Once one of the midwest’s finest hotels, the Midland Railroad Hotel stands today in Wilson, the “Czech Capital of Kansas,” as a testament to a community’s perseverance and reclamation. No stranger to hard times, the once-closed hotel has been restored to its former glory with modern amenities. Visitors and guests of the hotel can experience a taste of what life was like in the heyday of rail travel.
Wilson’s heritage is tied to its railroad, built by the Kansas Pacific Railway in 1871. The railway attracted workers, particularly Bohemians, as a Kansan immigrant named Francis Swehla proudly advertised the town in Czech language newspapers. Over time, Wilson became a destination along the Union Pacific Railway, attracting hotels and commerce, but none that were dedicated to rail travelers. A Philadelphia businessman named W.B. Power seized the opportunity to build a grand hotel, and the Hotel Power opened on August 7, 1899.
The hotel was opulent for the time, built from Kansas post rock limestone quarried north of town. A fire gutted the hotel soon after its opening in 1902, the first of several setbacks to afflict the hotel. Everything burned, and guests lost all their belongings. The hotel was rebuilt even grander and renamed the Midland Railroad Hotel. The hotel would eventually become the most popular destination between Kansas City and Denver. Traveling salesmen would flock to the hotel to show their wares to local businessmen, and the basement would eventually be called the “Sample Room” to reflect the amount of commerce that took place.
The hotel would remain in operation for several more decades, seeing a boom even through the midst of the Great Depression, and a second in the 1960s as federal works projects moved to town. It is perhaps best known as a setting in the 1973 film “Paper Moon,” starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. However, the long-term decline of the railroad and rise of interstate highway travel would doom the hotel. The Union Pacific Railroad shuttered Wilson station in 1972, and after several changes in ownership, the hotel would follow suit, closing in 1988.
A decade later, the Midland Hotel site again hit the market, and this time local town leaders were ready to rebuild. Raising donations and grant funding, and restoring the dilapidated site, the Wilson Foundation reopened the hotel to the public in 2003.
Today, the hotel stands much as it did in its former glory, although with the benefit of modern amenities to keep it from feeling entirely like a museum piece. Guests can stay in any of the 28 rooms, each one slightly different, or visit the hotel and take in the ambiance by dining at the Sample Room tavern. The hotel is a popular destination for people visiting Wilson Lake, or nearby sights such as the restored Wilson Opera House or the World’s Largest Czech Egg, and particularly bustles during the annual Czech Festival held each year in July.