Keystone Hotel History
The renovation of the Keystone Hotel into the Keystone Business Center could not be a more perfect example of how the visions of past, present and future leaders of a community intertwine for the benefit of all.
The building, located at 402 Norris Avenue in McCook, has come to be known by several names in its 88 year history. Keystone Hotel, Defenders, and McCook Townhouse are a few of the monikers the stately six-story structure has been called. The Keystone name was originally chosen in 1922 because of its dictionary definition meaning “a part or force on which associated things depend for support.” Returning the “Keystone” name to the building seems more than appropriate for its new use.
Early in its history, McCook was a strategically located center of commerce serving southwest Nebraska, northwest Kansas, and northeast Colorado. It was the divisional point between Lincoln and Denver for the Burlington and Missouri Railroad and was the hub of many needed commercial ventures like the post office, lumberyard, general store, and drug dispensary.
During the 1880’s and 90’s, McCook had a number of rooming houses and hotels, the largest of which was the Commercial Hotel. It was a huge wood frame, ornate Victorian Era structure. Early in the 1910’s, that structure was rapidly becoming obsolete.
Town officials were anxious for a new and modern hotel and in February of 1919, the Commercial Club authorized a new committee to push the matter. By May, 1919, the Masons started a vigorous campaign to secure “a modern hotel for the City of McCook.” (McCook Tribune, May 22, 1919). The summer of 1919 signified the organization of all McCook boosters to campaign for a new hotel.
In June of 1919, over $70,000 was raised at a Booster’s Banquet. That amount rapidly increased to $100,000. Stock was sold at this banquet in increments ranging from $100 to $10,000. Throughout the first night, over 120 people bought stock and $96,200 was raised.
It was during this event that the boosters called themselves the “We Can Club”. Later in the same week, the boosters organized the Keystone Hotel Corporation and the stockholders elected a board of nine directors to adopt articles of incorporation, by-laws, and meet regularly to see the project through. Members of the boosters included many prominent citizens, judges, lawyers, senators, bankers, and A. W. Archer, the architect from Kansas City.
By 1920, much of the $300,000 needed to construct the hotel was raised. The only obstacle remaining was the current viability of the Commercial Hotel, which was still standing and operating on Main Street in McCook. When that hotel burned in 1920, efforts to complete the fundraising and resources for the new Keystone Hotel were greatly accelerated.
Construction began on the building in 1920 and by December of that year the forms for the second story concrete were being laid, allowing the basement floors to be finished. Stockholder and supporters were scurrying trying to raise the last $100,000 to complete the building while it was under construction. People were asked to go to the McCook National Bank and the Ford Garage to make payments on delinquent notes and many building needs were being supplied at cost to help the project along.
The building took two years to complete and the design was referred to as “six stories of concrete and steel.”
Grand Opening 1922
The hotel had all the modern conveniences and “service that is beyond the criticism of the most fastidious.” The completed hotel had 105 rooms, 70 of which had bathrooms, while each room had a toilet, telephone and “excellent” beds. There were 28 employees. Tables were provided in convenient places where the light is best for the businessman who need to do much of his work in the evenings. The lobby was “tastefully furnished with excellent furniture.”
The executive board of the Keystone Hotel Corporation leased the building to Max Merrill and Mr. Poland in 1922 to operate the business. Completion of the Keystone Hotel was considered “the greatest undertaking and accomplishment in the life of our city.”
Two prominent McCook citizens were on the board of the Keystone Hotel Company. Pat Walsh, founder of McCook National Bank, served as president of the company. A. Barnett, founder of Barnett Lumber was known as “The Builder” because of his involvement in many McCook building projects including the Masonic Temple, the old YMCA, the Keystone Hotel, the Fox Theater, Nebraska Light and Power Company, Addams Hotel, the Hormel Chevrolet building, and the United Methodist Church.
Other Businesses Housed
From the very beginning of its existence, the Keystone Hotel has housed a variety of business ventures. The McCook Cleaning Works was located in the southwest room of the hotel in the summer of 1922 and provided pick-ups and deliveries. During the same time, a liquor store was operated in the north room while D & M Gorceteria was established in the prime southeast corner location.
During its history, various businesses were part of the Keystone Hotel, including a beauty salon, barber shop, cab company, bookstore, and cigar store. Office space has been rented out in the past, including to the McCook Chamber of Commerce and the McCook Main Street organization.
The Defenders and Townhouse Era
The hotel continued operating until the late 1960’s and was purchased by the Defenders of the Christian Faith in 1969 to be utilized as a retirement hotel. The hotel was sold two more times, in 1978 and 1992, and both new owners kept it as an assisted living center. Finally, in 1997, the McCook Townhouse, as it was known at the time, was closed for good.
In 2000, the building was purchased by Dale Stewart of McCook. By that time, it had been empty for some time. While Stewart intended on restoring the building, finding investors who were willing to tackle such an enormous project proved to be difficult. The building continued to sit empty until it was purchased by the McCook Economic Development Corporation in June, 2009.
The Keystone Hotel has always been much more to the city of McCook than a place to rent a room. It has been the site of numerous social functions and club meetings, Political speeches have been made within its walls, including many by Senator George Norris. Parades and other important city events have been viewed from the second floor balcony. Young ladies have received instruction in ballet in the auditorium and barbershop quartets have sung their harmonies from the stage.
The contribution that this facility has made to the social and economic well being of this community in the past is well documented.
Information from the National Register of Historic Places, McCook Daily Gazette Golden Anniversary Souvenir Edition and McCook Daily Gazette Centennial Edition.