Western Trips

Western Trips

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad And Fred Harvey Build The El Tovar

The business relationship between a man named Fred Harvey and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad probably did more to shape early southwest tourism than any other entity. During the latter part of the 1800's as the Indian Wars came to an end and the railroads grew, more and more people traveled west. Towns and commerce were growing and flourishing particularly along the busy rail routes.

Fred Harvey was a young man who in 1850 emigrated to the U.S. from England. He worked at various odd jobs mostly in the restaurant industry and eventually opened a cafe in St. Louis with a partner. The partner however was a Confederate sympathizer and during the Civil War decided to flee with the cafe's money. That ended the cafe business but Harvey went on and secured a job with the expanding railroad. Harvey rose through the railroad corporate ranks but in 1873 jumped back into the restaurant business with two eateries along the Kansas Southern rail line. 

Fred Harvey's future success was a classic example of the "find a need and fill it" business truth. Having traveled often as part of his railroad job he knew more than anyone how sub-par food quality was along the rail routes. This was before the era of dining cars. If you were traveling by rail or by stagecoach during those years, you took your meals when the train or stagecoach stopped and you hoped the restaurant/cafe they chose was decent. Many times it wasn't. 

Harvey joined in partnership with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to open a string of eateries along it's route. It was a great plan. Fred Harvey knew how to manage a restaurant and serve up quality food. In return, the railroad housed his establishments rent free. The railroad now had something much more to offer their riders. His first rail side eatery opened in 1876 in Topeka, Kansas. Eventually, Harvey opened dining and hotel establishments along the entire AT&SF route. These became known as Harvey House's. Travelers began to know that with Harvey managing, the accommodations and food would be of the highest standards. This was the key to his success.

One of those establishments happened to be the picturesque El Tovar Hotel on the Grand Canyon's south rim. The railroad built the hotel/restaurant (some 20 feet from the rim's edge) and Fred Harvey's company did the managing. You may also be interested in the story of Fred Harvey and his other famous Harvey House in Santa Fe New Mexico.

Prior to building the El Tovar, the railroad had constructed a spur line from Williams, Arizona to Grand Canyon Village. The route was about 64 miles long and was used to transport miners to and from the south rim. The locals and the railroad realized that there was strong tourism potential with the scenic Grand Canyon and it was promoted heavily in publications such as Harper's Weekly. The railway began taking visitors to the south rim in late 1901 and the El Tovar built by the railroads chief architect opened in 1905. The buggy and coach were always available to take visitors to the canyon rim but the railroad offered a much more comfortable alternative.

The picture to the right shows the very first tourist service to Grand Canyon Village from Williams in 1901. The picture below it shows the early station at Grand Canyon Village. The canyon was eventually established as a National Park and business on the railway was brisk but as the decades went by and the highways improved, by 1968 the automobile forced the Grand Canyon Railway to cease operations. 
After 20 years of idleness, the Grand Canyon Railway came back to life after being purchased from the Santa Fe Railroad by a private party. The railway began offering service to the south rim in 1989 and continues to do so.

The El Tovar Hotel, though no longer a Harvey House, is as busy as ever and is often booked up during the busy summer tourist season.

The Fred Harvey Company managed hotels and dining rooms in Las Vegas, NM... Santa Fe, NM... Needles, AZ... Barstow, CA...St. Louis...Chicago, the states of Oklahoma, Kansas and in many other locations. The Fred Harvey Company truly was America's first restaurant chain. 

The AT&SF Railroad decided to add dining cars to it's trains and after some prodding talked Harvey into managing the food service. At first Harvey thought it would be quite difficult to offer the same type of quality that his Harvey House's offered but it worked out well. Below is an early dining car poster for the Chicago and Alton Railroad.

Many people credit Fred Harvey with civilizing the old west. This was certainly true in regards to standardizing accommodations and food service. The "Harvey Girls" are another interesting story and were Fred Harvey's effort to help dignify the Harvey House's. Many of his locations were in frontier areas where crowds could be noisy and rowdy. His wait staff would often be subjected to abuse and he had a hard time holding on to good people. As a result he ran ads in eastern papers searching for young single women 18-34 years old with superb etiquette, good looks and good character. They dressed in black and white uniforms, thoroughly trained and were given specific rules to follow such as being home by 10P at night. They were supervised by an older woman much the same way a sorority house would operate. They became hugely popular with customers and represented yet another successful Harvey marketing idea.

Fred Harvey's vision together with the AT&SF Railroad's resources made travel to the old southwest a much more comfortable and predictable journey and no doubt increased the amount of travel to the area.

Two good sites below for the Grand Canyon National Park and El Tovar Hotel.



Here are excellent sites for more details regarding The Fred Harvey Company and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.



Get your New Mexico travel guide and New Mexico maps at  www.newmexico.org/guide

Get your Arizona travel guide and Arizona maps at   www.arizonaguide.com

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