New Mexico was the spiritual home and primary incubator of America’s first and foremost hospitality company, named for its founder, Fred Harvey. The opening this month of a permanent Harvey exhibit at the NM History Museum represents a milestone in the revival of passionate interest in the company’s 138-year-old legacy.
NEED TO KNOW
NM’s Harvey Hot Spots Since the late 1870s, there have been 15 different New Mexico cities and towns with Fred Harvey eateries, hotels, or newsstands. Many of the original buildings no longer exist—and in a few cases, like San Marcial, the towns themselves no longer exist. So you need to decide whether to visit only places where there is still something Fred to see, or do the entire circuit of original Harvey cities. The latter would be, in rough order of when they got Harvey outposts: Ratón, Las Vegas/Hot Springs, Lamy, Albuquerque, Wallace, San Marcial, Rincon, Deming, Las Vegas, Vaughn, Coolidge, Gallup, Las Cruces, Belén, and Santa Fe. That would be quite a drive.
The easiest and most accessible Harvey-themed trip is between Albuquerque and Las Vegas. Albuquerque was the Southwest’s 20th-century center of the Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railway, but lost its depot and Fred Harvey hotel buildings in 1972 and is still attempting to recover. The Albuquerque Museum is preparing a small, permanent Harvey display—as part of its new “Only in Albuquerque” galleries, opening March 3, 2015—which will include artifact-stocked display cases from the Alvarado lunchroom and the Indian Building. There is also the ambitious and longawaited Wheels Transportation Museum project in the very cool old Albuquerque Rail Yards, which can be toured by appointment (505-243-6269); one day this could be the go-to trainiac and Fredhead spot in ABQ. Take a quick look at the Alvarado shaped downtown transportation center and the nearby Hotel Parq Central, wonderfully restored from the old Santa Fe Railway Hospital.
Many people, however, just start their Fred tour in Belén, 35 miles south of Albuquerque, which has the state’s oldest and most charming Harvey House Museum in its lovingly restored depot. And then head on to Santa Fe. While there, be sure to tour, dine at, or stay at La Fonda Hotel on the Plaza (which almost qualifies as a museum). And do not miss Setting the Standard: The Fred Harvey Company and Its Legacy, the new permanent exhibit at the New Mexico History Museum—which features amazing Harvey Company memorabilia. The big public opening is December 7 (I’ll be there that day giving a talk), and there will be many Harvey-related specal events in the new year. On January 25, Allan Affeldt, Jenny Kimball, and architect Barbara Felix will discuss their experiences saving and renovating La Fonda, Castañeda Hotel, and La Posada.
From Santa Fe you’ll be driving to Las Vegas, but call or e-mail ahead first. The front desk at the Historic Plaza Hotel (505-425- 3591) can help you arrange tours, some given by actual Harvey Girls, of the places you want to see: the restored Montezuma Hotel (now United World College); the ongoing restoration of the Castañeda Hotel (which is expected to reopen in 2016); and perhaps the Rough Rider Memorial Collection. Through January 31, you might also want to divert to Taos, to the Millicent Rogers Museum, which has a small Fred Harvey show; the Rogers houses the family collection of San Ildefonso pottery legend Maria Martinez.
While in southern New Mexico, check out the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum and the Las Cruces Railroad Museum. Neither has huge Harvey holdings, but both have collections that would delight Fredheads. For more information about Fred Harvey history and culinary tourism, read my book Appetite for America—which has large appendices for car and train travel, Harvey recipes, and a complete listing of Harvey locations. Also see my author page and Harvey Girls Cookbook page, both on Facebook. —S. F.
In the late fall of 1993, my wife, Diane, and I took a Southwestern trip that changed our lives. It is a trip a lot of people take—Grand Canyon to Santa Fe—and, in retrospect, we took it the way a lot of people take it: shamelessly.
