First Harvey House was opened in the AT&SF depot in Topeka, KS, 1876

Did you know,  Harvey Houses were the first interstate restaurant chain in America. In 1876, Fred Harvey opened the first Harvey House in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe depot at Topeka, KS. In 1878 a Harvey House with a hotel was open for business in Florence, KS. By the late 1880’s, they spread along the ATSF railroad line approximately 100 miles apart; from Chicago to California and to the Gulf of Mexico. 

In the day when eating establishments along the railroad had a less than sterling reputation, Fred Harvey, the owner and president of his company, demanded perfection in the Harvey House dining rooms and lunchrooms. He used fine linen tablecloths, sterling silverware, and imported crystal goblets. Fresh food was transported on the railroad so there would be gourmet meals all along the line. He placed ads in eastern newspapers for “young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good character, attractive and intelligent,” to go west to work. The Harvey Girl had to agree to abide by strict employee rules, live in dormitories, accept whatever location was assigned to her and abstain from marriage for the duration of her contract.

The Cracker Barrel restaurant chain along the Interstates today, remind me of the early Harvey Houses. Each one is set up the same, their menus are identical from one Cracker Barrel to the next, and in our experience, we receive efficient, courteous service and delicious food each time we stop.


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