"Host to Manhattan: The Gillett Hotel"
The building that would become the Gillett Hotel, located at the corner of Houston and South 3rd Street (presently S. 4th Street), was initially the residence of William and Caroline Higinbotham, built in 1868. When William’s banking investments failed in 1889, the Higinbotham's converted their substantial downtown home into a hotel. Rooms at the Higinbotham Hotel were rented out to guests for $2.00 a night. In 1899, the home was sold to Rube Gillett who renamed it the Gillett Hotel in 1901. The hotel underwent two renovations with additions added, one in 1906 and another in 1912.
In 1911, the hotel was sold to Howard W. Allman who would become the hotel’s third owner. Just fifteen years earlier, Allman was working as a bellhop in the very same hotel. Under his ownership, the 1912 addition was constructed at a cost of $125,000 which included three elegant store rooms occupied by a Rector’s Barber Shop, the Manhattan Gas Company, and Watson Bros. Shoe Store. In 1913, the Gillett Hotel consisted of three stories with a main dining room on the first floor which seated 100 guests. It also boasted a total of 96 guest chambers, 20 of which had private baths.
Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, business at the Gillett Hotel continued to prosper. Leading up to World War II, many visitors of the hotel were families visiting soldiers at nearby Fort Riley. After the war, however, business began to subside. In 1951, the Gillett Hotel, along with several other businesses in the vicinity, fell victim to a severe flood which resulted in substantial loss to the building. Additionally, with the rise of the new motel industry in the 1950’s, coupled with the Gillett Hotel’s lack of adequate parking space, travelers began finding alternative lodging in Manhattan. This landmark hotel was eventually razed in 1966 and replaced by a building constructed for the F. W. Woolworth Company.
"Riley County Relics"
In 1855, the Hair brothers—Tom, John, and Jonas—traveled to Kansas and settled near the head of Wild Cat Creek. By 1863 enough settlers had established homesteads in the area to organize a school district. A log cabin served as the first school building near the creek on Tom Hair’s land, which became appropriately known as Hair School.
As charter members, Aaron Southwick, Tom Hair, Tom and Stephen Soars, John Locke, and Dr. J.W. Crans began organizing the Union Townsite Company and established a federal post office on April 19, 1870. On May 10, 1870, the town plat of Union was filed in the Register of Deeds office in Manhattan. The town name of “Union,” however, had already been claimed by another Kansas community. As an alternative, the name “Riley Center” was chosen, due to the post office’s location near the center of Riley County.
Aaron Southwick constructed the first house in Union, located on a five-acre tract he sold to the Town Company. The house became known as the Union House, where Southwick provided lodging and a small store of goods to travelers. Other business enterprises soon developed in Riley Center through the 1870s.
The last railroad built through Riley County was the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railway, constructed in 1887. The railway ran north out of Manhattan to a depot named “Riley,” just adjacent to Riley Center. As a result, the railroad generated renewed enthusiasm in the small community. With direct access to the railway, new businesses slowly developed and companies organized to help promote the town.
In 1895 Union, Riley Center, and Riley registered combined plats with the Register of Deeds as the incorporated town of “Riley”. The primary north-south street was placed just five blocks east of Main Street. Streets were graded and boardwalks built along Broadway to the depot. Buildings left in Riley Center (the old Union) relocated to the new Riley. Enterprising men and women from Clay Center opened businesses and new families purchased lots to establish residences. Local farmers who had taken their trade to Leonardville returned to Riley to conduct their business.