We were typical Easterners with no idea what or where anything Western is, in search of views that didn’t require “hiking” more than 100 feet (or, preferably, even getting out of the rented SUV). We budgeted about 18 hours to “do” the entire Grand Canyon, and that included sleeping at El Tovar. So sunset, dinner, sleep, sunrise, breakfast, souvenir shop, rim stroll, buh-bye. We then drove to Painted Desert but, since we completely misjudged the distance, left ourselves only 17 minutes to drive really fast through the whole park. We arrived at the gift shop with a minute to spare, during which I bought a book and a pamphlet about some guy whose name we kept seeing:
Who the hell is Fred Harvey anyway? my wife wanted to know.
Then we got back into the SUV and drove and drove into New Mexico until we reached a cabin in the mountains above Pecos that a friend had loaned us.
For the next three days we fished and read and, well, the rest is none of your business, actually. On the fourth day we drove down into Santa Fe, shopped for leather items we didn’t need, and only by mistake wandered into two great local bookstores and two great local coffee places. And then we were on our way home to tell people how much we had, in the lingo of ankle-deep tourism, “fallen in love with” the great Southwest.
At the time, I can assure you, we didn’t know jack about the Southwest.
But I now realize the real problem was that we didn’t know Fred.
In case you don’t know Fred, he was the founding father of the American hospitality industry. Partnered with America’s largest railroad, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, Fred and his family business were the great civilizing force of the American West—with generations of golden years from the 1870s through the 1940s but a rich history that extended a full century.
Fred Harvey created the first national chains of restaurants, of hotels, of retail stores in train stations—actually the first national chains of anything in America. But unlike many chains of today, the Harvey system was known for dramatically raising standards wherever it arrived, because of its committment to beyond-perfect service. Fred Harvey was Ray Kroc before McDonald’s. He was Walt Disney before Disneyland. (Growing up in Missouri, Disney was a Santa Fe trainiac, and he got the idea for Disneyland while riding the Southwest Chief.) And he was definitely Conrad Hilton before Hilton Hotels, since the Socorro-born Hilton grew up being inspired by—and taking all his dates to—Harvey’s Alvarado Hotel, in Albuquerque.
Harvey’s iron chefs were among the first culinary heroes in America. The company’s innovative all-female waitstaff—the famed “Harvey Girls”—were the first national corps of bright, adventurous, independent working women in the country (and surely the most adored). And, as a sideline started in New Mexico, Fred Harvey also controlled and curated much of the country’s Native American art market in the early 20th century, and was credited with crystallizing and marketing Southwestern style.
The company began in 1876 as a side business for forty-something Fred, a British immigrant who was a major western freight agent for several top railroads and was sick—literally—of all the bad food he ate at Western depots. It was headquartered in the Kansas City area and focused primarily on small, trackside “eating houses” for train passengers west of Chicago (where, in the early days of railroads, there were no dining cars). After the depression of 1893, the company dramatically grew with the economy as Fred’s son Ford took over for his ailing dad, expanding into depot resort hotels and retail, dining cars, and tourism—especially after opening the company’s single largest operation at the Grand Canyon in 1905.
At its peak, Fred Harvey operated in over 80 cities, large and small, from Chicago west to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. But the heart of its innovation lay in New Mexico, where the company’s experiences and challenges inspired many of its greatest and most copied ideas.
Fred Harvey officially became a presence in New Mexico on July 4, 1879, when the first Santa Fe Railroad train came over the Ratón Pass into the territory and chugged to downtown Las Vegas, marking the beginning of the end for the Southwest’s defining transportation route, the Santa Fe Trail. At that point the company had only three locations in Kansas and one in Colorado. But then, very quickly, it added nine more all over New Mexico, rapidly forcing the company to reinvent how it would provide fresh, New York–or London-quality food and service in so many middles of nowhere.
It was in New Mexico that the challenges of expanding rapidly into the Wild West forced the then-fledgling company to develop innovative systems to run the first national chain of restaurants, including set rules for how to do almost anything perfectly, the “Fred Harvey way,” and an elaborate scheme for keeping track of every egg, steak, and cigar sold every day.
