Monday, December 28, 2015

Harvey House: Casa del Desierto

The Harvey House hotels and restaurants played a defining role in civilizing the West—by the 1880s there was a dining facility located every 100 miles along the AT&SF.

Casa del Desierto in 1946
In Barstow, California on North First Street sits one of the 84 Harvey Houses that were built in the Western United States by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad to provide quality food and service for its passengers.

After the turn of the 20th century Harvey Houses were designed by professional architects to reflect the culture and natural terrain where they were built.

Casa del Desierto or House of the Desert was a train depot, hotel and restaurant designed by Los Angeles architect, Francis Wilson in 1911, after the wooden Harvey House hotel in Barstow, burnt down in 1908.

Wilson’s design reflects traditional Spanish and Native American themes with Moorish influences. The old depot is a California Historical Landmark today and is now used as a museum.

Renovated depot.
Ghost tours are given in this building because it has a lot of activity.

The waitresses tasked with serving excellent food * at Fred Harvey’s Houses ** were known as Harvey Girls. These young women—between the ages of 18 and 25 were selected carefully.

Harvey Girls at the Casa.
Many women who applied were turned down, so it was considered an honor to be picked as a Harvey Girl. These women were held to a strict set of rules.

They had a 10:00 p.m. curfew that they had to adhere to every day of the year so that they would be rested for the next day’s work. They wore a black and white uniform that had to be pressed before each shift.

A Harvey Girl by the name of Rachel worked at the Casa del Desierto in the 1920s. She haunts this old depot.

She is seen near where the formal dining room was located. Witnesses report seeing her take orders from customers that are not there. She is also seen walking from the kitchen area, holding an object in her hand.

A more recent story told, is she is seen on the balcony at the Casa –waiting for her fianc√© to return from the war. It is believed she committed suicide when he did not return.


Casa lobby.
Another ghost seen at this depot is of a little girl named Emily. She is seen playing peek-a-boo with visitors near the staircase in the lobby. This spirit is known to follow people around when they are upstairs.

Yet another spirit is a man by the name of Buchanan. He announces his presence with a strong aroma of smoke. He was crushed to death between two railroad cars in the depot’s yard.

His last request before he died was to see his family and have one last cigarette.

Many witnesses have experienced rapid temperature changes at the Casa. These temperatures become warmer of colder between 20 to 70 degrees within minutes.

Voices of both children and adults are heard, and shadows or dark figures are seen.

More sensitive people have reported feeling chills on their neck and hands and a tingling sensation on their arms. Other reactions include a feeling of being uncomfortable, becoming dizzy, lightheaded, or even nauseated.

In my experience the above feelings are classic examples that a place is truly haunted.

*  Passengers heading west could order off this menu in the Harvey Houses:

Click to enlarge.
Blue Points on Shell, English Peas Au Gratin, Filets of Whitefish with Madeira Sauce, Potatoes Francaise, Roast Sirloin of Beef au jus, Salmon or Duck, Mashed potatoes, Boiled Sweet Potatoes, Turkey Stuffed, Cranberry Sauce, Baked Veal Pie English Style, Pork with Applesauce, Pickled Lamb Tongue.

French Slaw, Queen Olives, Elgin Sugar Corn, Charlotte of Peaches in Cognac Sauce, Prairie Chicken, Current Jelly, Lobster Salad au Mayonnaise, Sugar Cured Ham, Beets, Celery.

Apple Pie, Assorted Cakes, Bananas, Cold Custard la Chantilly, Catawaba Wine Jelly, Edam and Roquefort Cheese, New York Ice Cream, Grapes, Bent’s Water Crackers, French Coffee.

A meal cost 75 cents.

Fred Harvey
** Fred Harvey while working for the railroad in the late 1800s, noted “a decent lack of food for railroad travelers.” He then pitched his idea to the company to open fine dining restaurants.


His Harvey Houses were the first restaurant chain in America. They introduced the concept of Blue Plate Specials.

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