Since the old Hays House has had a facelift, I thought it might be appropriate to give a briefly abridged history of the property. To begin with, in 1847 Boone & Hamilton of Westport had a crude log structure built on the west bank of the Neosho River at the Santa Fe Trail crossing. According to local historian Ken McClintock that structure stood immediately east of the present Hays House. Seth M. Hays was employed by Boone & Hamilton to do business with freighters there.
In February of 1858, Hezekiah Brake came through Council Grove on his way to New Mexico. Brake writes, “An old negress who worked for Mr. Hayes (sic) roasted coffee, made cakes, and gave us a keg of pickles and sauerkraut as relishes.” Sarah Taylor, commonly called Aunt Sally, was Hays’ slave that accompanied him to Council Grove. Sally continued with him until the end of her life and is buried in Hays’ lot in Greenwood Cemetery.
By 1852 Hays had bought out Boone & Hamilton, and around 1856 took on a partnership with Goodson M. Simcock. It was Hays and Simcock who, under the title of S. M. Hays & Company, built a new frame warehouse to accommodate the growing trade on the Trail. According to newspaper accounts of the day it appears this structure was completed in early summer of 1859. At that time it had a gable roof; it wasn’t until about 1888 that the roof was raised in the fashion we see today to make a full two stories.
July 21st of 1859, Hays held a little party to celebrate the opening of the new store. Hall’s Quadrille Band of Emporia came to provide music for the dancers, and a generous supper was provided for the attendees. The Lawrence Republican of September 1859 also mentions the new warehouse opened by Hays & Co., and how it was suitable for a town such as Leavenworth or Lawrence.
Upon moving to Colorado in 1861 Hays sold his interest to Simcock, which took effect January 1st 1862, but retained ownership of the building. Upon Hays’ return in 1866 Simcock relocated to what is currently the Trowbridge building which the two had built as a harness shop in 1860. The final years of Hays involvement in the building is a bit sketchy, but it is safe to say he ultimately ended his interest in it February 5th 1873 when he passed from this life. It wasn’t until 1878 that the administrator of Hays’ estate sold the property.
Prior to 1885, which is the earliest Sanborn Insurance Map in the Morris County Historical Society’s archives, the function of the Hays House is uncertain. Using these maps we can draw a pretty good picture of the evolution of the building over the years. We know that in February of 1885 it was divided into three separate businesses. There was a store on the west end, restaurant in the middle and dwelling on the east side. At that time (1882-1888) it was operated as Farmer’s Hotel by J. F. Atchison. By July of 1887 the partitions are not noted and the whole building was designated as Farmers Hotel, except for a little insurance office in the southwest corner of the building.
Then from about 1890 to 1902 it was called Grove Hotel. Another partition noted in the Sanborn Maps was made on the west side behind where the insurance office was located and extended to the rear of the building. By this time the vacant lot west of the building had been developed and was listed as a restaurant. It’s not clear if this restaurant was part of the structure or a separate entity, but it stood where the western most end of the Hays House is presently. The building that once occupied that space was a barber shop in the 1870s but at the time of the September 19th 1886 fire was vacant. It was ‘torn down’ with the intent to prevent the Hays House from catching fire.
In 1902 the front porch was built on by W. L. Stickel, who sold the building the following year. The building changed owners several times at this period, but by December of 1908 the name had been changed to Main Street Hotel and a restaurant and confectionary were listed as well as hotel rooms. From around 1914 to 1930 the building was called the Ar-Way Hotel which boasted a café and confectionery.
Over the following decades the building housed a number of other businesses as well, such as a barbershop, appliance, restaurant, hardware and dry goods store to name a few. It is also known that rooms were let in the upstairs through WWII, as late as 1947. In 1954 V. A. Ward was proprietor of the Hays Tavern and it was then advertised as ‘the Oldest Place to eat between Council Grove and Santa Fe, N.M.’.
In 1974-75 Charlie and Helen Judd took over and renovated the Hays House Restaurant and Tavern and made it the destination eating establishment we all know and love today. The recent renovation of the Hays House façade is intended to emulate the appearance of the building as it stood shortly after the turn of the 20th century. And so it stands offering good food within, and historic charm without.