Fred Harvey: Civilizer of the West


By Richard Flint and Shirley Cushing Flint

As author Frank Waters so aptly put it, "the Fred Harvey system introduced America to Americans." And yet, Fred Harvey, called a "civilizer of the West," was an Englishman. Born Frederick Henry Harvey in London in 1835, he immigrated to the United States in 1850 at the age of 15. "Harvey was the epitome of the Victorian era's self-made man, an entrepreneur who developed a distinctive niche in the growing consumer economy." Starting as a dishwasher he worked in cafes, restaurants, and even as a railroad mail clerk. In 1860 he married Barbara Sara Mattas and together they had five children, among whom Minnie, Ford Ferguson, and Byron Harvey, Sr., would play key roles in the Fred Harvey Company.

After his marriage he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas. By 1875 he operated two restaurants for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. Because of his keen business sense, Harvey recognized the need to upgrade the often abysmal food and lodging offered to train travelers of the day. His ideas were rejected by the Kansas Pacific, so he approached the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF). Thus began a long running business arrangement between the Fred Harvey Company and the ATSF.

In 1876 Harvey opened his first lunchroom in Topeka, Kansas, soon followed by other Kansan establishments. His contract with the railroad was a win-win situation. Harvey would provide food service to passengers at reasonable prices in exchange for transportation for workers, foodstuffs, and other supplies provided by the railroad company at no cost.

New Mexico greatly benefited from the railroad's and Fred Harvey's innovations in rail travel, having six Harvey Houses and seven hotel/restaurants. In 1882 the Montezuma Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico opened with 300 employees to cater to train passengers. Despite loss to fires of the original structure and its replacement, the railroad persisted in the idea of a luxury hotel nestled in New Mexico's mountains. The third Las Vegas enterprise was an 81,600 square foot, four‑story, Queen Anne style hotel that still stands and presently serves as the campus of the Armand Hammer United World College.

In 1883 Harvey made major improvements to his food service. With the innovation of refrigerated boxcars it was possible to serve passengers fresh meat and vegetables for the first time. He not only created an elegant dining atmosphere by using flowers, china, silver, and linen on the tables, he also hired young, single women as waitresses. Their presence lent an air of quiet gentility, graciousness and efficiency, and indicated that the West was a safe place to visit and explore. The first Harvey Girls were hired as waitresses in Raton, New Mexico in that same year.

As the building of the railroad in the Southwest crept ever westward, the Harvey restaurants followed. In 1884 he opened a restaurant in Holbrook, Arizona, utilizing five old boxcars and for the first time an Indian design motif. By 1889 with the line between Chicago and the West Coast completed, Harvey obtained a contract to operate all the ATSF's wholly-owned restaurants and hotels west of Missouri. With the inspiration of Edward Payson Ripley, president of ATSF and his advertising mastermind, William Haskell Simpson, the struggling Harvey Houses came to fruition with that contract.

With distinctly American architectural styles sweeping across the country, the ATSF and Fred Harvey were quick to embrace them. Mission or Spanish Revival style, developed from the California Missions of the 1770s, saw its first New Mexico manifestation in the Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas. Opening in 1898 and named for the chief chronicler of the first Spanish expedition into the American Southwest led by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, the Castañeda boasted a dining room, ballroom, and 40 guest rooms.

At the time of Fred Harvey's death in 1901 the company operated twenty-six restaurants, sixteen hotel/restaurants, and twenty railroad dining cars. The Fred Harvey Company passed into the capable hands of his son, Ford Ferguson Harvey, and his son-in-law, John Frederick Huckel, husband of Minnie Harvey.

In 1902, the ATSF and the Fred Harvey Company under its new leadership designed the Alvarado Hotel and Indian Building at the depot in Albuquerque. The Alvarado, named for another member of the Coronado expedition, was the crown jewel in a string of Harvey Houses. Architect Charles Whittlesey and the Fred Harvey Company's interior designer, Mary Colter, combined to create a stunning example of the Mission Revival and Craftsman styles. In 1910 El Ortiz at Lamy, New Mexico was Colter-designed to be reminiscent of a historic hacienda. Although World War I brought all luxury rail service to an end, the post-war period saw great expansion of the Fred Harvey Company. In the early 1920s the Alvarado doubled its capacity, ATSF acquired the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, and El Navajo, designed and decorated by Mary Colter, was constructed in Gallup. In addition to restaurants and hotels, the Fred Harvey Company embarked on what might be considered its most lasting contribution to tourism in the Southwest, education.

