Big Night in the Amana Colonies
Our hotel was built in 1862, when the 4-block town of Homestead needed accommodations for travelers arriving at the nearby stagecoach stop and train depot. At 20 years old, Homestead was then, the youngest of the 7 villages that made up The Amana's.
In 1862 the hotel opened with 15 guest rooms and one bathroom, all upstairs. The kitchen, dining room and private residence were downstairs. The hotel was probably pretty skilled at serving large groups of guests since at one time the Amana's had over 50 communal kitchens. The German immigrants, who made up the Amana Colonies lived a communal life, sharing everything from labor to food. There were no pay checks, children went to school 6 days a week and worship services were attended 11 times a week. Sounds like a fun place for a birthday celebration to me!
amazingly peaceful it still is, despite some weekend tourists. This was the view right outside the door.
We arrived at 6 on Sunday evening and headed into the little welcome area. Owners, Bonnie and Brian greeted us from behind the desk. Brian wore overalls and sighed like he'd just come in from a hard day's work on the farm. Bonnie laughed that it had indeed been quite a day. But they weren't exhausted by farm work. The Amana's had been celebrating Octoberfest all weekend. They were happily exhausted from all the tourism.
Bonnie and Bill are not the Zubers. The hotel is named for Bill Zuber who grew up in The Amana's and had a 19-year career in pro baseball. He and his wife bought the hotel in 1949 and operated as a restaurant until 2006. His old uniforms were on display behind glass and a tile floor near the kitchen showed an image of Zuber pitching.
Wagon Wheel Room
This room was added by the Zubers in 1961. It reminded me of my own family room in Grinnell, Iowa back in the '60's. Something about the paneling and lots of Americana... and games and TV! It was pretty cozy and welcoming, especially since brownie treats and coffee were up for grabs.
The whole interior felt more 1962 than 1862. There have been other more recent updates, but I kind of liked the odd '60's feel. It was easier to picture Dick, Jane and Sally roaming these halls than a little German girl with long braids and an apron.
Our corner room was on the second floor. It had a train theme going on, that would have thrilled the Birthday Boy about 50+ years ago. (I should have gotten him some railroad pjs for his birthday!) But l love trains and I love a theme, so I took it all in, from train books, to a framed map of rail lines, to lanterns, to a beautiful model train crafted by a local.
Trains at Night
It was very quiet after we got back from a German feast at Ronnenburg's that night. I think the hotel was actually full, but there seemed to be quite a few old-timers staying over, who turned in early. No TV noise or traffic sounds to keep us awake. Just a few soothing train whistles that fit the theme!
A breakfast buffet was served in the Wagon Wheel Room. Unlike this photo (taken the evening before) almost every table was taken. The old timers who went to bed early were up early, too. In fact I looked around and wondered where these folks came from. In the past, Don and I have met incredibly interesting and incredibly dull people at B&Bs. This was one of those times I was sort of relieved not to be sharing a big table with fellow guests, all talking about what fall crafts were purchased at the Octoberfest.
Don is talking to the Diane, who cooked the wonderful buffet. Diane was more delightful than dull and her food was excellent! She's looking a little serious here, because we just handed her our Ford Motor Cookbook from 1952. It had an illustration of "Bill Zuber's Restaurant" and a recipe for Obst Kuchen.
Breakfast and the Book
I was glad I kept the cookbook handy since Bonnie and Brian stopped in to greet folks. They were both pretty thrilled to see this retro book and asked to make photo copies. Who knows, they may be serving up that odd, rhubarb filled fruit cake before long!
As for the Colonies? I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea of our hotel being part of a German speaking community, 152 years ago. I'm already itching to go back and absorb all the history we didn't have time for!
On the 15th day of our road trip, Don and I made it to my old hometown!
Where to Stay?
Weeks earlier I searched online for a place to stay. I hadn't been back to Iowa since was 12 in 1969, so I had no idea. My memories of Grinnell had always been ridiculously Norman Rockwell, so I wanted a special place. When I saw the photo of this lovely Victorian B&B, I decided that would be as close as I could get to staying in my old house. (Not that it was quite so grand!)
Weather had turned cold and blustery by the time we arrived. We spent a few dizzy hours searching for places I remembered. My old yellow house had turned blue, my school was gone, my favorite candy store was boarded up... but I found my old church and favorite park and the old downtown still looked pretty sweet.
