spring water not city water. Apparently the 1926 addition to the hotel had been built over the well. The well was filled and capped with steel and concrete to keep water out of the basement. A grant from the Kansas State Historical Society Heritage Trust fund was used to renovate the basement.
In 2008 the William Morris Associates firm was hired to draw up the plans and oversee the renovation of the exterior, first floor, and basement. The general contractor was Accel Construction LLC of Wichita. Work began March 8, 2010.
So far all of the windows have been replaced, the roof has been fixed, the exterior is done, and the first floor is finished. The second and third floor remains to be restored. GWPS members have not decided exactly what to do with the upper floors, which were all former hotel rooms.
"Right now we are working on getting enthused about writing more grants to fund restoration of the upper floors," Brink said.
At first there were a lot of naysayers who thought the restoration of the Greenwood Hotel would never happen, but community support has grown along with the project. Other buildings in town have been or will be restored including the bank building, the old Rexall Drug Store, and the old train depot. In 10 years, the city has gone from "it can't be done" to "yes it can." People want to invest in the community again.
"Eureka is a lot like many other communities where all of our main streets were built in the 1880s," Fuesz said. "We are all facing the same challenges with deterioration and loss of population. But the buildings in our towns tell a story, they tell about who we are socially, economically, and historically. Certainly this building does."
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.