Eureka Lake Resort: The Grand Hotel
By Murl Riedel
Throughout the 19th century, Americans became infatuated with the construction
of grand hotels and resorts. The
cause for this has been attributed to several factors: "The rapidly increasing wealth of the mercantile and
industrial class of Americans society": the phenomenal growth of railroads, which vastly increased the total
volume of American travel: and the mushrooming of the great industrial and urban centers. These palaces soon
became centers of social life , favored locations for banquets, receptions, balls, and cotillions. Much like the rest
of the country, Manhattan became intrigued by the construction of large hotels and resorts. Newly laid railroad
tracks made access to these hotels even more appealing. The development of Manhattan's most luxurious hotel,
the Eureka Lake Resort, came from the financial resources of one family, the Deweys. The resort soon became
the center of social life in the Manhattan area. Like the great cities of the East, Manhattan had created its own
"grand hotel" in the development of the Eureka Lake Resort.
Three miles southwest of Manhattan, on the edge of a now vanished lake,
stood the grand Eureka Lake Resort.
With the hotel's enormous size and variety of activities, it reigned as one of the premier hotels of central Kansas.
The resort, with its boats, dancing pavilions, and serene walkways, was the property and ambition of one C.P.
Dewey, an extremely wealthy and powerful landholder in the Midwest.
The Dewey family originated in Chicago, where C.P. Dewey's father established
a small local bank. The family
began their accumulation of wealth after the great Chicago fire, where the Dewey family bought large tracks of
land at cheap prices. In 1885, the Dewey family moved to the Riley County area and began a land purchasing
process that would eventually end with 300,000 acres in Cheyenne and Rawlins counties, located in western
Kansas, and 11,000 acres in Riley and Geary counties. The process by which the Dewey family acquired most of
their land was by establishing their family owned bank, The First National, in the area and using it to foreclose on
The Dewey family made their presence felt not only in the real estate,
hotel, and banking businesses, but also in
other avenues as well. C.P. also operated a livery stable and started the first livestock sales pavilion in Kansas.
The holdings of the powerful Dewey family were not exclusive only to Kansas. Similar acquisitions were made in
Nebraska and Colorado, as well as their holdings in Chicago and Kansas.
Perhaps the greatest contribution to the Manhattan area from the Dewey
family was the construction of the
Eureka Lake Resort. The creation of this resort was due to the soul efforts of C.P. himself. Mr. Dewey was once
described as a man who thought and acted in superlatives. Everything he did had to be the biggest, the best, the
most expensive and the most elaborate of its kind. It was through this vision of excellence that C.P. planned the
construction of the Eureka Lake Resort. He had envisioned a modern resort with all the accommodations that
hotels on the East Coast had provided.
In 1900, C.P. secured a lease for six acres of land on the Eureka Lake
from W.M. Wood. The lease included
most of the western portion of the lake. Dewey chose Eureka Lake as the site of his grand resort due to its
already established recreational reputation and the beauty of its surrounding scenery. The lake had formerly
been a popular recreation area for swimming, fishing and boating, even before the Dewey family's arrival in the
At the turn of the century, Eureka Lake was approximately two miles
long. At its deepest point, the lake reached
a depth of forty feet. The width of the lake stretched from 300 to 400 feet. The lake was created when a flood in
1844 changed the direction of the Kansas River and cut off the former channel to create Eureka Lake. This
popular recreational lake was home to the First Methodist Church Campground and later, in 1913, an electric
amusement park. The calm water, along with the nearby prairies, and a broad valley that was home to a variety
of great trees, brooks, and sweeping meadows, provided a perfect hideaway for guests of the resort to enjoy.
The vast layout of the resort included dancing pavilions, bowling alleys,
Ping-Pong tables, Naphtha (petroleum)
powered boats and launches, rowboats, and a library. At the center of the resort stood its most prominent feature,
a two-story clubhouse surrounded by a ten-foot veranda. The first floor was filled with comfortable sitting rooms,
an elegant dancing room, and a modern kitchen. The second floor was fitted with eight luxurious sleeping rooms.
The clubhouse, with its later additions and accompanying buildings, could accommodate up to 150 guests at one
time. The large dining room and spacious parlors became a popular place to house receptions and weddings. The
modern hotel was fully equipped with hot and cold running water, electric lights, and a telephone. The expert chef
and his competent assistants were said to be able to "serve guests in a manner not excelled at the finest hotels in
Kansas City or Chicago."
Along with the luxurious clubhouse came a variety of activities to take
part in. Water recreation remained the
most popular of activities. Guests of the hotel were given free use of bathing houses, toboggan slides, diving
towers, and every other device of amusement or pleasure. Another popular water activity that was available to
guests was boating. Rowboats and Naphtha powered boats could be rented, along with a boatman if desired, and
could provide an hour-long tour of the lake. Boating helped to increase the already large amount of fishing done
on the lake.
Along with water recreation, the dance pavilion became a popular attraction
of the resort. This magnificently
furnished pavilion was built separate from the clubhouse, and at certain times during the week an orchestra
provided music for the dancing guests. Sleek gentle horses and Shetland ponies were kept exclusively for the
entertainment of the younger guests staying at the resort. The variety of activities for all ages added to the
appeal of the resort.
At the height of its establishment, the hotel became the center of fashionable
recreation. The hotel was
considered large and luxurious, and with its variety of activities, the hotel became quite popular. The resort was
frequently visited by Manhattan's high society. Taking guests to the Eureka Lake Resort for luncheons or a ride
on a naphtha powered motor boat became the common occasion among Manhattan elite. Along with the elite, the
resort became the traditional spot for Manhattan High seniors to enjoy their Senior Sneak Day.
Access to the resort remained available to everyone. The lake was located
along the recently constructed
interurban railway that connected Manhattan to Junction City. Upon the resort's opening in 1900, the Union
Pacific Railroad considered the lake a flag station stop and constructed a small depot. Not only was
transformation available by rail, but Dewey also contracted the Tally Ho coach from Manhattan to provide scenic
rides from the city to the resort. Both the coach ride and its drivers became somewhat legendary for their
high-speed manipulation of the road. The use of railways and coach rides allowed the resort to remain accessible
to a variety of guests throughout the seasons.
Though the resort remained highly active and business boomed, its life
was somewhat short lived. On May 30,
1903, heavy rains caused the Kansas River to swell and flooded the lake and resort. The river ripped through the
hotel, causing a large amount of damage. The Dewey family later restored the building site, but it never returned
to its former grandeur. The worst damage was done to the lake itself. Prior to the flood, the lake had been
continually filling with sediment from local farmland. The damage and renovations done to the resort after the
1903 flood caused C.P. Dewey to lose interest in its operation. C.P. was nearing retirement at that time and his
real estate empire was to be passed to his son Chauncey. Chauncey Dewey had neither the time nor the
resources to operate the resort due to a long running legal battle in western Kansas over a water dispute. The
resort was finally closed in 1904, after C.P. returned to Chicago.
The hotel remained inactive until 1905, when a group of Manhattan businessmen
considered refurbishing the
hotel for a reopening. The idea was eventually dropped and the site was sold to the Old Fellows Fraternity in
1906. The former resort was used by the Odd Fellows Fraternity as a retirement home for the group's elderly. In
1916, sparks from the powerhouse set fire to the building. Due to heavy winds, the fire quickly engulfed the
entire structure and claimed one victim, James Burns. The fire had completely destroyed the last remains of the
Eureka Lake Resort. In its place, the Odd Fellows Fraternity constructed a new building to house their elderly,
which remains on the site of the resort today.