Humorist Will Rogers once remarked, “Fred Harvey supplied the West in food and wives.”
It wasn’t just the excellent food that attracted people to the Harvey House Restaurants. Fred Harvey hired a wholesome group of young, attractive, intelligent, women between the ages of 18 and 30 to leave their eastern homes and come West to work as Harvey Girls. For a young woman hoping to escape the hometown doldrums or one with visions of romance and marriage, the job was a dream come true.
Harvey paid good wages, seventeen dollars a month and offered free room and board. They had to be in bed at 10:30 on weekdays and 11:30 on Saturday. The dorms had house mothers to look after the ladies and keep the railroaders and cowboys from trying to sneak in after hours. The women signed a one-year contract promising not to get married until the contract was up but no sooner had she stepped down from the train and the marriage proposals came rolling in. The pretty ones took about a day, while the ugly ones took three days at most.
A Harvey Girl could usually have her pick of the most prosperous gentlemen in town. Harvey never held them to the non-marriage clause, in fact, like a proud father, he’d even throw a wedding party in her honor. The turnover of help was never a problem as there was always a long waiting list of applicants anxious to go west and work as a Harvey Girl.
It was said Harvey tried to hire plain-looking girls because they were more likely to fulfill their contracts. Also according to one, “the plain ones seemed to get in less trouble.
On the back side of the east wing of the Escalante on the second floor housed the Harvey Girls. They had a warden who kept an eye on the girls so they wouldn’t sneak out after hours. However, girls will be girls and boys will be boys.
It was never revealed who built it but there was a wrought iron ladder attached to the wall and concealed by vines, that led to the girl’s rooms. I was too young to partake of such carnal delight’s but I remember seeing it many times and knew its function.
I visited Ash Fork in 1969, the year the Escalante was demolished. I stopped by Santiago Garcia’s house to visit my old mentor. I asked if the Santa Fe officials ever discovered the ladder. The Harvey Girls had been gone for almost twenty years.
He grinned and said, “That ladder didn’t come down until the Escalante did!”