Western Trips

Friday, April 6, 2012

A West Texas Historic Harvey House / Slaton Texas

harvey house in slaton texas
Harvey House Bed and Breakfast, Slaton,TX
Just a few miles southeast of Lubbock Texas is the town of Slaton. When you travel in this part of west Texas there's a very interesting stop in Slaton that reminds one of the adventure of rail travel during the early part of the 1900's. The historic former Harvey House in Slaton is just such a place and is an excellent addition to your west Texas trip planner. The story of the Harvey Houses is also the story of the Santa Fe Railroad. Many of the Harvey Houses also served as Texas train stations. This former Harvey House is also a fine Texas bed and breakfast.

The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad bought the land for it's depot in 1911. They named the town site for O.L. Slaton a local rancher and banker. The Santa Fe Railroad built a Harvey House and depot one year after the purchase. When you tour the old Slaton Harvey House you'll see pictures taken when the eatery was in operations. The restaurant served forty-two passengers at a time along a horse shoe shaped counter. The first floor of the building housed the kitchen, bakery, manager's office and gift shop. The rooms upstairs housed the Harvey Girl waitresses. There was also a small structure near the back of the Harvey House which at one time served as a butcher shop. The walls of the Slaton Harvey House are one foot thick concrete. The track side part of the structure is built with an arcade. The Harvey House in Slaton Texas was opened in 1912. Located at the time on the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks, this Harvey House operated until 1942. The depot itself continued to operate until 1969. The company continued to use the structure as a freight handling facility until the 1980's.

texas harvey house
Harvey House portico
The Harvey House of course was known for it's quality meals and the famous Harvey Girl staff which changed the entire way people would view rail travel. As stated in the book, Harvey Girl, by author Sheila Woof Foard, the Fred Harvey Company advertised for "Young women, 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive and intelligent", as waitresses in the Harvey Eating Houses on the Santa Fe Railroad in the West. Harvey at first began employing males in his western eateries but after what has been described as encountering a lot of wild men in the wild west, he made the decision in 1881 to start hiring females. In fact, Fred Harvey was credited with hiring women at a time when the only jobs available for women were as either teachers or domestics. The women who Fred Harvey hired proved to bring a civilizing influence to western travel. It's been estimated that there were about 100,000 Harvey Girls in total throughout all the years.When Fred Harvey passed away in 1901 he had forty seven Harvey House restaurants, fifteen Harvey House hotels and thirty railroad dining cars.

After 1942 the building served as a passenger station until Amtrak was established and passenger service through Slaton ceased.

When many people remember the old Harvey Houses they might think of places like New Mexico, Arizona and California which were the sites of some of the busiest locations. Santa Fe New Mexico and the Grand Canyon being two of the more busy sites. The fact was however that Fred Harvey also established his lunchrooms and dining rooms in Texas, Oklahoma and Texas not to mention in big cities such as St. Louis and Chicago. By my count there were some twenty-six Harvey House dining rooms in the state of Texas.

 Fred Harvey eateries also could be found on subsidiaries of the AT & SF Railroad. Many might also remember the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad dining cars of the late 1800's which were managed by the Fred Harvey Company. This was at a time when competition between railroads was high and any edge could mean the difference between success and failure. Fred Harvey was able to bring his quality service to AT & SF's rolling trains. Probably the most remembered of these was the "Super Chief " first class service between Chicago and Los Angeles. The beautifully decorated dining cars on the Super Chief featured fine china, silverware and tablecloths which ushered in luxurious and elegant long distance rail travel. This was in the era of the new Pullman cars which were very popular with rail travelers.

harvey girls uniform
Harvey Girl uniform
Fortunately, a citizens group in Slaton Texas who wished to preserve this historic railroad site took over the structure in 1990. This saved the old Harvey House from the wrecking ball and the non-profit group started restoration in 1992. The Slaton Harvey House is now along the BNSF route which was created with the merger of the Burlington Northern and the AT & SF Railroads.

As you might expect, many of the old Santa Fe depots and Harvey House eateries have disappeared over the years. Some have disappeared altogether. Some are now in private hands used for a variety of purposes and some have been turned into museums. There are some that also have been converted to BNSF offices and as is evidenced in Slaton Texas, some have been converted into B and B's and combination event centers and museums. Fortunately we'll have the surviving locations as a historic reminder and a great site for history minded tourists. The remaining old Fred Harvey sites also help to keep the memory of this man and his innovations alive for others to learn about.

harvey house b and b
Second floor common area
Today, the old historic Harvey House in Slaton Texas is both a Texas bed and breakfast and an events center. In addition to this it's an official Texas historic landmark. The bed and breakfast accommodations are on the second floor and are delightfully decorated. There's also a comfortable common room on the second floor for guests to relax. The entire building is filled with great artifacts and photos from the railroads golden age which makes this bed and breakfast both a unique hotel and museum all in one. If you're traveling anywhere near the Lubbock Texas area I would recommend you make a fun stop at this renovated Harvey House. If you plan to spend the night in the Lubbock Texas area I believe you'll find this B & B a perfect location.

You may be interested in our article about the La Castenada Harvey House in Las Vegas New Mexico.

You may also be interested in the following two articles related to railroad travel in Texas. One is the story of the Texas Electric Railroad which operated both north and south out of Dallas in the early 1900's and also the historic Katy Railroad which gained some fame by colliding two trains together as a publicity stunt.

As an added fun stop in Slaton you may want to check out the Texas Air Museum which is located at the northeast corner of the Slaton Texas Municipal Airport. Exhibits include many flyable and static aircraft displays. They feature an excellent collection of historic aircraft. The museum is generally open on Saturdays but group tours can be arranged for other days of the week. For more information call 806-828-4664.

The Slaton Harvey House is located at 400 Railway Avenue which is at the end of Texas Street right at the rail tracks. For more information, their phone number is 806-828-5900.

(Photos are from author's private collection)

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