Kathy Hanks The Hutchinson News
CIMARRON - The burly buffalo head doesn't come with the deal.
But 127 years of history has been packaged into the sale of the Cimarron Hotel, a landmark in this community 18 miles west of Dodge City.
The three-story red brick building with its white wooden porch has been Kathleen Holt's home for the past 30 years. Inside the historic walls she raised her own two sons, 10 foster kids and 17 exchange students and probably fried a quarter million pieces of chicken, back when there was a restaurant on the first floor.
"It's my house, my home," said Holt, past president of the Kansas State Historical Society. Owning the hotel has meant owning a piece of each of the stories she has experienced or heard within its walls.
It won't be easy to let go. After all, Holt holds the building in her heart and has poured her boundless energy into restoration and welcoming guests passing through town from all over the globe.
She knows every corner of every room and did the legwork to see that it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now it's time for new energy, says Holt who has retired from work at the University of Kansas that kept her traveling around the state but is working part-time as strategic projects coordinator for High Plains Public Radio.
She is hoping to find the right person to buy the hotel, willing to pay the $385,000 which includes many of the building's contents. While the buffalo head in the hotel's lobby isn't included, a giant gilt wall mirror, which reportedly was once in the Mississippi governor's mansion, comes with the sale.
So do the furnishings from the 10 sleeping rooms on the third floor and three fully-furnished suites and an efficiency apartment on the first floor. The second floor is Holt's private residence.
But, selling the hotel that was built by Nicholas Klaine, a Dodge City probate judge, newspaper owner and character who figured heavily in the historical "Saloon Wars," is more than selling a home or hotel.
"I don't care what the Realtors say, this is unique," Holt said.
So, she is hoping the next owner will breathe life into the building and be a faithful steward of its history.
The town of Cimarron, settled in 1878, was the point on the historic Santa Fe Trail where it divided. One branch headed southwest, where there was little water and threats from Indians. The other followed the Arkansas River to Bent's Fort, near La Junta, Colo., then south over Raton Pass, which took longer going over the mountains to Santa Fe. But it was here in Cimarron where that decision needed to be made. It was also the first town west of Dodge City on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad line.
Meanwhile, the hotel has had many lives over the years. Klaine built the structure in 1886 and it opened as the New West Hotel on May 12, 1887. He opened the New West Echo, a newspaper office, in the north half of the first floor.
The hotel still has the original guest register, with names that tell a story of the Wild West. There was Klaine's adversary Luke Short, a former owner of the Long Branch Saloon and friend of Dodge City legends Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. During a mayoral race, Klaine's newspaper strongly sided against the Long Branch which was known for alcohol, gambling, prostitution and piano playing.
"They wanted to rule out evil," Holt said.
Klaine's side won, but, it was only a temporary victory. The governor sent out the militia and Short sold his interests and got the heck out of Dodge. He went to Fort Worth and killed a man in a gunfight.
But in 1887 he was in Cimarron, signing his name on Sept. 25, 1887, "Luke Short and wife, from Longwood." There are two other entries, Short Luke from Shortwood and Luke Shortwood from Short.
Holt believes Short signed the registry to thumb his nose at Klaine. She described Short as a nattily dressed, ornery gambler, who carried a black cane that had a gold tip.
It's history such as this that enthralls Holt with her home. After the blizzard of 1886, there was severe economic depression around southwest Kansas due to the loss of cattle.
In the early 1890s, the hotel was advertised as a sanitarium where patients with respiratory disorders found relief in the "balmy air" of southwest Kansas, according to Holt's website, www.oldwestproperty.com. It was regarded, according to a promotional brochure from the period, to result from the fact that the New West was located at an elevation neither as low as sea level nor as high as the neighboring Rocky Mountains.
By 1902, Klaine sold the hotel to Mr. and Mrs. F.M. Luther, who named it the Luther Inn. In 1929, Luther's grandson Leigh Warner went on to help form Wheat Growers Mutual Hail Insurance Group, which grew into the Cimarron Insurance Group. In 1947, Elsie Bartlow, Luther's secretary, became the owner. She changed the name to Cimarron Hotel.
"She did marry her handyman," Holt said, but it didn't work out. Which was a lesson for Holt, to never marry her handyman, no matter what work needs to be done.
After Bartlow, a woman who had been Miss Mississippi and her husband, a college professor, became the owners.
"She caused quite a stir in town, going downtown for coffee in leopard loungers and a feather boa," Holt said.
In 1977, Holt, and her then husband, Doug, bought the hotel from Tuffy and Barbara Edwards. In 1982, the Holts divorced, and Kathleen moved into the second floor of the hotel with her two young sons.
Through the ensuing years, the hotel evolved. It became a restaurant known for its fried chicken dinners. She catered parties and receptions in the dining rooms, and welcomed guests by serving breakfast. In recent years she remodeled the first floor into suites and a full efficiency apartment that she rents by the week. She says it has worked out well for traveling salesmen and people needing a place to stay in the area for a period of time. It's a good place for someone who needs to get away to work on a project.
For those who stay on the third floor, a few have mentioned a sighting of a ghost. In the early 1890s the hotel was marketed as a tuberculosis sanitarium.
"Those who have seen the ghost describe her as peaceful and healing," Holt said. "So, I figure she may be hanging around from those days. They tell me she opens doors and things, but mostly they just see her. No one has described her as threatening. I've lived on the second floor since 1982 and I've never seen her. She's definitely a third floor phenomenon."
Holt says she carries memories "of all the laughter of hundreds of guests who played Whodunit, the smiles of many brides and grooms, of seniors having pictures taken."
But, there are also the tears of those who came to stay to heal from passage through troubled times, owning the hotel has been a piece of each of the stories.
"This hotel is a package," Holt said. "It's a building that holds a story."