Hays House 1857 Restaurant & Tavern, Council Grove
Photo credit Dan Doerge.
Main room at Hays House. Photo credit Dan Doerge.
Pan-fried chicken. Photo credit Dan Doerge.
Famous strawberry pie. Photo credit Dan Doerge.
Photo credit Dan Doerge.
Open Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
Hays House Historic Restaurant and Tavern is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine because it is the oldest continuously-operating
restaurant west of the Mississippi River.
First opened in
1857 because of its location on the Santa Fe Trail, you can enjoy fine dining in the oldest, continuously operated
restaurant west of the Mississippi River. It's a steak house that earns
patrons' raves about its award-winning Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Chicken,
Brisket, Ham, Pasta, and Seafood dishes. Some of its specialties include Fresh
Strawberry and Peach Pies, and its own Homemade Ice Cream.
Seth Hays, town
founder, and great-grandson of Daniel Boone, built a log store in 1847,
and a decade later (1857) built this structure. The primary
customers then were travelers along the Santa Fe Trail. This was the main trade
route to Mexico. Hays had obtained license to trade with the Indians and
structure of the Hays House was a gathering place for meals but additionally it was a district court, a mail distribution center, a popular tavern, home to bawdy
theatricals, and on Sundays a sheet was used to cover the liquor bottles so that
church services could be held here. Both Jesse James and General Custer are
said to have consumed adult beverages here. The original bar that they would
have bellied up to is now located in the Cellar.
The Cellar was
originally a root cellar with a dirt floor. It was here that perishable foods
were kept as cold as possible with meat hung on hooks from the hand-hewn
beams. Native stone, and an earlier type of mortar make up the walls. The bricks that now cover the floor are stamped as made in
Coffeyville and had been relocated from their original place on Main
Street. The Cellar is now a popular gathering place for banquets and meetings.
In 1886 the
structure caught on fire. As the story goes, because it was their popular
tavern, the locals rallied to form a bucket brigade to successfully extinguish
the fire. Only the gabled roof was claimed by the fire. The original burnt
hardwood beams from that fire have now been placed in their original proximity
and can be observed in the Seth Room, adjacent to the modern day Tavern. In the
Seth Room, one wall also shows the hand-split Cottonwood lathe without its
Sometime after, the
fire damaged gabled roof was replaced with a flat roof, and 10 hotel rooms were
constructed on the second floor. These hotel rooms were available for let until
the mid-1940's. The claw foot bathtub that all hotel guests shared is still
located in the ladies restroom.
HELEN AND CHARLIE JUDD
In 1974-75, Helen
and Charlie Judd retired from teaching school in California to return to Council
Grove, where Helen was raised, and to inherit the estate of Helen's wealthy
grandparents, the Whitings. The Whitings purchased the building in 1911; they
leased the restaurant to various operators over the years. The Crystal Room
upstairs contains many of the family's personal collection of amazing crystal,
antique dining table, and turn-of-the-century ladies accessories. Helen remarks
that her grandmother was a very proper woman; so Helen continues to exchange the
display of her grandmother's hats, handbags, shoes, and scarves with those her
grandmother would have deemed appropriate for the given
This same historical
structure is now also showcase to several interesting, one-of-a-kind collections
including arrowheads, historical pictures, amazing antique crystal,
turn-of-the-century ladies accessories, a White Buffalo, and more. Local,
regional, and national artwork is also displayed and is available for