Couple starts a new venture and reclaims history after the purcahse of the Durley Hotel
The Durley Hotel was built in 1892 in Appleton City, Mo., for wealthy train travelers. It was a three-story structure, built of pressed brick. Elegant in its appointments, heated throughout with steam. It cost $25,000 to build with exquisitely finished workmanship.
The grand opening was held Feb. 3, 1892, and a grand affair. A menu card of the event showed some of the delicacies were boiled buffalo tongue and Stillwell ham, roasted sirloin prime beef, Missouri forest turkey and Virginia-style opossum, boiled quail on toast, Rocky Mount elk, haunch of venison, mince pie, English plum pudding, hot corn bread and Hoo-nan tea.
The west and south walls rise from the pavement, while the southwest corner is gracefully rounded from the base to the top. The building faces west, with a frontage of 65-feet and the main part is 85-feet deep. There were 26 bedrooms in the hotel. The ceilings on the first floor are 11-feet tall, second floor ceilings are 10 ½-feet tall, and the third-floor ceilings are 10-feet tall. Each of the heavy doors has a transom over them to catch the draft.
After the advent of the automobile, the hotel ceased in popularity. Dr. W. H. Ellett leased the building to house Appleton City’s first hospital about 1934. He purchased the building in 1938. Some second-floor rooms continued to serve as hotel rooms for a year after the hospital began. The doctor and family lived on the third floor of the hospital as well as some of the nurses and their families.
In 1937, the building was completely remodeled with the installation of an elevator, a tile floor in the operating room, and a double door in the north wall where an ambulance would drive right in on the wooden floor to deliver emergency patients. The hospital closed in 1943, but reopened in April 1946 after Dr. Ellett returned from war duty. It continued in operation until 1952.
The old hospital sat vacant for many years until a local benefactor purchased the building from the city in the late 1970s and presented it to the Prairie Queen Historical Society. They opened a museum in 1979, after extensive cleaning of the front lobby and refinishing the fireplace. However, they were unable to keep it going.
Leroy and Dortha Swopes were approaching retirement age and wanted to be near their daughter who lived in Appleton. They heard the city was going to tear down the old hospital if someone didn’t do something with it. The Swopes, at almost 60 years of age, bought the building in March 1994. They immediately hired a Fort Scott, Kan., firm to the replace windowsills and 85 windows. Even the window blinds had to be special ordered because each window is a different size. Leroy and Dortha began the restoration project, doing much of the work themselves.
Leroy rewired the ground floor and set to work on the plumbing. They tore down the old plaster and steam heat pipes and re-plastered some of the walls. A modern kitchen was the first completed room for their own use. They have refinished the magnificent stairway, finished rooms on the second floor for their living quarters, completed a 1-bedroom and a two-bedroom apartment, and three rooms are available for renting.
The two-bedroom apartment is as large as a medium sized house. It was the former operating room in the hospital. There were holes in the ceiling to vent the extremely potent ether used during surgeries. The apartment bedroom was the recovery room, the present living room was where pregnant mothers waited, and the nursery is now a large bathroom with original cabinets.
The Swopes toiled on enjoying their labors and the results of them even when a tornado took the new roof off in 2004. They finally had enough wall space to display their many collections. They also have a Wall of Fame where each of their three children and their family photographs are tastefully displayed.
They have opened the building to host many community events, including banquets in the refurbished ball room of the hotel with its opening foyer displaying the marble tile floor and fireplace.
Leroy and Dortha celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in their hotel/hospital/home in 2003. They continued to use the building as a “work in progress” and enjoyed many years of living and working in the home.
The last year has not been as kind. Leroy suffered a heart attack and had open heart surgery. They moved some of their things to the first floor where they continued to enjoy their home until they could move back to their second-floor quarters. Then COVID hit. There have been no events except a few family ones. Even Appleton City’s 150th celebration was canceled in 2020. They are not renting the rooms in fear of contamination. However, they rest secure in their solid built home that they rescued from destruction.
It’s worth a trip to Appleton City to see the well-preserved building facing the railroad tracks and depot which is well cared for, also. The community owes a debt of gratitude to Dortha and Leroy Swopes.
The article says the hospital continued in operation until 1952. That date is incorrect. I graduated from Appleton City High School in 1963. I worked as the hospital after during summers from 1962 to 1964. My mother continued to work at the hospital unit she retired. I’m not sure what year that was.