Historic Hotel Series: The Gadsden

When we decided to sell our trailer we hoped to include historic hotels in future travels.  With Tucson friends Warren and Connie we set off for the Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, Arizona.

Douglas is in southern Arizona, very near the Mexican border.  This area, once part of Mexico, was purchased to enable a southern railroad route.  That 1853-1854 transaction was called The Gadsden Purchase.  

The Gadsden Hotel was built in 1907, in the era of Wyatt Erp, Pancho Villa and Geronimo.  I was originally interested in the Gadsden because of a picture of Pancho Villa on his horse, on the lobby staircase. Alas, that picture was fake but the hotel was still quite interesting!

The hotel became a gathering place for the movers and shakers of the day.

Gathering in the lobby – just like the movers and shakers of old.

The hotel boasted a manually operated elevator to escort guests to each of the four floors.  It remains one of the oldest operating elevators of its kind west of the Mississippi.

The Gadsden Hotel burned in 1928 and only the elevator car, marble pillars and marble staircase remained.  

The hotel was promptly rebuilt with added glamour and services.  In addition to the elevator, the Gadsden was one of the first hotels to have telephones and restrooms in every room.  

Added glamour included Tiffany style stained glass.

The lobby was (and is) quite elegant. 

There is a nice courtyard with seating between the wings.

An impressive list of politicians, celebrities and actors have stayed in the Gadsden.  

John Wayne bought tequila for friends in the Spur and Saddle Saloon.  His ranch brand is among the hundreds of area brands displayed on the walls.

We bought drinks there too and enjoyed spending time together and playing cards.

The rooms are simple but pleasant.  Only the floor surrounding the lobby has been renovated.  The upper floors are yet to be done. The hotel is reportedly haunted (aren’t they all) and the ghosts seem to live in the upper floors.

The rooms have TVs but the cable wasn’t working. The room telephones were removed because only the ghosts seemed to be able to operate them – and then at inopportune times for guests.

In the lobby, only the booth on the left had a telephone.

The hotel offered a history tour so we signed up right away and paid our admission. We went up the landmark elevator to the dark third floor.  The history tour ended up being a paranormal tour – kind of. The front desk attendant and restaurant waiter took turns walking us through the dark third floor while the other found a place to startle us.  I guess they weren’t depending on the real ghosts to show up.

Randy and Connie enjoyed it. I did not. I was trying to hang onto Randy’s hand but that just meant he kept pulling me towards the “danger.”  Eventually I hung onto Warren’s arm while Randy and Connie chased “ghosts.”  I knew they weren’t real but I didn’t like being startled! 

Our tour came to an abrupt end when the bartender, the only remaining employee downstairs,  had to come get our “ghosts” as there was an issue with one of the other guests.  I was not sad about that – except we never did get to the history part of the tour.

There is an extensive Veterans Museum just off the hotel lobby, very personalized to this part of Arizona.  An interesting event to come in the next week was the repatriating of Korean War remains recently identified as belonging to a local man.

We also explored Douglas a bit and the surrounding area.  We walked through Raul Castro park and then to Church Square, the only block in the nation containing nothing but four churches, one on each corner.  This included Methodist, Southern Baptist, Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.

We left Douglas and drove to Slaughter Ranch, a national historic site, so near the border that we traveled next to “the wall” for part of our trip.

The monsoon waters surging through the wash blew out the “gates” and they were swept away into Mexico.

On a happier note, we saw this ride along the road. We gave our quarter but none of us rode the pony.  

The Slaughter Ranch was originally known as the San Bernardino Ranch and was purchased through a Mexican land grant in 1822.  It encompassed more than 73,000 acres and cost 90 pesos – current value just over $4 US. The original owner, Ignacio Perez was run off by the Apache in less than ten years. 

The Perez decendents sold the property to John Slaughter in 1884. Slaughter was a former confederate officer, cowboy and a loved and feared Cochise County lawman. He acquired adjacent properties and eventually had more than 50,000 head of cattle on his lands in Mexico and the United States. The ranch had its own border gate that was sometimes manned by customs officials.

The Slaughter ranch house is very comfortable and markedly cooler than the outside on the day we visited – because of the two foot thick walls.

The children’s room was occupied by Slaughter’s own children, but also eventually by grandchildren and foster children.  One particular child, two year old “Apache May,” was left behind when an Apache village was attacked by Slaughter and his posse. Slaughter took May into his home and raised her as his own child until her accidental death at age six.  He was a complicated man.

Warren and Connie learning about the Slaughter family and enterprise.

There were a number of out-buildings to explore. This was the room of the Chinese cook.

For almost 40 years, the Slaughter family operated their extensive cattle ranch.  The Mexican lands were eventually sold in Mexico.  Portions of the American lands are now the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge and the Slaughter Ranch National Historic Site.

Our next stop was for wine tasting at the Hofmann Vineyards. Connie found out about the winery when the Visitor Center attendant and I did not.  Well done – as it was a blast!

Charles and his wife Karen bought “some cheap land” in the early 2000-teens. and had their first bottling harvest in 2016.  This is their (or maybe his) retirement dream as he is in his 80’s and I presume Karen is in his age vicinity. We were amazed that they would want to work this hard in retirement.

We had a very enjoyable tasting and then went exploring into the process. Unlike nearly everyone else making wine in the world (or so it seems) they do not use oak barrels.  He expressed concern about the sanitary status of reusing barrels and instead uses stainless steel pots with added oak chips for flavoring.

None of us are wine experts, and we were having such a good time listening to their story that we just enjoyed ourselves and bought some wine to go.

On the way back to the hotel we found the local hangout for migrating sand hill cranes. This is a phone picture – and not a very good one.  Unfortunately Connie didn’t get a good one either, although several of her good pictures are in this blog. Photo credit Connie!

The four of us deemed this a successful venture and look forward to exploring more of Arizona’s historic hotels.

PS.  Our trailer sold and I deposited the check today (November 23, 2021).  Life moves on but we had a most excellent run in our Montana.  May her new owners enjoy and love her as much as we did.

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioning to part time RVers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Arizona desert but we may not want to be here in the heat of the summer!
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8 Responses to Historic Hotel Series: The Gadsden

  1. Mark McClelland says:

    Well that hotel tour certainly sounds different!! We’ve been in Douglas a couple of times as we birded our way through SE Arizona, but never stopped to take in any of the sites. We’ll have to remedy that some day. Congrats on the sale of your trailer. Take that off the “to-do” list!

    • Randy Matthews says:

      It is nice to have it sold. However, it is so strange to see it go when we really had no intention to sell it when I got sick back in 2018. Life has a way of causing you to take different turns, some by choice, some by necessity. Onward to new adventures, and like you said, don’t look in the rear view mirror for too long, you will miss what is in front of you.

  2. Elaine Ehlers says:

    Serene and  Randy,  I thank you again and again as I go over your wanderings.  It is something I could not do and then you came into my life, thank you.  It tells me your memory and ability is great but the best part of all is your sharing. Thank you Elaine Ehlers

  3. Teri McClelland says:

    It sounds like the haunted hotel staff need to work on their presentation a little.
    I look forward to seeing some of the beautiful hotels you will find.
    Congrats on the sale of your trailer. I’m sure you have many wonderful memories of your time in it.

  4. Catie says:

    Once again we thank you for your amazing story telling. Sharing this information is wonderful.
    Onward and upward with your new travel mode. ❤️

  5. Beverly Olson says:

    If I hadn’t lived in Arizona before, I would definitely be interested in moving. So happy that you two have found your new way of life so much fun. Beverly (Serene’s Mom)

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