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“Civilizing the Wild West” one restaurant at a time Stephen Mather and the Concessionaire Extraordinaire

Before there were HoJos, or Holiday Inns, there was Fred Harvey.  In his 1926 Annual Report of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather includes a paragraph about lodgings at Grand Canyon National Park…

“On the south rim and in the canyon, tourists are accommodated at hotels and camps operated by Fred Harvey.  El Tovar Hotel and Bright Angel cottages on the south rim give excellent service to visitors, and those taking overnight trips into the canyon found Hermit Creek cabins and Phantom Ranch up to the standard set by the Harvey Co.”


Strictly speaking there was no “Harvey Co.”  When Fred Harvey died in 1901 he directed that the company be simply “Fred Harvey,” a name immediately recognized by visitors to the American southwest.  His son, Ford Harvey, maintained the mystique by keeping a low profile while expanding the breadth and reach of the hotels and restaurants.   In our correspondence archives, we have one letter from Ford Harvey, and two from his son, Fred Harvey II.


It was Stephen Mather’s goal to make the parks a welcoming experience to visitors.  Fred Harvey (the founder) shared a similar vision which, like Stephen, he brought to reality.  At its peak, Fred Harvey (the company) extended from Chicago West to the Pacific, and South to the Gulf of Mexico—over sixty-five restaurants and lunch counters, sixty dining cars, a dozen large hotels, and all the retail shops in five of the nation’s largest train stations.


Not surprisingly, some dubbed Harvey “the civilizer of the West.”  His restaurants were described as “an oasis of comfort and civilization along the railway routes of the Southwest.” Fred Harvey insisted on quality food service in an elegant atmosphere with imported linens, and place settings of silver and fine china. He required men to wear jackets in the dining rooms – providing a jacket to anyone who was without. 

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