History of the Hotel
In December of 1918, over 200 people attended the opening of the elegant Wheat Gorwers Hotel, where they dined and danced. It was the show place of Western Nebraska at the time and said to be the finest hotel between Omaha and Denver. Frank Cunningham was one of the largest wheat growers in the state and he used his hotel to celebrate the crop. From the bricked-in name on the side and the front of the building, to the inlaid shock of wheat on the tiled lobby to the mural of the threshing scene by Andy Borgeson, Sr. over the lobby, wheat is noted in the building. Hotel Grand Opening Announcements in the Western Nebraska Observer (1918-1919)
The basement was one huge ballroom and saw some of Kimball’s most elaborate parties during the period following World War I. The 86 rooms of the hotel were very modern for their time, with plumbing, electricity, and steam heat. The cost of the building was $100,000 – a very large sum for 1918! The marble stairway to the dining room and ballroom, and the twin staircases going to the upper floor were the height of elegance. Essay by Hotel Founder, F. Cunninghan (1923).
The architecture of the structure has several unusual features. The four ventilator shafts provide both light and air to the inside rooms. The heating system concentrates on heating the exterior rooms so that cold could not penetrate to the interior rooms which do not have heat.
The intended clientele were those who traveled by rail, salesmen, developers, investors and travelers. The railroad at that time was the main transportation link for people as well as freight. Travel by car was still a novelty.
The hotel has had some notable guests, Dwight D. Eisenhower was part of an early day experiment to test gasoline vehicles for moving army equipment. Eisenhower and other officers stayed at the Wheat Growers Hotel. The caravan traveled from the East coast to the West. Rain and mud forced the overnight stay in Kimball. Transcontinental Motor Convoy in 1919.
Times change and so do situations. Mr. Cunningham’s financial empire collapsed and foreclosure proceedings followed in the mid 1920’s. The hotel was closed for a while. It was reopened on a limited basis. In 1926, there were 17 rooms to rent. As money became available, more rooms were prepared until all 86 were ready for guests. Twenty-six trains traveled daily through Kimball in the late 1920’s.
Agricultural people, investors, travelers and business people continued to use the hotel. In the 1930’s as the depression and effects of the Dust Bowl were felt, times became hard. However, you could still eat well at the Wheat Growers with the 35 cents noon plate lunch or the 65 cents T-bone steak dinner (equivalent to $10 in 2007), complete with dessert. Inside rooms were $1 per night (equivalent to $15 in 2007); outside ones were $1.50; a double was $2 except for traveling men with wives, who received a special rate of $1.50.
In 1949, a huge blizzard forced people from the train to stay in the hotel. Blizzard of 1949.
As the community changed, so did the hotel. In the 1950’s and again in the 1970’s people came to Kimball for the oil business. In the 1960’s people came for work with the missile bases.
As people began traveling more by car, there was no need for a hotel near the rail road. Eventually, no passenger trains traveled through Kimball and the once elaborate, elegant hotel has been replaced by the modern convenient motels. In 1988 the hotel was closed.
Source: Lisa Bourlier, “Kimball County, Nebraska 100 Year History Book” published by the Plains Genealogical Society of Kimball County in 1988.