It was in New Mexico that Fred’s famous Harvey Girls were conceived and first put to work in the early 1880s, initially in Ratón and then all over the territory.
It was in New Mexico that the company’s ambitions to turn the Southwest into a center of history and nature tourism—instead of the train equivalent of a “fly-over state” on the way to California—were hatched and grew, from the opening in 1898 of the company’s landmark Mission-style resort hotel, the Castañeda in Las Vegas, through the launch of La Fonda in Santa Fe in 1926, the same year the company began its internationally advertised Southwestern Indian Detours.
It was in New Mexico that its dreams of creating a new international Native American art market—both curating and creating, in partnership with Navajo, Hopi, and New Mexico Puebloan artists—were realized. This began with some jewelry sales at the counter of the Harvey restaurant in Gallup, in the late 1890s, by manager and hobbyist art dealer Herman Schweizer, who then oversaw the creation of the Indian Building at the Albuquerque depot in 1902—with Ford Harvey’s sister, Minnie, and her husband, John Huckel. They hired young architect Mary Colter as a freelance designer for the job, and Colter went on to be the company’s renowned design guru and the hero of what became “Santa Fe style.”
So it makes perfect sense that the recent revival of interest in all things Harvey—the Fredaissance—is now coming into full bloom in New Mexico.
Earlier this year, the ambitious couple who saved the last of the great Fred Harvey resorts to be built—La Posada, in Winslow, Arizona—fulfilled the dreams of so many Fredheads when they bought the very first of those resorts, the Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and began bringing it back to life. (They also bought the Plaza, the Las Vegas hotel that has been open continuously since it started competing with the Harveys in 1882, and will operate the two together.)
On December 7, the New Mexico History Museum will debut its new, permanent Fred Harvey exhibit, Setting the Standard, which was created largely from recent donations of the Harvey family’s own collections and loans from some of the nation’s most ambitious Harvey collectors. According to Meredith Davidson, the museum’s 19th-and 20th-century curator, there are hopes for a larger traveling Harvey exhibit in the near future.
This all comes a year after the very tasteful restoration of La Fonda Hotel on the Plaza in Santa Fe—the most enduring of the Harvey hotels in New Mexico—and the debut of a new PBS documentary, The Harvey Girls: Opportunity Bound, much of which was shot there. (The long-closed Harvey restaurant space in Los Angeles Union Station was also just leased for a hip gastropub.)
As we head into a new year, I am very pleased to announce there are plans for a TV series based on Fred and the Harvey Girls, being produced by an ambitious new New Mexico–based film company, Atalaya Productions (headquartered just down the street from La Fonda), with Emmy winner Kirk Ellis (John Adams) as executive producer and writer.
The series will largely be based on my contribution to Fred Harvey history, the best-selling biography Appetite for America: Fred Harvey and the Business of Civilizing the Wild West—One Meal at a Time, published in 2010.
That book, along with the talks I’ve been giving all over the Southwest since its publica- tion, have played an interesting role in the recent revival of interest in all things Fred. This revival was, trust me, long in coming before I ever got involved; I stand on the shoulders of Fredhead giants and Americana life preservers everywhere.
But while I’ve been researching and writing about Harvey for more than a decade now, the turning point was a fateful afternoon in April of 2010, when I was standing in front of an overflow crowd in the underground main auditorium of the new New Mexico History Museum, about to begin a talk about my book—when the electricity went out all over Santa Fe.
That was the day Diane and I finally stopped being tourists in New Mexico.
While I first heard about Fred Harvey in 1993, I didn't pay much attention. During the following decade, Diane and I spent a week every fall in our friend's cabin. We did all the things tourists do and developed our annual northern New Mexico routines. I caught and released and got to know the vast majority of the trout in the man-made lakes at Tres Lagunas.
