The stone wall that still exists today against the bluff between Delaware and Wyandotte Streets is the remains of the once-famous Gilliss House Hotel. Built around 1850, the lively riverfront hotel went by various names including the Union, American, Eldridge, and finally the Gilliss House Hotel.
During the Border War era, 1854-1860, the hotel was a hotbed of intrigue as it changed hands between pro-slavery and abolitionist proprietors. Throughout the 1880s it was the main, and eventually the only, hotel here on the Missouri riverfront. Over the years many prominent frontiersmen, including Kit Carson stayed in the first-rate inn before journeying out onto the plains or returning east via steamboat.
"I write you from a point which is getting to be more and more a favorite resort for those engaged in the Santa Fe trade... It has the advantage of an excellent landing, accessible at all stages of the river, and is only four or five miles from the "Plains", with which it is connected by a road that, already good, is constantly improving. The Traders seem well pleased with the treatment they receive here." A guest to the hotel, Kansas Public Ledger, 1851
When Kansas City's businesses and growing population spread south of the river, the riverfront became less desirable and the hotel's popularity dropped. The Gillis House fortune declined, and the hotel's heyday was over. Soon the lowly old building would become a pickle factory. And finally, in the 1920s, the long-standing structure burned to the ground.
Photograph courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.