Fred Harvey inducted into business hall of fame

Florence Harvey House second in long chain of restaurants

Since its opening in 1971, the Harvey House Museum in Florence has had a special section devoted to the life of Fred Harvey and his development of the historic restaurant and hotel.

This year, the Kansas entrepreneur has been posthumously selected to be inducted into the Kansas Business Hall of Fame.

The Kansas Business Hall of Fame is located at Emporia State University. Now in its 20th year, it recognizes business leaders who are widely known for their past or present contributions to Kansas and are recognized as role models in private enterprise.

Governor Kathleen Sebelius will attend a ceremony June 17 at Emporia to recognize and honor Harvey and another Kansas businessman, Howard R. Fricke.

Fred Harvey's chain of restaurants and hotels followed the Santa Fe Railroad's expansion westward in the 1870s.

The second one to be established was at Florence in 1878 in the Clifton Hotel. It was located south of the tracks and was the first Harvey House that included lodging as well as meals.

Eventually, there was a Harvey restaurant every 100 miles along the line, all the way to California, 84 in all.

Harvey's company served good food at reasonable prices in clean, elegantly-decorated restaurants to the traveling public throughout the Southwest.

Harvey came to the United States in 1850 at the age of 15. He worked in restaurants before seeking employment with the Burlington Railroad Co.

He saw firsthand the need for good food and service along the rail line. When he proposed a joint venture with Burlington, the offer was refused. His idea then was accepted by the superintendent of the Santa Fe Railroad.

Harvey moved to Leavenworth in 1871 and made that his business headquarters. He purchased the Clifton Hotel in 1878 and gradually improved it externally and internally.

In March 1879, because of the demand, a couple of additions were built, expanding the facility to a footprint of 30x300 feet. It served more than 2,300 guests that year.

A few years later, Harvey began recruiting young women from the East to serve as waitresses. The "Harvey Girls" wore standardized uniforms and served rail passengers quickly, efficiently, and politely. Large-portioned meals were served on fine china with linen tablecloths and napkins.

Harvey died in 1901 but the Harvey brand continued to be associated with the hospitality industry through the 1960s, reinventing itself numerous times to respond to trends in business and leisure travel.

The last meal for rail passengers at the Harvey House in Florence was served March 31, 1900. The building was sold and eventually was partitioned, and the several parts were moved to other areas of the city, where they were used as boarding houses.

The present Florence Harvey House sits at the corner of Third and Marion streets. It was an original part of the Clifton Hotel.

Florence Historical Society took possession of the building in 1971 and made it into a museum. Volunteers redecorated the dining room and kitchen, restoring them to their original state.

The building is full of period furniture, photographs, and artifacts from the early days of the city of Florence.

To learn more about Fred Harvey and the Florence Harvey House visit and click on Harvey House Museum.

To schedule a tour or reserve a group dinner, call 1-620-878-4496.