But the more time I spent in New Mexico, the more I realized that I didn’t really understand the West. I had spent my entire adult life living just a few blocks from the historic area of Philadelphia, the original capital of the country that began in the East in 1776 and “discovered” the West in the 1800s. I was trying to grasp a truer history of America that started much earlier in the multi- cultural West, which these white Easterners found so “wild” and were so proud of themselves for supposedly “civilizing.”
When I first decided to write a biography of Fred Harvey in 2004, this was, besides the story of the actual Harveys, the big picture I hoped to explore. And I really connected with the way the Harveys themselves went on the same journey and then made it easier for others. One of the most resonant stories I discovered was that in 1901, only months after his father died and he inherited the company, Ford Harvey made a life-changing trip with the top executives of the Santa Fe Railway to many of the places we now consider must-see, but which back then hardly any white people had seen at all: Acoma Pueblo, all the “new” excavations at Chaco Canyon, and then on to the Grand Canyon, then mostly a failed mine, via the recently completed train line.
Ford Harvey returned from that trip a changed man, and over the next 25 years his successful hospitality company increasingly devoted itself to preserving the culture of the West and translating its history to visitors—even if this meant making some things more accessible by recreating them closer to the train tracks and, of course, selling souvenirs and tours.
After a while, I began to see every aspect of American history through the prism of the West, especially after the Civil War, when the railroads redrew the map of America. I also found the book to be an excellent excuse to be in New Mexico—physically and mentally—as much as possible. (Some authors check their Amazon rankings; I check airfares from Philly to Albuquerque.)
Over the next five years, I met almost everybody who was already interested in Fred Harvey or was related to Fred Harvey. Almost every original Fred Harvey city had a small cadre of people who still cared, and even a handful of dedicated ladies who dressed up as Harvey Girls a couple times a year. Some of the towns still had their original Fred Harvey/Santa Fe depot buildings, in various stages of repair. A handful of academic institutions had major Fred holdings.
There were also five main branches of the Harvey family still in existence— two near Boston, two in Chicago, and one in Santa Fe. I slowly got to know them, and my process ultimately led to some of them reconnecting—nothing like a strange journalist asking a lot of questions about your grandparents and great-grandparents to bring lots of cousins back together.
They had all been through a lot since the late 1960s, when Fred Harvey’s reigning grandchildren sold the company to a hospitality conglomerate. The conglomerate soon decided it didn’t want to emphasize the Harvey brand, but its Fredhead employees, who had grown up with the company ethos, did their best to keep it alive. This was especially true at El Tovar and the other Harvey hotels and sites at the Grand Canyon—the biggest outpost of Fred Harvey—and at the last active Harvey locations in New Mexico: La Fonda and the Alvarado. Sadly, the Alvarado, after a major preservation battle, was demolished in 1972 to make way for an Amtrak parking facility. La Fonda was sold in the late 1960s to entrepreneur Sam Ballen, who had a love/hate relationship with the Harveys (in business and socially). He was primarily interested in the role La Fonda, a social epicenter in Santa Fe since its opening in 1926, could have in revitalizing the town, and left Harvey heritage to Fredhead employees like folk artist/handyman Ernest Martinez, who did whimsical painting on a lot of the wooden furniture (and some windows), and history-buff concierge Steve Wimmer. (It wasn’t until the Ballens died, in 2007, and the hotel management was taken over by their lawyer and “near daughter,” the indefatigable Jenny Wise Kimball, that La Fonda started actively getting back in touch with its Fredness. This began with restoration of the historic restaurant, La Plazuela, and then, last year, a complete overhaul of the guest rooms, which led to many “what would Mary Colter do” moments for Kimball and architect Barbara Felix. Kimball recently announced she was doubling down on La Fonda and the Harvey legacy by purchasing the hotel outright from the Ballen family, in partnership with her brother, Phil Wise, a Dallas real estate investor.)