Education of the tourist was an important aspect of the Harvey Company's merchandising and marketing plan. The Fred Harvey Company was responsible for publishing and making available many books on the people, places and scenery of the Southwest. Reference libraries were established at Hopi House and Bright Angel, Grand Canyon, and Albuquerque's Indian Building. The company hired artists and photographers such as Louis Akin, Thomas Moran, E. Irving Couse, and William Henry Jackson to depict the landscape and cultures of the Southwest. Several prominent archaeologists and ethnologists were contracted to write reports on the cultures of the Southwest. The expertise of Dr. George A. Dorsey of the Chicago Field Museum, ethnographers Henrich R. Voth, Charles Owen, Dr. John Hudson, and Dr. Charles F. Newcombe enticed travelers to the Southwest in search of adventure and to experience "cultural tourism."

The company's newly formed Indian Department was created to merchandise Indian crafts and Minnie Harvey Huckel (Fred Harvey's daughter) proposed the Indian Building as an adjunct to the Alvarado Hotel and as an important part of the merchandising enterprise. This space was devised to expose and educate the traveler to the uniqueness of handmade Indian crafts and the wonder of the people who made them but most importantly, it was devised to sell merchandise. Herman Schweizer, a native of Germany was hired to manage the museum/sales room and to be the company's collector of Indian art and crafts. Schweizer, was considered "Harvey's anthropologist," and he unflaggingly traveled throughout Indian Country, acquiring the best examples of Navajo rugs and jewelry, Pueblo pottery, and baskets from tribes in California and along the Colorado River. He also collected objects from Plains and Alaskan Indian tribes as well.

"Beckoned to an idyllic adventure, to a country within a country" tourists were key in opening up new markets for Native American handicrafts, agricultural products, and labor. Craftspeople from Laguna and Isleta Pueblos in New Mexico, from the Yavapai reservation in Phoenix, and Kiowa from the Great Plains were enlisted to make and sell their wares. They all had already taken advantage of train stops on their reservations to sell pottery, jewelry and baskets to “captive” audiences in the form of train passengers. However, the Fred Harvey Company took that merchandising technique to a whole new level. Through Schweizer's many contacts within the tribes he visited, he was able to enlist the help of these crafts people and artists as not only salespeople but as demonstrators of their work at Harvey Hotels throughout the Southwest.

Over the years the Fred Harvey Company hired many Native Americans, who made careers within the company. Their expertise in the methods used and designs applied to pottery, jewelry and rugs was highly sought after. Navajo weavers Elle and her husband Tom from Ganado worked for 20 years, mostly at the Alvarado Hotel Indian Building in Albuquerque: Elle was born to the Black Sheep Clan and was known as "Red Woman," or Asdzaa Lichii' in the Navajo language (Diné). The famous Hopi-Tewa potter, Nampeyo, agreed to demonstrate her craft at Grand Canyon's Hopi House. Other employees included the Navajo medicine man and storyteller, Miguelito; Pomo basket-makers, Joseppa and Jeff Dick, and Clara and Tom Mitchell; and, Hopi painters Fred Kabotie, Sam Pemauhye, and Porter Timeche. These individuals are only a sampling of the many Navajo, Hopi, Apache, and Pueblo Indians hired to work at Albuquerque's Indian Building, Hopi House, Grand Canyon, and other venues.

The market for tourist souvenirs, home decoration, and artifacts often drove cultural artistic expression. "Pueblo pottery was being made to fit the sensibilities of the Anglo-American tourist and anthropologist," and Schweizer also met consumer demand by supplying non-traditional designs for Navajo rug and jewelry makers. Zuni anthropologist Edmund Ladd observed that cultural production had been re-routed from “ritual to retail."

