Eldridge Hotel, Former Site of the Free State Hotel
The Eldridge Hotel stands on the site of the former Free State Hotel. One of the first buildings in Lawrence, the Free State Hotel was built in 1855 and the hotel's name reflected the politics of its founders during the time period known as Bleeding Kansas. The original hotel was set on fire in 1856 by pro-slavery Sheriff Sam Jones and his men during their attack on Lawrence. A new four-story hotel was rebuilt in 1857. Colonel Shalor Eldridge, the hotel's owner and avowed Free Stater, vowed that every time the structure was destroyed he would "rebuild and add a story to it." On August 21, 1863, Quantrill's men raided Lawrence. They targeted the hotel because it was considered the seat of free-state activity. The Provost Marshall of Kansas, Alexander R.Banks, displayed a white sheet outside his window, declaring sanctuary for those inside the hotel. Quantrill's raiders burned the hotel but did not kill the occupants. Col. Eldridge immediately started rebuilding but was unable to keep his promise to add a story. The resulting three-story hotel lasted until 1924 when it was demolished to make way for the present five-story hotel built by then-owner W. G. Hutson. Each August 21, the anniversary of the raid, a white sheet is displayed from a window.
The hotel today
The Eldridge shortly after the Civil War
Backstory and Context
The third hotel build at this location-the Eldridge Hotel-was a leading Lawrence institution, as well as one of the finest in the state through the early 1900s. By the 1920s, however, the historic hotel lacked modern amenities and was beginning to show its age. In response, Lawrence businessmen under the leadership of Billy Hutson worked to construct a modern hotel at this location. The 4th hotel built at this location, the new Eldridge Hotel survived the lean years of the Great Depression but was once again in danger as consumer tastes shifted away from downtown luxury hotels in the late 1950s and 1960s.
The rise of inexpensive "motor lodges" proved more destructive to the hotel than Quantrill's raiders, and the Eldridge Hotel appeared to be gone forever when it closed its doors for the last time. According to the hotel website, this full-service establishment had never been closed before and a lock had to be made for it's front door. The building was converted to apartments, housing graduate students and others through the mid-1980s.
Fortunately for those in downtown Lawrence, and the future of the hotel, the city of Lawrence continued to invest heavily in its downtown. The city also avoided the trend of creating shopping malls-a decision that allowed Lawrence's downtown to thrive while other downtowns throughout the nation stagnated in the 1970s and 1980s. With the city's continued support of the downtown area, Lawrence business leaders saw the potential of creating a hotel as unique as its own downtown. In response, area developers purchased the historic building and brought the Eldridge Hotel back to life.
"History of the Eldridge Hotel." Eldridge Hotel. Accessed June 10, 2014. http://eldridgehotel.com/our-story.
Caldwell, Martha B.. Eldridge House, Your Stories, Our History, Kansas Historical Society. November 1st, 1940. Accessed May 29th, 2023. https://www.kshs.org/p/eldridge-house/12840.