Ellinwood's Historic Wolf Hotel: Giving Hope to a Hometown
Owner Chris McCord and business partner Kelli Penner are hoping to turn the National Register-listed Wolf Hotel into a bed-and-breakfast.
In 117 years, the Italianate-style Wolf Hotel in sleepy Ellinwood, Kan. has had only four owners. The newest, 26-year-old Chris McCord, is still in awe of his new responsibility.
“I have never done something this big,” he says of his June 13 purchase of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located at an intersection featuring the only stoplight in town. The hotel, built in 1894 by German immigrant and entrepreneur John Wolf, sits across the street from the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which connected rural Ellinwood to the rest of America starting in 1872.
“This is my first commercial property,” explains McCord, who works full-time in medical records at a hospital in Great Bend, Kansas. He bought his first fixer-upper house at 20 and has been in love with restoration ever since. He hopes to turn the Wolf Hotel, once a rail stop for salesmen and other characters that peppered the 19th-century American plains, into a bed-and-breakfast within the next year.
The seed of McCord’s decision to purchase the historic spot was planted last November, while he shopped at the antique store then located in the hotel, owned by Bill Starr. Starr, a longtime friend, suggested that he buy the building.
“I just laughed at him, really,” McCord says. But seven months later, he decided to do just that.
The hotel needs some work before McCord and his business partner, Kelli Penner, a lifelong friend, can open the doors to guests. McCord describes the over 5,000-square-foot building as “structurally and mechanically well,” but there are parts that need maintenance work, such as several support columns on the east end of the structure that have started to tilt.
He and Penner will be doing some of the work themselves, and hiring contractors to complete other necessary tasks. McCord is concerned about the prohibitive costs of opening up an eatery in the original hotel restaurant space, but he says that if it works out, he would love to make the addition.
For her part, Penner, a full-time mom who describes herself as McCord’s “go-to person” for the project, is fascinated with the hotel partially because of its sometimes spooky history. In one story, a man was shot in an alley, and his body was dragged inside and hidden in the Wolf Hotel.
“It kind of gives you an eerie feeling being there,” she says. “It’s one of those things that I’ve always enjoyed.”
Ellinwood is also one of several Kansas towns to possess a series of underground tunnels that at one point housed shops and walkways, an innovation introduced by the city’s German immigrant founders. The tunnels originally ran for two blocks on both sides of Ellinwood’s Main Street. Currently, the only tunnels that haven’t been filled in with sand are the ones under the Wolf Hotel and the historic Dick Building across the street, with tours from the Dick Building opening the tunnels to the public. McCord hopes to eventually be able to open his tunnels back up, giving the town another tangible link to its unique past.
McCord was born in Ellinwood and has spent most of his life there, and he sees the Wolf Hotel as being at the heart of his small town.
“I’m just passionate about bringing it back to a good purpose for my town, and bringing people to my town,” he says. “I think that I will work on this building for the rest of my life, or for as long as I’m blessed with the ownership.”