BROOKVILLE – The month of December has been a time of last suppers at the Brookville Hotel. The historic former hotel in Brookville has been packed most nights with people eager to dine on fried chicken and biscuit dinners one last time before the restaurant closes after the last dinner is served Friday.
The business will reopen next spring when a new building, a replica of the one in Brookville, is completed some 40 miles east at Abilene. Among the recent visitors to the old hotel was a group of five friends from different Kansas towns who met Wednesday. Gerry Cole, Arlington, said the group gets together every once in a while at the hotel because they “like the chicken dinners.” “And the atmosphere,” added Coy Allen, Humboldt. They said they probably will try the new restaurant when it opens in Abilene.
Owners Mark and Connie Martin said almost all of their customers say they are sad the Martins are pulling their business out of town. But many say “See you in Abilene” on their way out.
A daughter’s death and cancer
The Martins insist a widely publicized sewer issue isn’t the only reason they’re closing the 129-year-old hotel that has been part of their family for four generations. Although the lack of a community sewage system in Brookville has been an “ongoing issue” for several years, Connie Martin said, the main reason she and her husband want to relocate the business is that they are hungry for a fresh start.
Recent years have been rough ones, she said. Their only child, Brandy Lea Martin, 17, bled to death in 1995 after a tonsillectomy. Connie Martin said the Brookville Hotel is rich with memories of their daughter, who was born in 1977, just three years after they started working at the hotel full time. “It’s been real hard to be here without her,” she said. After Brandy’s death, the Martins concentrated on day-to-day life. Their future wasn’t a concern. After a couple of years, their attitude shifted to one of “What do we do now?”
You have to go on with life, or it will go on without you,” Connie Martin said. focus became the hotel’s sewage problem. The septic system was too small for the hotel’s heavy sewage output, and the Martin’s were spending $2,000 to $3,000 a month to pump and haul sewage. The problem became a continual annoyance. So was the smell.
Martins considered building a lagoon outside the city limits and piping the sewage there. But land to the east and west of Brookville wasn’t available, Mark Martin said, and a path south was blocked by Old Highway 40 and railroad tracks. To the north are hills. The time came for serious decisions, but then another crisis arose, Connie Martin, 47, was diagnosed with breast cancer. this year she has a double mastectomy. That was followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Her hair just now is growing back, and she’s buoyed by the likelihood for a full recovery.
Connie Martin sees the problem as a sign of God opening some very big windows. She said the move to Abilene was “meant to be.” When it became known late last year that the Martins were considering closing the restaurant, several Kansas and Nebraska town expressed interest in having a Brookville Hotel. a “complete and total stranger” – developer Richard Lietz of Abilene – gave the Martins five acres of land just north of Interstate Highway 70 in Abilene. That’s were the replica of the Brooville Hotel is under contruction.
Goodbye to Buffalo Bill
“I’m going to miss this place,” said Pat Webb, a waitress for 12 years at the Brookville Hotel. “It’s not going to be the same.” Connie Martin agrees. At Abilene, she won’t be able to say that Buffalo Bill slept at the hotel. He slept in the original that they are leaving behind on Brookville’s main street. Though the famous chicken dinners are solidly associated with the old hotel, Connie Martin doesn’t doubt that new memories and new traditions can be established in the replica they are building. To help cement that link, many of the old hotel fixtures – the round clock in the bank room, light fixtures, paintings, Blue Willow china, cooking equipment and even some of the doors – will be moved east.
“We’re taking everything that isn’t nailed down and some things that are,” Connie Martin said. Waitress Webb, 59, plans to see the replica off to a good start. She’ll serve chicken dinners in Abilene for a while before quitting to spare herself a commute from her home near Tescott. In some ways, Webb said, the new restaurant might be better. Being in a new building, it’ll lack the squeaky floors and short staircase found in the Brookville dining rooms.
Be glad when it’s over
Brookville Mayor Ralph Johnson said that although he’s not happy to see the town’s prime drawing card closed, he will be “glad the whole thing is over.” “I think people are getting tired of being asked what’s going on,” he said. Johnson is quick to point out that Brookville residents wanted a sewer system just as much as the Martins. In November, residents overwhelmingly approved a bond issue to install the community’s first sewer system. It should be in place in 2001.
Likewise, Johnson said, water line breaks that for years have plagued Brookville, also will be addressed, and the city officials hope to win a federal grant to help fund the construction. To Brookville residents, Johnson said, the Brookville Hotel, where chicken dinners sans drinks cost nearly $11, is a “special occasion restaurant.”
Janice Peterson, who with her husband, Phillip, owns a convenience store and coffee shop, Peterson’s Essentials, said the restaurant closing has been a big topic of coffee shop conversation. The locals, she said, are of a mind that the town will survive just fine without the Brookville Hotel. Part of that sentiment might be related to what Peterson said are hard feelings some Brookville residents have for the Martins because of attention they drew to the town’s lack of a sewer system.
“It’s not Brookville’s fault,” Peterson said. “They’ve tried for years to get (a grant), and now it is going through. Phillip Peterson said the hotel doesn’t generate business for Peterson’s Essentials, which sells milk and bread but not gasoline. “Mainly people come here asking for directions to the hotel,” he said.
Sunday, December 26, 1999
By: Amy Sullivan