The Old Depot Museum’s newest exhibit explores the first century of Franklin County’s Hotels and how they reflect the needs of the towns they served. “Rooms For Rent” includes photographs and artifacts from twenty Franklin County hotels, including hotels that once served Richmond, Williamsburg, Rantoul, Lane, Wellsville, Princeton, and Ottawa.
When new towns were established on the prairie, hotels were among the first structures built, said Diana Staresinic-Deane, FCHS Executive Director. Those early hotels served as accommodations for travelers and residents building businesses and homes, community dining halls, meeting rooms, and temporary storefronts for traveling doctors, barbers, and dentists.
The very first building erected in 1857 in Ohio City, Franklin County’s first county seat, was a two-story hotel built with lumber hauled from Kansas City. It burned down in 1864.
Franklin County’s hotels reflected the needs of travelers. The earliest hotels, like the Ludington House (later the Hamblin House), were in the center of town where travelers could catch stagecoaches or board horses in nearby livery stables. When the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad reached Ottawa, hotels clustered close to the depot and rails. Historic hotel guest book ledgers show that many of the earliest hotel guests lived within the county.
“Today we think nothing of driving from Williamsburg to Ottawa to have lunch, but in the 1870s, that was a more arduous journey,” said Staresinic-Deane. “Travelers would have planned an entire trip that might have included shopping, county business, and visiting friends. They would have stayed in town a night or two.”
By the 1950s, new hotels were built along US 50 and US 59. These motor lodges did not offer the amenities of the earlier full-service hotels.
“Rooms For Rent” will be on display through 2020.
The Old Depot Museum is currently open Wednesdays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments are preferred; walk-ins will be accommodated as space allows. To protect visitors, staff, and artifacts, masks must be worn in the museum. Hours and restrictions are subject to change.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (785) 242-1250.