Rebirth From Blood-Fueled Flames: The Eldridge Hotel, Kansas

The Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas, has the fierce comeback stamina of a cat or a phoenix. Burned down twice, and shut down twice, the feisty grand dame refused to die and in May of this year she was reborn, yet again, after a $2 million makeover.

Today, gleaming terrazzo floors, black leather club furniture, dark wood and black-and-white photos on the walls reflect the 1925 glory days, when the hotel was considered one of the finest establishments west of the Mississippi. With 48 two-room suites, it is an intimate yet grand property. A casual visitor would never suspect that this building, on the National Register of Historic Places, sits on a site soaked in bloody history.

A brief history of the Eldridge:
• The original structure was built in 1855 and named the Free State Hotel. The country was in the heat of the anti-slavery battle and the Free State Hotel was built as temporary lodging for settlers streaming in from the east with a mission — to take Kansas into the Union as a state free from slavery.
• A year after it was erected, pro-slavery Sheriff Sam Jones attacked it and burned it to the ground. Colonel Shalor Eldridge rebuilt it and defiantly added another floor.
• The next attack came in 1863 when William Clarke Quantrill and his Raiders destroyed the community and killed more than 150 people. Colonel Eldridge rebuilt it once again, this time giving it his own name.
• The hotel was the town’s proud symbol of fighting determination, and when it began to deteriorate in 1925, local business leaders rallied to restore it.
• By 1970, it was once again bedraggled and its doors were closed.
• After being shuttered for 15 years, town investors resuscitated it and in 2004 it was sold at auction to the present owners, a group that includes University of Kansas alumni.

The best thing about this cozy, classy Historic Hotel of America? The prices. Room rates are around $120 to $180. She may have risen from the flames, but The Eldridge won’t burn your pocketbook.

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