Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

Helping to preserve history

June 14, 2007

For Lansing resident Ralph Beckwith, one of the most noticeable structures in Kansas's first city has a particularly unique significance.

As chairman of the National Fred Harvey Museum at the intersection of Seventh Street and Olive Street in Leavenworth, Beckwith is doing his part to preserve the rich history of Leavenworth and one of its most famous citizens.

Ralph Beckwith

Ralph Beckwith

Right now, the home of the late restaurateur and hotelier, which was constructed in 1869, is in need of serious repairs, but Beckwith has big plans for its future.

"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," Beckwith said of the undertaking, which has been under way since 2000. "If we are very fortunate (the museum) will open to the public in three years."

Fred Harvey, who has been referred to as the "civilizer of the West," created one of the first chains of high-quality, affordable restaurants at every stop along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rail lines in the late 1800s.

Currently, the Harvey Museum committee is doing everything possible to change his home to how it would have looked circa 1900.

But years of dilapidation and constantly changing ownership have left little of the original furnishings, and only two photographs exist that reveal what the interior of the antique home actually looked like.

Beckwith said the committee's work so far has been possible through two state grants totaling $180,000.

An application for a federal grant from the National Park Service has been submitted as well.

According to Beckwith, the Harvey home has drawn relatives of the local icon and former Harvey girls, who worked in the restaurants and dining cars, to Leavenworth from all over the U.S.

He said his full-time hobby has sometimes been stressful.

"It's a lot more work than I ever expected. It's challenging at times but also a lot of fun."

Beckwith encourages anyone interested in supporting the Harvey Museum to contact him by phone at (913) 727-5036.

NAME: Ralph Beckwith

FAMILY: Hermine (Mina), wife; Alexander, son; Kathrine, daughter

HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN LANSING AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE? "Since 1983. I was assigned to Fort Leavenworth. We rented a house in Lansing. We liked it and bought a house here."

WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN? "I read, play around on the computer and work for the Harvey House."

WHAT'S THE BEST ADVICE YOU'VE EVER RECEIVED? "I guess I would say, do your best and things will work out."

WHAT CLUBS OR ORGANIZATIONS DO YOU BELONG TO? American Legion, Leavenworth Lions Club, Vice President for the Youth Achievement Center and chairman of the steering committee for the National Fred Harvey Museum.

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