Bonus Material: Serving Up Love in Gainesville, TX
I first fell in love with the Harvey Girls when I saw Judy Garland's musical The Harvey Girls when I was a teenager. However, it wasn't until 2017 that I discovered there were Harvey Houses in Texas. As soon as I learned that, I knew I wanted to write a Harvey Girl story. But which Harvey House would I choose?
I selected the lunchroom in Gainesville for two main reasons. The first came when my research turned up an interesting tidbit specific to Gainesville. Unlike most places, where the women who worked as Harvey Girls were treated with the upmost respect, in Gainesville, many locals looked down their noses at the them. Due to Gainesville’s history as a rowdy cow town, many equated waitresses with prostitutes. Any woman who served food downstairs and kept a room upstairs must be a soiled dove, like the women who worked in saloons. Fred Harvey was known for requiring strict morality from the women in his employ, but even so, stereotypes are hard to break. So when I brought my heroine to the brand new Harvey Lunch Counter in Gainesville in 1902, I had built-in conflict already in place.
The next reason I had for selecting Gainesville, and probably the most significant, was the fact that the Harvey House and Santa Fe Depot have been very well preserved. Nothing makes an historical author happier than being able to walk the very halls that her characters walked. If you visit today, you can still see markings in the floor from where the lunch counter stood. The large, horseshoe-shaped counter dominated the room.
Not only was the restaurant are preserved, but I was also able to go upstairs to see the very rooms where the Harvey Girls lived. On the second floor was a narrow hall with 7 rooms for the Harvey Girls and a two-room apartment at the end of the hall for the manager. Two of the rooms were set up with furnishings from the turn of the century time period. They had iron bedsteads, trunks, washstands, a shelf behind the door with hooks, and even a Harvey Girl uniform laid out on one of the beds. The rooms were small, sparse, and functional, but each girl had a window and her privacy for when she wasn't working--which wasn't often. The windows of the rooms we viewed overlooked the tracks, and while we were there A TRAIN CAME BY! I felt like a had just stepped back in time.
Being able to see the layout of the depot and Harvey House in blueprint form and them being able to walk through the museum, helped my setting come to life in my mind. One thing that immediately struck me were how many doors the architect designed in the depot building. Every section had its own doors. The lunchroom, the pantry, the kitchen, the depot waiting rooms. And the way the stairs to the private quarters for the girls led up from the pantry. All these details made it so easy to add authenticity to my scenes as well as giving me ideas about how my heroine could get in and out of the building without being noticed.
Women worked as Harvey Girls for a myriad of reasons. Good pay, adventure, travel, and some, like my heroine, to escape trouble at home. Rosalind Kemp becomes a Harvey Girl to flee Texas and the past mistake that holds the power to ruin her future. But when the Fred Harvey organization transfers her back to Texas, to the new Lunchroom in Gainesville, disaster looms dangerously close.
Stumbling across love in Texas would be a disaster, but of course, that's exactly what happens!