By Jack and Wilma Bradley
The small town of Beaumont, Kansas, might be a fairly out-of-the-way stop for travelers limited to the roads, but for sky-faring travelers, it’s a wonderful place to visit. Most visitors to the town’s famous Beaumont Hotel arrive not by highway, but by plane. Walt Lentz, a friend of ours who’s fond of places that are off the beaten track, told us about this fascinating little town and we just had to check it out.
The small town of Beaumont sits in Butler County, about 45 miles east of Wichita and a short distance from Augusta. For flying visitors, it’s at 49 DEM on the 089 radial of the Wichita VOR (ICT). We came in on the grass landing strip, taxied about 300 yards west down the paved country road, and stopped at the stop sign on Main Street, parking next to the Beaumont Hotel.
Founded in the 1870s by frontiersmen and westbound pioneers, the picturesque town of Beaumont is marked by the Frisco Water Tower, one of the oldest water towers in the country. It was built in the 1880s to serve the needs of both the area’s many cattlemen and steam locomotives traveling on the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad. Today, it continues to stand across the street from the Beaumont Hotel, next to the abandoned rail line that recalls the glory days of steam locomotives.
The Beaumont Hotel was established in 1879 as the Summit Hotel. During its early years, it served the many stagecoach travelers coming into town. At that point, Beaumont was a typical Old West town, populated by ranchers, cowboys and other western sorts.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, aviation in Beaumont became a critical tool to oilmen drilling across the Midwest, as well as cattle barons traveling across the state to check on herds grazing in the local bluegrass. In 1953, the hotel’s longtime owner, J.C. Squires, carved an airstrip out of the nearby prairie. He renovated the hotel and added running water and heat, removed the old rope ladders used for fire escapes, and added the decks, which provide a beautiful view of the Flint Hills.
Since Squires created his small landing strip, the hotel has been a popular home away from home for pilots and other visitors looking to recapture a little peace and quiet on the prairie. The hotel is filled with photographs and vintage advertisements, and it’s not uncommon to see several planes parked just outside. Takeoffs and landings are by daylight only, because the landing strip isn’t lighted.
Today, Stephen Craig owns the Beaumont Hotel. He’s the president and CEO of S.J. Craig Enterprises and of Lawrence-based Linquist & Craig Hotels & Resorts. Craig, a private pilot since 1968, has combined the luxurious style of his other properties with the down-to-earth sensibilities in which pilots take pride.
Renovated again in 2001, the hotel offers marvelous, spacious rooms with many conveniences, including brand new private baths and televisions. It features 11 rooms, including four luxurious suites and seven deluxe guestrooms.
The hotel’s manager, Jennifer Rodrigues, warmly welcomed us. She and her staff cater to aviators. During our stay, we made friends with some of the hotel’s other fly-in guests. They included Doug Christie and Joe Parsly, who arrived for breakfast in their Cessna C172 Skyhawk. Mike and Jan Warman, from Joplin, Mo., stopped for lunch in their 1946 Taylorcraft. Gale and Carolyn Huff, from Parson, Kansas, flew in for lunch in their Cessna 170B.
Good food is one of the best reasons to visit the Beaumont Hotel. Guests can eat in the 1950s style café, complete with a Formica counter and stainless steel stools, or in the more formal dining room, where large picture windows offer a breathtaking view of the prairie landscape. Pilots are famous for chasing down the proverbial “100 dollar hamburger,” and the hearty meals prepared by the kitchen staff certainly won’t disappoint a high-flying connoisseur. At the hotel, you’ll find “stick-to-your-ribs” home cooking, including fried chicken, catfish and chicken-fried steak.
Western aficionados will want to ask about the local ghost, known affectionately as “Beaumont Zeke.” In the late 1800s, when the hotel was operated as a stage stop, the proprietor and his wife also operated a brothel. The husband took care of business downstairs while his wife entertained clients upstairs. However, the wife became a bit too involved with Zeke, a frequent customer. Zeke was promptly shot and killed by the enraged husband and reportedly now haunts the halls of the hotel.
Guests as well as staff have reported chairs being moved in rooms, alarm clocks ringing at all hours of the day and night and the sound of loud thumping coming up the stairs. Staff members often catch a glimpse of the young cowboy in different parts of the hotel. Zeke must be too quick for us, or perhaps he doesn’t “work” on Sundays, because we didn’t see him. But by all accounts, the cowboy appears to be friendly and makes for a great campfire story.
The Beaumont Hotel isn’t the only attraction in town. Although the city’s population has dwindled over the years from a robust 1,000 at the turn of the century to fewer than 100 today, plenty of attractions still lure the aviators and motorcycle enthusiasts who have discovered this quiet corner of Kansas.
The joys of Beaumont include true western experiences like ranch tours, horseback riding, hiking and fishing, as well as more modern pleasures like golfing at the nine-hole course at Augusta Country Club. Butler County also has great shopping, and many unique items can be found in the area’s antique shops. The hotel’s helpful staff is happy to arrange ground transportation for their fly-in guests. Visitors can also wander out for home cooking at the Rusty Bucket Café or dinner at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper, “the Midwest’s largest authentic chuckwagon supper.”
We took in only a single day in October, but Beaumont offers plenty to see and do throughout the year. Be sure to make reservations, though, as the hotel is very busy from April through October. One of the best times to visit is during the annual Frisco Water Tower Festival, a weekend event in June that draws more than 4,000 visitors.
From our point of view, the Beaumont Hotel is a destination well worth adding to your plans if you fly any kind of light aircraft. Whether you want a relaxing weekend or just want to fly in for a good meal, the Beaumont Hotel is certainly a most enjoyable place to fly.
The Beaumont Hotel is located at 11651 Southeast Main in Beaumont, Kansas. GPS coordinates are N 37-39.5, W 96-31.6, or follow 49 DME off the 086 degree radial Wichita VOR (ICT). Watch for the 30-foot-tall water tower. Fuel is available at El Dorado, Eureka, Augusta and Wichita Public Airports. For more information, visit [http://www.hotelbeaumontks.com].