Over the next twenty-some years, there were glimmers of hope. Abiquiú author Lesley Poling-Kempes did an oral-history project with Harvey Girls and their daughters and turned it into a smart academic book. A professor from Missouri State University, Jere Krakow, personally saved thousands of corporate records from a dumpster. An early documentary about the company was made in Santa Fe by film- maker Weston DeWalt, but wasn’t widely seen nationally. A couple bought the Castañeda in the seventies, hoping to restore it. A vol- unteer in Belén, Maurine McMillan, spearheaded the creation of a feisty museum in that town’s old Harvey House. Brenda Thowe, a fleet manager at the Santa Fe Railway (later the BNSF), kept corporate and national interest alive in the Harvey Girls.
The Fred Harvey company art collection was donated to the Heard Museum in Phoenix (which got the Indian art and corporate files) and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe (which got the Spanish Colonial pieces). But much of the history resided in the memories of older family members. Stewart Harvey, Jr.—Fred’s first great-grandchild, with the furthest-back company experience—was the go-to historian on business and family matters. Anthropologist Byron Harvey III was the expert on Native art and the company’s dealings with generations of artists (along with his historian wife, Joy). Daggett Harvey, Jr. (who worked for the company and inherited his father’s historical research) and Helen Harvey Mills (the family photo researcher) were excellent resources, as was Julian Harvey. Between them, and the Santa Fe Harveys, they also had amazing memorabilia—starting with Fred’s photos and datebooks from the 1860s. (Much of that material has been donated to the New Mexico History Museum.)
A small group of Americana collectors started focusing on Fred Harvey memorabilia. In many towns where the Harvey legend was beloved, small groups came together to prevent the old buildings from being destroyed. (The Montezuma in Las Vegas was purchased in 1981 by Armand Hammer; 20 years and $10.5 million later, it became the U.S. campus of United World College.) And the later Harvey story was included as part of the rise in interest in Route 66, which ran near the Santa Fe tracks, so drivers were big Harvey House customers.
But the real turning point came in 1995, when the Heard Museum put on a large traveling Fred Harvey show and published a coffee table book and a fascinating academic book on many Harvey, Santa Fe, and Southwestern themes. That show and those books announced that the history of Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Southwest was alive again.
In 1997, a couple from L.A., entrepreneur Allan Affeldt and painter Tina Mion, bought the abandoned La Posada in Winslow—Mary Colter’s most delightful work—and slowly began bringing it back to life. They did it in a very architecturally sensitive but also modern way, showing yet another level of the living history of Fred Harvey: Not only was there much to learn, but the buildings could be restored as new/old places to stay— history tourism. And they partnered with a great L.A. chef, John Sharpe, who rethought many aspects of Harvey’s local-to-international, bicontinental cuisine. The La Posada experiment became a model for how other Harvey properties might be restored—or, if still operating, how they might get their Fred mojo back.
This is the Harvey world I walked into in 2004—full of passion but geographically and generationally splintered, teeming with hope but sometimes short on facts. The company had retold its story and reinvented itself a lot of times; Fred’s son Ford had done a good job obscuring his father’s death in 1901 as part of a marketing strategy that was actually laid out in Fred’s will.
I doubt I will ever have as much fun researching a book as I did investigating and psychoanalyzing Fred and his family for six years. I was certain that my appearance in Santa Fe in April of 2010 was going to be the dramatic conclusion to that process, a great cast party and family reunion. So we went all out. We decided to do the book tour by train—on the same Southwest Chief route that Fred and Ford always took—and several generations of the Harvey family joined us for part of the ride.
They got on in Chicago, we picked up the train very late at night in Kansas City, and we all met in the dining car for breakfast near Dodge City: three of Fred’s great-grandchildren, several great-greats, and even one great-great-great. We went across southeastern Colorado together, through the historic tunnel at the peak of Ratón Pass, and then into New Mexico—which looks utterly amazing from that vantage point. We stopped briefly at Ratón, birthplace of the Harvey Girls, waved at the Castañeda in Las Vegas, and then got out in Lamy, to be shuttled to Santa Fe.
