The rapid growth of railroads after the Civil War was both a response to an existing need and an attempt to meet the challenge of future development. The frontier was pushing across the Kansas plains. (Snell)
Cyrus K Holliday took concrete steps toward the building of a railroad to the west as early as 1859; he has been credited with inaugurating the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (Santa Fe) railroad system.
“The said company is hereby authorized and empowered to survey, locate, construct, complete, alter, maintain and operate a railroad, with one or more tracks, from or near Atchison, on the Missouri River, in Kansas Territory, to the town of Topeka, in Kansas Territory, and to such a point on the southern or western boundary of said Territory, in the direction of Santa Fe, in the Territory of New Mexico”. (AT&SF Charter; Snell)
After getting to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the rail reached Needles, California in 1883 and would later reach all the way to Los Angeles in 1885 with a connection to San Francisco by 1900.
Frederick Henry Harvey was born on June 27, 1835 to Charles and Helen Manning Harvey, he lived in Liverpool, England with his family until they immigrated to the United States in 1850.
He first worked as a dishwasher with Smith and McNeill Café in New York for just $2 per day. He moved to New Orleans; then in 1853, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Six years later, he and a partner opened a restaurant in St. Louis (just before the Civil War broke out.)
The Civil War was bad for the restaurant industry, but good for the rail industry. Mr Harvey’s business partner left to join the Confederacy and the restaurant closed.
Harvey went to work for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (commonly called the ‘Burlington.’) On January 14, 1860 he married Barbara Sarah Mattas; they had 7 children, 5 of which survived to adulthood.
During this time, Harvey noticed that the lunchrooms serving rail passengers were deplorable and most trains did not have dining cars, even on extended trips. The custom at the time was typically to make dining stops every 100-miles or so.
The dining stops were short, no longer than an hour, and the passengers were expected to find a restaurant, order their meal, get served and eat. When the train was ready to go, it left, often leaving passengers stranded at the station.
Harvey tried unsuccessfully to interest the Burlington in a co-operative arrangement to provide good food for travelers. But the Santa Fe was interested and early in 1876 he acquired the lunchroom at the Topeka depot. Service and food were dramatically improved, and both Harvey and the Santa Fe desired to see his operations expanded.
Before long, the first Harvey House Restaurant opened in the Topeka, Kansas Santa Fe Depot Station in 1876. Leasing the lunch counter at the depot, Harvey’s business focused on cleanliness, service, reasonable prices and good food. It was an immediate success.
The Harvey Houses became the first chain restaurants, with the Topeka depot becoming the training base for the new chain along the Santa Fe Route. Soon Harvey lunchrooms extended from Kansas to California.
By the late-1880s, there was a Harvey establishment every one hundred miles along the Santa Fe line. Setting high standards for efficiency and cleanliness, the food was always served on china and customers were required to wear coats.
Harvey found that the men he hired to work in his restaurants weren’t working out; he began hiring women at a time when the only jobs for respectable females were as domestics or teachers. Harvey began to recruit them in newspaper ads across the country.
In order to qualify as one of the ‘Harvey Girls,’ the women had to have at least an eighth grade education, good moral character, good manners, and be neat and articulate. Harvey paid good wages, as much as $17.50 per month with free room, board and uniforms.
In return for employment, the Harvey Girls would agree to a six month contract, agree not to marry and abide by all company rules during the term of employment. In no time, these became much sought after jobs.
The famous ‘Harvey Girls,’ carefully trained, well-groomed young women who were hired as waitresses, further increased customer traffic. Before long, Harvey was operating restaurants, hotels, gift shops and newsstands in increasing numbers along the railroad route.
Fred Harvey’s rest houses became gathering places for visitors searching for mementos of Indian land and the Native residents of some of the West’s most striking cultural and geographic terrain.
In the 1890s, the Santa Fe Railway began including dining cars on some of its trains; Harvey got the contract to serve food on those, as well. About this same time, George Pullman began building (and staffing) his own sleeping cars.
After World War I, rising affluence, more automobiles and more leisure time hurt the Harvey Company. While keeping many Harvey Houses, they moved away from full reliance on train passengers. They packaged motor trips of the southwest, including tours of Native American villages (Indian Detours) and natural wonders(such as the Grand Canyon
At its peak, there were 84 Harvey Houses. They continued to be built and operated into the 1930s and 1940s (in 1946, its 7,000 employees served 33,000,000 meals a year to travelers.)
So, what’s the Hawai‘i connection? … In 1968, Amfac (one of Hawai‘i’s ‘Big Five’ companies) bought the Fred Harvey Company.
Amfac had its beginning in the Islands when, on September 26, 1849, German sea captain Heinrich (Henry) Hackfeld arrived in Honolulu and opened a general merchandise business (dry goods, crockery, hardware and stationery,) wholesale, as well as retail store.
Hackfeld later became a prominent ‘factor’ – business agent and shipper – for the sugar plantations. However, with the advent of the US involvement in World War I, things changed. In 1918, the US government seized H Hackfeld & Company and ordered the sale of German-owned shares. (Jung)
The patriotic sounding ‘American Factors, Ltd,’ the newly-formed Hawaiʻi-based corporation (whose largest shareholders included Alexander & Baldwin, C Brewer & Company, Castle & Cooke, HP Baldwin Ltd, Matson Navigation Company and Welch & Company,) bought the H Hackfeld stock. (Jung) At that same time, the BF Ehlers dry goods store took the patriotic ‘Liberty House’ name.
American Factors shortened its name to “Amfac” in 1966. The next year (1967,) Henry Alexander Walker became president and later Board Chairman of Amfac.
Amfac first got into resort management in 1962 when it developed some of its land at Kāʻanapali Beach Resort, Hawaiʻi’s first master-planned resort. Twenty-five years after it started, the Urban Land Institute recognized Kāʻanapali Beach Resort with an Award of Excellence for Large-Scale Recreational Development.
Amfac expanded its resort experience in the Islands in 1969 when it acquired Island Holidays Hotel Co and its chain of ‘Palms’ resorts (including Kona Palms, Maui Palms and Coco Palms) started by ‘Gus’ and Grace Guslander.
Walker took Amfac from a company that largely depended on sugar production in Hawaiʻi to a broadly diversified conglomerate (which included the acquisition of the Fred Harvey Company in 1968.)
Later (2002,) the resort management company became known as Xanterra Parks and Resorts. (Lots of information here is from Harvey Houses, Armstrong, Legends of America and Xanterra.)
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Byron Porter says
This is a fascinating tie in. I follow your posts about Hawaiian history regularly, but this piece really caught my attention. I’m from Topeka, so the backstory about the Harvey Houses and their relationship to the AT&SF was interesting. My Dad is a ‘train enthusiast’ and I’ve long been telling him about how rail was important in the development of Hawaii – on the islands. Now there is a tie-in to a local rail line that he will find very interesting. Mahalo!
Charlotte Hepler says
Wonderful article. I once lived in Kingman, AZ where I heard the locals proudly say that their great grandmothers were Harvey Girls who married a local cowboy after the six month contract expired. There was an abandoned building that had been the Harvey House, I don’t know if the City was able to obtain funds to restore it, like the one in Barstow,CA which is a great place to stop on a road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.