The Hotel Stilwell’s history runs back to 1889, when a board of trade sought funds to build a high-class, metropolitan hotel to rival those in Chicago and St. Louis. Funds for the hotel came together through the work of railroad tycoon Arthur E. Stilwell, who agreed to sell bonds in the amount of $75,000 and secure interest from his associates in the east. For securing the funding, Stilwell was honored with the dedication of the hotel in his name.
In its early days, the Hotel Stilwell expressed the energy and strength of the growing town. Industrial and mining operations were rapidly expanding around Pittsburg, and the new hotel promised widespread attention. Documents from the Kansas State Historical Society explained that the Stilwell was “the first [hotel] with sophistication and style, the first that could be pointed to with pride by visitors and residents alike. It was the center of social activity for many generations of Pittsburg citizens.”
As the founders had hoped, the Hotel Stilwell soon received statewide attention. Responding to a miner’s strike in December of 1919, Governor Henry Allen temporarily moved his office and living quarters to the hotel for closer access to miner’s union officials. Other visitors to the hotel included women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony and famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, who visited the hotel while concluding the Scopes Monkey Trial. The trial’s final verdict was so recent, Darrow held a press conference at the hotel during his 1925 visit to answer questions from reporters.
Hotel Stilwell Notable Visitors
If any part of the hotel has seen more notable visitors, it has to be the second-floor balcony. Sitting just above the grand arched entrance, the balcony was the site of President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech during a tour of Kansas in July of 1900. Roosevelt’s speeches during this tour tended to focus on praising Kansas troops and prosperity in the Midwest, although a long speech in Emporia turned political, with the president discussing the Philippine war for independence from under U.S. control. Roosevelt exclaimed his opinion in the speech: “Our flag is up in the Philippines and it shall never be hauled down.”
After World War II, the Stilwell began to see more permanent visitors on limited incomes instead of overnight visitors. Eventually, the hotel was closed in 1975 as its condition deteriorated from little maintenance.
Hotel Stilwell Today
Stilwell Heritage and Educational Foundation director Laura Carlson and local author Kathleen DeGrave, whose 2010 book “The Hotel Stilwell: A Tale of Mortar, Money and Memories” say this period in the hotel’s life lasted until the 1990s, when building permits were issued to renovate the building into 44 apartments. “There were some doubters and croakers in 1890 when Arthur Stilwell built the hotel, and there were doubters and croakers in 1992,” Carlson said.
Despite all doubt, the project was successful in saving the hotel, which is finding new life as an apartment complex with a uniquely rich background. In addition, the Stilwell’s Timmons Ballroom still hosts wedding receptions and banquets.
Anyone interested in reserving the ballroom can contact the hotel for information.