On a glorious Saturday morning, Ben VanKampen, flew his 1957 Piper Pacer from Newton to the little town of Beaumont deep in the Flint Hills.
He landed on the native grass airstrip, taxied down the paved road and stopped at the stop sign on Main Street.
VanKampen parked his airplane across from the historic Beaumont Hotel’s front door in a spot reserved just for airplanes.
Then he and his passenger, Jeff Hyde, went inside for breakfast.
The omelets at the Beaumont Hotel aren’t the only attraction, however
“It’s a neat destination,” said VanKampen, a flight test engineer at Bombardier Learjet. “It’s just kind of fun to taxi on a city street in your airplane. That’s unique.”
The Beaumont Hotel, built in 1879, is a popular destination for pilots and others.
Located in Butler County, the bed and breakfast is visited by motorcyclists, classic car enthusiasts, hunters, ranchers and others who stay overnight or come to dine in the 1950s-style restaurant – or dining room.
Kim Neves, who lives in Augusta, has worked at the hotel for eight years.
“It’s a very special little place here,” Neves said during a lull between breakfast and lunch.
Chris and Andrea Fraser moved from Naples, Fla., in early June to serve as the hotel’s innkeepers.
Chris Fraser saw the job opening in Trade-A-Plane, a publication about airplanes that are for sale.
Fraser, whose hobby is aviation, has a background in facilities management. His wife has a background in food service.
“It was an opportunity to move into a better position for both of us,” Fraser said.
He likes the airport and the people who fly in, he said. And he loves the history of the hotel and the town.
“That part is really cool, also,” Fraser said.
Aviation history buff and hotelier Steve Craig of Lawrence bought the hotel, which had closed, in 2001 and gave it an extensive renovation.
Craig flew into Beaumont in 1968 for the first time shortly after getting his private pilot’s license.
He’d been there a couple of times in the 1980s.
Over the years, the hotel changed hands a number of times since it was built.
When Craig heard it had closed, “I said, that’s really sad.”
Craig learned more about the history of the town and decided there was something there worth preserving.
“Sadly, it’s a town that was once vital and thriving and had something like 1,500 residents at the turn of the last century,” Craig said. “Now there’s maybe 40 residents give or take.”
Butler County required the hotel be brought up to current building codes. So its wiring and plumbing were redone. The number of rooms expanded from three to nine rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs.
Each room now has its own private bath.
“It was really in very substandard condition,” Craig said.
Craig also worked to get the hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The cost of the restoration was more than he expected.
It’s taken a while to get the word out about the hotel, but it’s been gratifying, Craig said.
“A lot of people seem to be really enjoying it,” he said.
Beaumont, settled by farmers and ranchers after the Civil War, is surrounded by farmland, and flanked by the Elk City Wind Farm with 100 wind turbines.
The town was the first stagecoach stop on a route between Fredonia and Wichita. The hotel was built in 1879.
In 1885, the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad, known as the Frisco, established the town of Beaumont as a major railhead.
In the late 1800s, Beaumont was a major shipping point for cattle driven from Texas and Oklahoma and carried by rail to cities in the eastern and western parts of the United States.
Steam-powered Frisco trains stopped in Beaumont to refill with water from the wooden water tower across from the hotel. The tower, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was replenished by ponds to the south.
In 1910, the cattle pens in Beaumont held more than 9,000 heads of cattle, Craig said.
The area has an incredible history, he said. “It deserves to be preserved.”
According to local lore, in 1948 a Wichita businessman wanted to fly to Beaumont to check on his cattle and asked the hotel to block the road so he could land, hotel information said.
Soon, the pilot told his friends, and it became a tradition to land and taxi onto the main street.
It also became a practice for the residents to check for airplanes on the streets when they were driving.
In 1953, the hotel was bought by a local rancher, J.C. Squier, who added the grass landing strip.
Charles Kuralt once featured the fly-in hotel in a segment on the syndicated program, “An American Moment,” which focused on small town America.
The hotel has drawn visitors from miles away.
Three years ago, a pilot flew all the way from Peru to Beaumont in his Piper Cherokee after reading about the hotel, Craig said.
“He was planning to stay one night,” Craig said. “He stayed four.”
Some changes are in the works to draw additional customers to the site.
Craig is working with the Kansas Department of Transportation’s aviation division to extend the 2,600-foot-long grass runway to as long as 3,000 or 3,400 feet.
While it would still be a grass strip, extending the airstrip would increase the comfort level of pilots with a little larger planes to land there, Craig said.
The hotel is also planning to add tie-downs, or anchors in the ground, for pilots to secure planes from the wind so they will feel more comfortable about spending the night.
And they’re working to add an RV park with hookups behind the town’s bank building.
Butler County commissioners have approved the design. Craig is hoping to open it in the fall.
“The RV park is something we are diligently working on,” Craig said.
Eventually, Craig wants to add a hangar so hotel guests can keep their planes out of bad weather.
“That would help facilitate our business,” Craig said. “But that’s a big expense. ... That won’t happen this year.”
Craig, a commercial property developer, has been involved in more than 120 hotel projects in 23 states.
The Beaumont Hotel will never make a lot of money, Craig said. “But it will never lose a lot of money. There’s some advantages to that.”
He gets more upbeat feedback from the Beaumont hotel than almost any other hotel he’s been involved with.
“I get more positive things out of this,” Craig said.