Col. Shalor Winchell Eldridge. A great deal of early Kansas history revolves around the name Eldridge. Colonel Eldridge touched Kansas life at so many points that the record of his individual experience might appropriately and without undue forcing be expanded into an illuminating history of the most vital events connected with the founding and formative period of the state.
Of the many New Englanders that came to Kansas at the beginning of the free state struggle none were more typically New England than Colonel Eldridge. He was born at West Springfield, Massachusetts, August 29, 1816, a son of Lyman Eldridge and a grandson of Elisha Eldridge. His grandfather served as an officer in the Revolutionary war. Colonel Eldridge was named for his uncle Shalor Winchell, who died while an American soldier in the War of 1812. Lyman Eldridge married Phoebe Winchell. The Winchells were of Colonial ancestry and for many generations were prominent in New England.
While he was a youth schools and educational opportunities were not ready to hand as in more modern times, but Shalor W. Eldridge showed even as a boy his marked individuality and acquired a close and discriminating knowledge of men and affairs which, taken with his indomitable character and progressive ideas, made up for a lack of literary opportunities. When only twenty years of age he became a contractor on the Connecticut River Railroad. Subsequently he fulfilled contracts for the Worcester and Nashua Railroad in Massachusetts; the Keene Railroad in New Hampshire; the Hartford, Fishkill & Providence Railroad; the Middletown and Berlin Branch and others.
Coming to the far West in the fall of 1854 Colonel Eldridge bought from Gen. S. C. Pomeroy the American House at Kansas City. This house became the rendezvous of many free state men. While occupying it Colonel Eldridge and his family had many thrilling adventures. The hotel proved a haven of refuge for Governor Reeder when that dignitary escaped from Kansas in 1856. In 1856 Colonel Eldridge leased the Free State Hotel at Lawrence, and converted it into what was then a first class hostelry. In May of the same year it was destroyed by the pro-slavery faction.
Following this raid upon Lawrence Colonel Eldridge was sent to Washington with a memorial from the free state men, and while in the East he attended the first republican national convention at Philadelphia, when General Fremont was nominated as presidential candidate. He was also a delegate to the Buffalo convention, where he was appointed one of the national committee and made its agent for the Kansas emigration. Under his efforts and guidance many men were assembled and conducted to Topeka, where they were captured and put under guard by the United States troops. These emigrants, however, succeeded in burying their cannon, and later Colonel Eldridge with a company recaptured the other arms from the Government officers at Lecompton.
Colonel Eldridge rapidly rose to position and power in early Kansas politics. In 1857 he succeeded in influencing acting Governor Stanton to call the newly elected free state Legislature in order to secure a vote on the Lecompton constitution. While others were also active in this work Colonel Eldridge went in person to Lecompton and returned with the proclamation.
Colonel Eldridge with his brothers in 1857 built the Eldridge House at Lawrence. This structure again became an object of marked hostility on the part of the pro-slavery element, and in the Quantrell raid of August, 1863, was destroyed. In 1857 Colonel Eldridge established a daily stage line from Kansas City to Topeka, Lawrence to Leavenworth, and Independence, Missouri, to Weston, Missouri. While the Civil war was raging he served six months as lieutenant in the Second Kansas Volunteer Infantry. In 1863 President Lincoln appointed him a paymaster in the United States army and he filled that office until he resigned about a year later.
After the war numerous other distinctions came to him. In 1868 he was appointed quartermaster-general by the Kansas Legislature. In 1869 he was elected county commissioner of Douglas County, in the same year was elected city marshal of Lawrence. In 1865 he rebuilt the Eldridge House at Lawrence and since then it had been the leading hotel of the city. In 1867 he built the old Broadway Hotel in Kansas City, now the Coates House, and in 1871 the Eldridge House in Coffeyville, and in 1872 the Otis House at Atchison.
Though a believer in the principles of fraternity, Colonel Eldridge was undenominational. Having attended the birth of the national republican party, he remained loyal to its precepts and policies the rest of his life. Colonel Eldridge died January 15, 1899.
His first wife was Mary R. Norton, who died March 5, 1869, the mother of seven children. For his second wife Colonel Eldridge married Caroline Tobey. The names of his children include: Mary S., widow of Col. Oscar E. Learnard; Josephine P., who married Rev. F. M. Ellis and died in 1871; Alice, Mrs. William B. Learnard; and Eva, Mrs. L. M. Matthews. The other children died in infancy.