PITTSBURG, Kan. —
A historic hotel that once was saved from the wrecking ball through a community grass-roots effort will again see work crews starting Monday.
The Stilwell Heritage and Educational Foundation, which in June 2012 took full ownership of the Hotel Stilwell after a 15-year joint ownership with a Minnesota company, is embarking on a lower-level renovation project.
The effort is partially supported by a $90,000 Heritage Trust Fund grant awarded by the Kansas Historical Society, and $33,500 from the foundation’s capital campaign.
The project will include constructing outside access to the basement level on the north side in order to allow a more direct path for large equipment and maintenance personnel, and ridding the basement of a water problem through the installation of a French drain.
“Some of what needs to be done we weren’t aware of until we took full ownership of the hotel and could really do some investigating and saw that things were not quite done that we thought had been done,” said Sara Henry, executive director of the foundation. “We had to have a boiler replaced, and there was no way to get it into the basement.”
In 1980, the Stilwell was placed on the state and national lists of historical places. Because of those designations, any work done on the 122-year-old interior or exterior must be approved through the Kansas Historical Society and meet a set of criteria.
The hotel, dedicated on April 26, 1890, was built by Kansas City entrepreneur and financier Arthur Stilwell, who routed the Kansas City Southern Railway through Pittsburg.
It has seen noted Americans such as politician William Jennings Bryan, union leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs, President Theodore Roosevelt, women’s suffragist Susan B. Anthony and gangster Pretty Boy Floyd pass through its doors and make speeches from its balcony.
It served in 1919 as a temporary capital of Kansas when Gov. Henry Allen came to town during a violent coal dispute and drafted the Court of Industrial Relations Law. During World War II, pilot trainees were billeted at the hotel.
It was renovated in the mid-1990s. Today, the hotel includes 44 apartments, a small museum in the lobby, two retail spaces and the Timmons Ballroom, which is used for receptions and other events.
“We’re trying to be good stewards of the property,” Henry said. “It has an important place in history, and we intend to preserve it.”
She said the foundation will apply for additional funding to help shore up the basement, likely in 2015, and will focus on exterior painting, guttering and roofing work this year.
“It’s just like anybody’s old home: There’s always something to be done,” she said.
THE FIRST PHASE OF THE RENOVATION will begin Monday on the north side of the hotel near Otto’s Cafe.