me of a small town hotel that was once around the corner from
the railroad station or even the stagecoach stop"
...with "the luxury touches of first class city hotels." Shirley Christian, The New York Times Travel Section, July 1998
Suzan Barnes - Grand Central Hotel - From Kansas Profiles
What is this, Grand Central Station? That was a saying at our house, when things got hectic with lots of people coming and going. It refers to Grand Central Station in New York City, which really is covered with people coming and going.
Today, we're going to the Grand Central, but not to the station in New York. We're going to a special place called the Grand Central Hotel. It's a place where people come and go, but it's definitely not New York City. In fact, it's gaining international attention, and it's located in rural Kansas.
Stay tuned, this is today's Kansas Profile.
Meet Suzan Barnes. Suzan is general manager of the Grand Central Hotel in downtown Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. She told us the remarkable story.
Let's start with a little history. More than a century ago, President Abraham Lincoln assigned land in east central Kansas to brave settlers. In 1881, M.M. Young purchased a site and opened the Grand Central Hotel there in 1884. It changed names and owners over the years but was always a hotel.
The hotel is located in downtown Cottonwood Falls in the central flint hills of eastern Kansas. Cottonwood Falls is the county seat of Chase County, a very rural county. Chase County has seen long-term population decline. There were more than 8,000 people in the county at the turn of the century, but there are less than 3,000 people in the county today. Cottonwood Falls itself is a town of 798 people. Now, that's rural.
Population loss, coupled with tough times in the economy, place a big challenge on rural businesses. By the mid-1980s, the old hotel had fallen on hard times and was closed. It sat empty for 10 years and then sold on the courthouse steps for the sum of the back taxes, which amounted to 41 dollars.
But the new owner saw a spark of something in the old hotel. She wanted to restore it into a corporate retreat. The person who was hired to oversee the renovation was Suzan Barnes.
Suzan had grown up in Council Grove, but then left for New York and a 25 career in convention planning and the corporate travel industry. The last 12 years, she spent in Wichita.
One day on the radio, she heard an interview with a woman who was wanting to restore the Grand Central Hotel in Cottonwood Falls. Suzan says, "From my years of experience in the travel industry, I knew this was going to work."
So Suzan met with the woman, and they clicked immediately. In January 1995, Suzan became general manager. She oversaw the renovation, and on November 17, 1995, the Grand Central Hotel and Grill opened for business.
The restaurant offers great steaks, as you might expect in the middle of the beef belt, as well as a variety of other fine dining alternatives. The hotel itself is described as "a small elegant hotel with a western flair." There are ten oversized suites, two with king beds and eight double queens. They have the appearance of European elegance, mixed with such touches as the cattle brands of local ranches emblazoned on the rooms. I particularly like the doorknockers, which are actually spurs mounted on the door.
It is high quality blended with a western feel. The Grand Central even made the July 26, 1998 edition of the New York Times. The hotel has received AAA's Four Diamond Award, which goes to only five percent of the nearly 24,000 properties rated by the organization.
Wait a minute, you might say, let's have a reality check here. How can a fancy hotel survive in such a rural town?
I believe the rural nature of the community, along with the high quality amenities, is drawing people to the hotel. The Z Bar Ranch Prairie National Preserve is nearby, and people from around the world are seeking to get off the beaten path to find serenity in communities like these.
The hotel has had customers from around the U.S., Africa, and Europe. Suzan says, "Some of our best customers are from San Francisco." Recent guests included a group of Senators from Haiti.
What is this, Grand Central Station? No, I'm not talking about Grand Central Station in New York, I'm talking about the Grand Central Hotel of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. We Salute Suzan Barnes and the people of Cottonwood Falls for making a difference by providing a high quality hospitality experience in the historic setting of rural Kansas.