From Andrew: How often do you think about what the Earth looks like under your feet? We all know there are endless layers of rock beneath us, but rarely do we get to see this layer cake so perfectly as we do in the Southwest, or more specifically, at the Grand Canyon. I’m sure many of you reading this post were dragged to the Grand Canyon by your parents, probably when you were between the ages of 8-15. (Precisely when you would’ve rather spent your time at the local pool or just doing anything but a family road trip.) It’s the perfect spot for angsty teens to stand there and wish they were somewhere else. But it’s also the perfect spot to return to as adults, as this world wonder draws our eyes into a deep, colorful abyss–which in turn reminds us how little we actually know about our planet’s storied past.
One man in particular knew this place would draw curious travelers by the millions: Fred Harvey.
Fred Harvey “tamed the west with hospitality,” invented the notion of modern fast food, and was the first entrepreneur to employ and empower a workforce of thousands of women. My great-grandmother Ethel and my grandmother Lorraine both worked for Fred Harvey as part of his famous crew of “Harvey Girls.”
Two years ago, my interest in Fred Harvey was ignited when I read a fantastic historical novel, Appetite for America, by Stephen Fried. The book chronicles how a brazen entrepreneur decided that American railroad passengers coming west on the Santa Fe line deserved to eat fresh, wholesome food and enjoy a decent cup of coffee. Southwestern “towns” in the late 1800’s were basically makeshift camps–with horrible food and rough characters–so travelers rarely wanted to stop along the way of their long journey. With this in mind, Fred Harvey creatively hatched the idea that by serving rail passengers a three-course meal in less than 30 minutes with the help of a talented crew of “Harvey Girls”, the beautiful Southwest would be officially on the map and thousands of flat-landers could enjoy the sights of New Mexico, Arizona, and California in comfort.
Intrigued? Interested? Inspired? If so, I formally invite you to join the ranks of Fred Harvey history buffs and become a Fred Head. Trust me, we’re a wonderful group of people and we’re always welcoming new members!
Ok so back to the man. Fred Harvey’s first railroad restaurant–also known as a “Harvey House”–was built in Florence, Kansas. My great-grandmother and grandmother both worked in Kansas Harvey Houses in the early to mid-1900’s. Over several decades, the Fred Harvey Company built dozens of Harvey Houses from Chicago to Los Angeles, yet Fred Harvey considered the mighty El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon his life’s greatest achievement.
The El Tovar was a joint project between Fred Harvey and his company’s chief architect and designer, Mary Colter. (While I may be the Fred Head of the family, Gracie is undeniably proud of his promotion of women in the American workforce!) Mary Colter is now considered the Southwest’s greatest architect and interior designer. Instead of using the “in fashion” designs of western Europe, she popularized the Southwest’s own unique art and cultural history, through the use of Native American art themes, textiles, and land-inspired architecture. In addition to the El Tovar, Colter designed the Grand Canyon’s trading post–The Hopi House–as well as the South Rim’s Watchtower, Bright Angel Lodge, Hermit’s Rest, and Lookout Studio.
Indeed, Mary Colter brought Fred Harvey’s vision to a beautifully crafted reality. Fred Harvey wanted visitors to enjoy cocktails with a Grand Canyon view; and Mary Colter was the workhorse who made sure those visitors would have an experience they’d never forget.
After two days, several hikes, and our lowest overnight temps of the trip (a brisk 16 degrees), we bid farwell to the Grand Canyon and made our way south to Flagstaff and onto Sedona, Arizona. Although we didn’t see any Lemurians, we were welcomed by Sedona’s sun-warmed, mystical red rocks, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and the ancient cliff dwellings of Montezuma. We even treated ourselves to massages and a poolside lunch at a near-empty Sedona spa. It may have been 16 degrees at the Grand Canyon, but it was 75 in summer-like Sedona!
Following our restful Sedona stint, we hopped back on the Fred Harvey trail and onto Winslow, AZ. (Yes, I stood on a corner and bought a Route 66 sticker for our Coleman cooler.) Its corner aside though, Winslow’s true crown jewel is yet another Fred Harvey/Mary Colter project: La Posada Hotel.
While Fred Harvey considered the El Tovar his masterpiece, Mary Colter’s was La Posada. She designed every single component–from the original floor plan to the beautiful gardens to the colorful tiles to the dining room china. The hotel dining room, The Turquoise Room, was considered by many to be the best culinary stop along to Santa Fe line and it still holds that reputation. (In the two days that we stayed at La Posada, we dined at The Turquoise Room four times. We had been primarily living off Triscuits and apples for the last week, so we didn’t feel too guilty.)
Completed in 1930, La Posada thrived for only a few short years. With the Great Depression and WWII, it fell into disrepair. The hotel was closed and taken over as the Santa Fe Railroad headquarters in the early 1960s. After further neglect, it then stood empty for decades before a couple from California bought it, raised funds, and put $12 million of much-needed restorations into the property, returning it to its former beauty. It now stands as a lovely testament to Fred Harvey and Mary Colter, continuing to welcome guests from all over the world.
And as a hotel guest, it’s absolutely stunning what they’ve done. Refurbished floors, rebuilt door frames, reclaimed furniture, and much much much more.
Following La Posada, we briefly visited one last Harvey House–La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe–concluding our Fred Harvey Tour. The tour was one of the things I had most looked forward to on our trip and I only wish my grandmother and great-grandmother had been along to join us. We took about 23423908234 photos in their memory though.
Fred Heads Forever!