In this heady time of marketing culture, not only were art and craft being marketed, but the cultures themselves had become commodified. The ATSF and Fred Harvey Company participated in a system of cultural manipulation whose aim was to transform the image of Native American from that of hostile savage to one of noble savage; a peaceful, picturesque people with a culture worth preserving. Their conception was to portray native culture in a way that reflected American middle-class desires for adventure and the exotic using native culture and New Mexican scenery as a backdrop for the exploitation and commercialization that drove the tourist industry. Native culture was on display in arts and crafts, postcard and calendar imagery and in the anthropology and documentation of their domestic lives but they were also willing participants, in many cases volunteering to demonstrate their skills and opening markets to sell their wares in a marketplace that could be a two way street.

By 1925, the automobile was beginning to replace rail travel as a way for the tourist to see the country. Under the direction of R. Hunter Clarkson, a Scotsman and company employee, the Santa Fe/Harvey Co. established Indian Detours in 1925, as a way for tourists to get an up close experience with the cultures and scenery of the Southwest. The first Indian Detours excursion left the Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas in 1926. Indian Detour clients visited Pecos, Tesuque, Santa Clara, San Juan, Santo Domingo, and Isleta Pueblos, Puyé cliffs, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque's Old Town, before re-boarding the train at the Alvarado Hotel. The following year Koshare Tours, founded by Erna Fergusson and Ethel Hickey in Albuquerque in 1921, was purchased and operations were merged with Indian Detours. Using the successful Harvey Girl business model, Clarkson hired Fergusson to train young women, called "Couriers," to lead tours. Potential employees were subjected to rigorous schooling in the history, culture, environment, and archaeology of the Southwest so that they could personally guide tourists off the beaten track and into the picturesque corners of the Southwest. Much needed cash was brought directly to the pueblos and villages of New Mexico but there was a tradeoff: overly inquisitive and sometimes insensitive travelers invaded the long held privacy of cultural traditions and village life. During the Great Depression, this service ceased operation.

"One of the remarkable legacies of the Fred Harvey Company is evident in the network of major museums that hold collections purchased through its Indian Department." The Smithsonian, American Museum of Natural History, Chicago's Field Museum, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Heard Museum in Phoenix, and the Denver Art Museum are all repositories of Fred Harvey Company/Herman Schweizer collections. Schweizer purchased entire collections. Notable among them were Navajo material from Marietta Wetherill, widow of Richard Wetherill, discoverer along with Charlie Mason, of Mesa Verde's Cliff Palace; several collections from the Navajo trader John Lorenzo Hubbell of Ganado, Arizona, now a National Historic Site; and, from New Mexico Governor L. Bradford Prince's collection of native pottery, clothing, and Hispanic santos.

The Fred Harvey Company legacy thrives today in part because "each Harvey House was a proudly functional part of its regional background." The tourist industries of the Southwest can trace their beginnings to the Fred Harvey Company. "The railroad, the travelers, and the indigenous communities of the region were all integral elements in a partnership that spanned more than three-quarters of a century." Although the company was purchased by Amfac Corporation in 1968, the weary traveler is still welcomed by the Fred Harvey logo and what it promises: the great Southwest.

Sources Used:

Grattan, Virginia L. Mary Colter: Builder Upon the Red Earth. Grand Canyon, AZ: Grand Canyon Natural History Association, 1992.

Howard, Kathleen L. and Diana F. Pardue. Inventing the Southwest: The Fred Harvey Company and Native American Art. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Publishing Company, 1996.

Waters, Frank. Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism. Denver: Sage Books, 1950.

Weigle, Marta and Barbara A. Babcock, eds. The Great Southwest of the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railway. Phoenix: The Heard Museum, 1996.



Fred Harvey: Civilizer of the West; Entrepreneurs; Prominent Historic Hotels in New Mexico



"Harvey was the epitome of the Victorian era's self-made man, an entrepreneur who developed a distinctive niche in the growing consumer economy."

The Harvey Girls