Wicked ghost town saloon turned into Coolidge bed and breakfast

By Amy Bickel

The Hutchinson News

COOLIDGE -- It was a stopping place on the cattle trail for dusty cowboys -- a place for a drink and coarse entertainment.

"Dirty is putting it mildly," says Lori Lennen with a laugh. "They would have been a mud ball."

And while this structure still features a saloon appearance, Lennen's Trail City Bed and Breakfast in Coolidge is pristine.

The bar is long gone. So are the curtains that once separated the prostitutes upstairs. But it still is a place of respite for the weary traveler.

"It's amazing to think the upstairs was a brothel," said Lennen.

It's just part of the unique history that Lennen is preserving in her hometown of Coolidge, opening the bed and breakfast that once graced the defunct town of Trail City in fall 2011.

In fact, it's one of the last, if not the only building still standing from what was known as the wickedest little town on the Arkansas River. Trail City, after all, located on what is now the Kansas/Colorado border, was the notorious stepchild of the area -- a place of gambling and drinking, of womanizing and, on occasion, of murder.

"They'd charge (the cowboys) $10" for sex, Lennen has said in the past, noting the cowboys didn't seem to blink an eye at the cost -- sometimes just signing up for the job because they wanted to get to Trail City. "That would have been a lot of money back then."

The town grew because the Kansas Legislature prohibited Texas ranchers from driving their herds across the Kansas prairie to market, because the cattle carried Texas fever, which was caused by ticks, according to the book, "Hamilton County, Kansas History."

Thus, the herdsmen were forced to go westward and then travel up the western edge of Kansas, which became known as the National Cattle Trail, according to the book.

Trail City began in the early 1880s along the state line, just two miles west of Coolidge. It was one of the first stops on the trail for these cowboys, who were paid just $30 a month, according to Lennen. When they got to Trail City, they didn't seem to mind spending their money at the various saloons or for a stint at one of the brothels.

But the rough western town and its dirty deeds were short lived. Trail-driving cattle was on the decline, largely because by this time, railroads shipped cattle rather than a herd of cowboys on horses.

By 1887, just 100 frequented the stop that once boasted 500 people when the cowboys came to town. By the early 1890s, locals had moved many of the buildings to farms, to Holly, Colo., and into Coolidge.

That included the old saloon, which, for years, was used in Coolidge as a residence. When Lennen decided to come back to her hometown and help preserve it, she bought the home and began to turn it into a bed and breakfast.

The inn still has the tall, round, saloon facade on the outer front. And while a few walls are still the original horse-hair plaster, the inside is largely renovated.

Today the saloon has five bedrooms with baths for those needing a place to sleep while going east or west on U.S. 50. A stay comes complete with a full breakfast cooked by Lennen.

"We're now in our third year," said Lennen, adding she is receiving many repeat customers, including those doing business at one of Hamilton County's dairies. "Never did I dream that I would come back to Coolidge and be doing this. But I love it."

(c)2014 The Hutchinson News