Outlaws spend evening dining at Harvey House
If a group of people who had dinner Saturday at Florence’s Harvey House walked into the establishment during its heyday, the staff might have sent for the sheriff.
Flint Hills Outlaws, a train and stage robbery and historical shoot out re-enactor group from McPherson, came to the museum for a meal and a discussion of the house’s history instead. Flint Hills Outlaws re-enacts robberies and shoot outs from the 1870s to 1890s.
Those are the years Harvey’s business was at its height. Among them are cowboys, a Native American, women in fine dresses, and potential train robbers and gunslingers.
Since three lawmen accompanied the group — two U.S. Marshals and one Texas Ranger — then-sheriff Sam Howe and undersheriff T.J. Smith didn’t come round up the gang, and they got to eat their meal in peace.
Served were roast beef, coleslaw, vegetable plate, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, rolls, fruit, and deep-dish apple pie with ice cream.
Museum volunteer Judy Mills, dressed in a classic Harvey Girls dress and apron, served the diners’ meals and gave them an informative talk about Fred Harvey and the restaurant and hotel empire he built.
Harvey immigrated from England in 1853, arriving with $10 to his name, Mills said.
He took a job in a New York restaurant. He planned to go west, but had to work. Eventually he saved enough money to buy a restaurant. Over time, he opened numerous restaurants across the country along railroad lines, catering to travelers but also doing business with locals.
“Cowboys could come in for breakfast and get steak and eggs, and all sorts of treats for 75 cents,” Mills said.
The Harvey House at Florence was Fred Harvey’s second restaurant but his first hotel, Mills said.
The Harvey House at Florence was built in 1876 and originally was known as the Clifton Hotel.
Business was so good Harvey expanded the hotel in 1879. More than 2,300 guests stayed at the Clifton House during a six-month period that year.
The dining room offered generous portions on fine china served by young women wearing black dresses and white aprons. Men were required to wear coats in the dining room.
Harvey owned a Flint Hills ranch that provided beef for the restaurant’s diners, Mills said.
The last time the Clifton House fed train passengers was March 31, 1900.
The Clifton Hotel closed later that year and was empty until 1904. Portions of the property were sold and moved elsewhere in Florence.
Florence Historical Society, organized in 1969, purchased the building with funding from a mill levy. Renovation work to turn the house into a museum began in 1971.
Working in the kitchen Saturday were Iva Britton, president of Florence’s historical society, Bev Baldwin, and Barb Creamer, both volunteers.
Members of the Flint Hills Outlaws live in Topeka, Gardner, El Dorado, Derby, Lawrence, Bonner Springs, and McPherson. Some are members of other reenactment groups as well.