We were met there by a tall, animated British woman whom nobody in the Harvey family knew: Elizabeth Drage Pettifer, the wife of a London antiques dealer who was also the long-lost niece of Freddy Harvey, Ford’s daredevil pilot son. Freddy was the driving force behind the company’s expansion into Santa Fe in the 1920s—including La Fonda and Indian Detours—and then inherited the stock of the firm when his father died in 1928, so he oversaw Mary Colter’s last three masterpieces, La Posada and, at the Grand Canyon, the Desert View Watchtower and Bright Angel Lodge. He died in 1936, at the age of 40, along with his wife, Betty Drage Harvey, as they were flying home from New York on his plane. He had picked Betty up after she returned from England, where she had gone to be on hand for the birth of her brother’s first child—Elizabeth—and to have a fertility treatment in the hope of producing a Fred Harvey heir.
After the plane crash, the families never spoke again, except briefly through lawyers. So, at the age of 74, Elizabeth was finally connecting, and she was immediately embraced by her American family.
That night, there was a family reunion dinner at the Harvey home in Santa Fe. It was a wonderful, warm meal where generations got to meet. And at one point before dessert, many of us gathered in one of the guest rooms to see what Elizabeth had brought from England: some of the actual clothes that Betty Harvey had bought in England in 1936 but which, since they could never be delivered to her, had sat in Elizabeth’s home her entire life. I watched, charmed, as a gaggle of Fred Harvey’s great-great-granddaughters opened and marveled over poor Betty’s glamorous dresses and furs and feather boas. I felt at that moment that the story of Fred Harvey had become living history again—that for everything I had learned for my book, there was so much more to know and understand.
The next day, I was about to give my talk when the lights went out. The then-director of the museum, Fran Levine, raced around like crazy trying to undo the citywide blackout, until she finally gave up, felt her way down to the darkened stage, and said, “Stephen, do something!”
I asked if anyone in the audience had a flashlight. In the front row was one of the Harvey great-greats, who had a small child, so she always traveled with a Lego flashlight in her purse. I turned it on, did a brief reading from my book, and then, when the lights still hadn’t come back on, spoke off the top of my head for nearly an hour—doing everything from describing my PowerPoint presentation to explaining how cowboy culture re-romanticized America after the Civil War to encouraging sing-alongs of “On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe.” It turned out to be great fun.
And then the power came back on and we all walked across the Plaza to La Fonda and ate an authentic Harvey meal.
I was in Fred heaven, as was everyone there. And, the next day, Diane and I weren’t tourists anymore. People came up to us on the street, in restaurants, wanting to talk about Fred Harvey. They called Diane “Black Bart,” which they had heard was her cowboy nickname as a kid. And instead of this being the last word, it was the beginning of a whole new conversation—not just about Fred, but about the history of the Southwest and how we go forward into the past, through tourism, through food, through design, through art, through books, and school lessons.
Four years later, I still give a lot of Fred-related talks in the Southwest, as there are more tours and more museum shows and more interest and more readers. I also started a cookbook project with the 50 original Fred Harvey recipes published in the book, and over 1,000 more I have discovered since. My dream is that restaurants all across New Mexico will try them as specials (maybe on Fred’s birthday, June 27, which would also be an excellent annual Fred Harvey Day).
A new Harvey Girls group was just started in Las Vegas, the second such group in New Mexico. (There’s a small one in Albuquerque and another in El Paso—all hoping to one day be like the biggest, most ambitious group, in Winslow.) More and more colleges and grad schools are teaching about Fred in their history, business, or hospitality programs. And I very much look forward to to staying at the Castañeda.
It’s a good time to be a Fredhead.
From our archive:
What Would Mary Do?
Vegas Revival, July 2014;