Despite the advantage of Marion’s two railroad lines, the community seemed to have had trouble attracting a truly ambitions hotel enterprise, and thus interested citizens were forced to resort to offering a substantial financial incentive to prospective developers. Thus, on July 10, 1885, the Marion Record reported that the local real estate firm of Case and Billings would award $1,000, to which the citizens of Marion would add $2500, to any “outsider” who would erect “a great hotel building” in Marion.
When no outsider immediately leaped at their proposition, Case and Billings, along with many citizens in the town, took matters into their own hands, and in late July formed a hotel company – 160 shares of capital stock were sold at $100 each to finance the project. By August, 1885, the company had commissioned an architect “in the eastern part of the state” to draw up plans and specifications for a three-story stone structure.
The Dream Becomes Reality
Contracts were let in September and October and work commenced soon after. According to October 9, 1885, Marion Record, the contract for the stone work was awarded to Harper and Rhind of Marion, that for provision of sand to E.L. Snider, that for provision of stone to Mr. Kellett, and the contract for the carpentry work was awarded to Henry Kable, reportedly “one of the best workmen in Kansas.” Other sources identify Simon Weidenbener and Fred Frobenius as stone cutters for the project.
Built to stimulate an economic boom, the hotel was a symbol of the town’s aspirations more than an index of its actual achievements. Enthusiastic newspaper accounts accompanied the hotel ‘s construction. Just as work on the hotel was getting underway in late August, 1885, one reporter stated that the Elgin would be a “monster three story stone hotel” executed in “the most elaborate style of modern architecture” with ” first class” interior appointments, It would be “a monument to Marion’s glory and a common pride to citizens and its enterprising builders. This will be the finest hotel west of Topeka.”
The hotel was completed by September, 1886. W.W. Case and his brother, L.L. Case, relatives of A.E. Case, who was one of the hotel’s chief promoters, were brought into town to run the hotel.
The Grand Opening
The grand opening was held on September 15, 1886, with a banquet and ball that were the most splendid the city had seen. Programs that have survived detail an elaborate menu. All the principals in the hotel project were on the program and music was provided by the Marion Silver Cornet Band.
In comparison with the hotel facilities in larger places like Wichita and Garden City, each of which boasted one or more new hotels during this period, the Elgin was a modest structure (the Windsor Hotel in Garden City had four stories, cost $100,000 and had 125 rooms; the Carey House in Wichita had five stories and cost $100,000.) Yet, far its location and available resources it was an impressive project, providing seemingly lavish accommodations with forty airy, cozy sleeping apartments, an elegant double parlor, bath room, an unusually fine dining room, sample room, wash room, tonsorial room, reading room, etc., all neatly and comfortably furnished, and supplied with modern appliances for the comfort of the guests.”To those who recalled A, E. Case’s “Hotel Commercial” which opened in the late 1860s, and offered sleeping accommodations in the attic, this new hotel must have seemed a satisfactory improvement.
Shortly after the Elgin Hotel opened, the Marion Record observed, “‘We get prouder and prouder of the Elgin Hotel. It is indeed a ‘big thing’ for the town.” Its impact on the county scene is indicated by the fact that the hotel occupied the cover of the 1888 “Handbook of Marion County, Kansas,” for it was the largest hotel in the county at that time.
The Elgin is Saved
Over the years, the Elgin changed hands a number of times yet continued to operate as the principal hotel for the region. During the oil boom of the 1950s, the hotel was the gathering place for drilling promoters and lease agents.
In 1956, Richard A. “Dick” Lundgren purchased the hotel. Lundgren also served as the Marion City Clerk. Due to his involvement in the community, it allowed the Elgin to serve as headquarters of the Marion Centennial Committee in 1961. After ten years, the Elgin fell into disrepair and Dick thought it was time to move on. He accepted a position as administrator of a nursing home at Eskridge, and the Elgin was closed in 1967.
Following this closure, the Elgin became home to the unwanted; birds, insects and rodents took over. The Elgin fell into such disrepair that there was talk of tearing the once magnificent structure down.
In 1974, the building was purchased for $3,000 by Alfred Murnahan, the Rev. Reg Larson and Tommy Wolfe of Emporia. The plan was to demolish it and reuse the stone to build to build a new sanctuary for the First Assembly of God. However, funds fell through a week prior to demolition and the structure remained empty until 1976 when it was purchased by Van Anderson. After spending $400,000 to renovate the property the Elgin reopened as an apartment house rather than a hotel in 1977. The year following, the Elgin House Apartments was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 13, 1978. It is interesting to note that, like the construction of the hotel, the renovation of the Elgin in the 1970’s also relied to a large extent on capital generated by investments in the project made by local citizens.
The Elgin remained an apartment house for almost 30 years before it was sold yet again. Jim and Nancy Cloutier of Hillsboro purchased the building in 2006 and began plans to renovate the property. The Cloutiers invested $1.9 million and an immense amount of sweat equity into restoring the Elgin to its former glory. These changes took several years to complete but was well worth it when the Elgin reopened once again in 2009. The 3rd floor was developed into a private residential penthouse where the Cloutiers lived. Sherry Soyez was hired soon after to run the newly finished 8 room bed and breakfast located on the 2nd floor. The facility was complemented with a ballroom, conference room, and foyer on the 1st floor. Although the interior was new, much care was given to restoring the interior to what it might have looked like in the late 1800s.
After calling the Elgin “home” for 7 years, the Cloutiers decided to retire and move to a residence in Marion. In July 2016, current owners Jeremy and Tammy Ensey purchased the property. While the Enseys continued to operate the 2nd floor as a bed and breakfast, the 3rd floor was renovated to include an additional four guest suites with private, en-suite bathrooms. The residential kitchen was converted to a commercial kitchen where hotel guests are served breakfast. Many furnishings were replaced with fresh antiques and replicas, and all 12 suites were remodeled and themed according to a person or place in the region. The Enseys also added a fitness center and business center on the 2nd floor, as well as a library for social gatherings on the 3rd floor. What was once a changing room in a separate limestone building behind the 1886 hotel, was renovated into a game lounge complete with billiards, a poker table, ping pong, air hockey and leather sofas for lounging. This lounge is used by hotel guests or can be rented by outside parties. The official opening of all three floors of the hotel was celebrated near the Elgin’s 130th birthday in September of 2016.
While the windows and the limestone building itself are the only original attributes that remain from the Elgin’s past, the many memories of the years past also linger with Marion residents. Today the hotel serves guests from around the world coming to enjoy the Flint Hills of Kansas, the many adventures that can be had in the region, and the rich history and heritage of this community. The Elgin is a place where guests can rest, relax and reconnect. Guests are greeted and served by the friendly hotel staff, as well as the owners themselves. Breakfast is included with every stay along with the many amenities the hotel has to offer.
The Elgin Hotel continues to awe and inspire its guests and creates the perfect ambiance for appreciating the nostalgia of the past while enjoying the luxuries of today. Just as the Historic Elgin Hotel has been an unforgettable part of Marion’s history, it continues to deliver an unforgettable experience to its guests like it did in the 1800s.