The Back Door
I kind of liked having the key to the backdoor. I felt like a college kids coming home for the holiday. The kitchen was warm and quiet when we entered. Linda had gone downstairs to finish some ironing, but had already invited us to help ourselves to coffee or drinks in the fridge.
Through the House
We carried our bags to the entryway and I peeked through the pocket doors to the parlor where an antique pump organ reminded me of our old home. I had another memory moment... my family had an old pump organ in the house on Summer Street!
We walked by the elegant fireplace and headed up the stairs, passing a colorful stained glass window that refused to let in the gloomy day!
I made use of the beautifully carved banister as I dragged my weary self upward. (After 15 days of 1-night stays, I was beginning to feel my age) The sight of our door with warm, dark wood and rounded frame was inviting.
Quite the Hall
Our door and about 4 others, opened to an airy hall with yet another fireplace, and more lovely antiques. Linda told us she would be heading home soon, but another couple would be staying the night. As I heard the floors creak under foot, I wished we'd had the place to ourselves. I wasn't in the mood for whispering and tiptoeing or even chatting with strangers. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was frustrated that there was no one in the entire town who wanted to share Grinnell memories with me. Even our hosts were from another state, originally.
Our Sweet Room
We didn't have the turret room, but we did have a cozy, corner room with an antique bed that surprisingly was as comfortable as it was beautiful. But I was a bit distracted by my homecoming melancholy. I wasn't absorbing all the incredible details. I had to remind myself to stop moping and start noticing!
I adored the pink chaise lounge chair and the Victorian lamp that had to be turned off for this photo... because the "beaded light" made me look like I had chicken pox. The bathroom was attached, which was a treat. You have to love a marble sink and wooden toilet with a funny push button flusher!
Morning at Marsh House
We rose early and tiptoed over the creaky floors past the Murphy bed, trying not to wake our neighbors on our way down to breakfast.
Easing into the Morning
We started with coffee, then Linda brought out the "fruit soup" and raspberry waffles. We had planned on a quick eat and run, but Jim ended up sitting down to join us and suddenly we began to find out how much we had in common with this quiet couple. We shared some Ann Arbor and University of Michigan memories among other things...
Guillermo and Carol
We expected to be gone by 9, but by the time our fellow guests came to the table, I was no longer in a rush. I finally found my connection! Guillermo and his wife had flown from California to attend his 50th Grinnell high school reunion. For the next hour we were eagerly swapping stories of Cooper School and its eerie basement and curious playground equipment. Both our fathers had been teachers at Grinnell College and we had ridden our bikes on the same quiet streets and had root beer in heavy mugs at the same A &W. It turns out Jim and Linda had lived in Grinnell long enough that they were actually able to chime in and add to the fun. I ended up with my computer at the table, sharing old scanned photos from Grinnell days.
Time to Go
Even though Don had offered up as much support and enthusiasm as a non-Grinnellian could, I had needed just 1 connection to the Old Grinnell... and I found it just before we left!
An old Flour Mill in Iowa
A Lucky Find
A Cold October Day
We arrived on Friday afternoon. The cold winds blew us right from the car to the Potter's Mill sign, swinging on an old piece of machinary. At a glance, the red and white wooden structure looked like a large house. If it hadn't been so dang freezing out, I would have stood there and studied the odd doors and windows. This was clearly no house. There were doors where houses have no doors.
We walked through a hefty door, that you would never see on a house. We found no lobby inside. It's a mill, after all. The lower floor of the mill had been turned into the "Flatted Fifth Blues and BBQ Restaurant". It smelled good.
There was also a lot or "mill stuff" decorating the limestone walls of the restaurant. There were wheels and chains and grinding things... the only thing I recognized were some bags of flour! (I should know a whole lot more about this kind of thing, because my Dad's family owned the Meyer Milling Co. in Missouri years ago.) We took a few minutes exploring, until our host, Mark arrived.
The Inn Area
Mark took us up in the elevator, which was a surprising luxury. The doors opened on the third floor to a cozy common area with a couch, rockers, table with checkers and more curious mill equipment, that I won't attempt to explain.
Mark almost seemed sheepish as he showed us our room. "We don't do lace," He reminded with a laugh. Did we look like people who expected room service? The curtains were about as sheer as lace, though. The north window was in view of the parking area, so we had to think twice before parading around in the nude!
Coffee and Chairs
There was heat in the room, but the very sound of the wind made us excited about making a little coffee with the Kuerig.
A Curious Bathroom
We had a rod and curtains, in place of a door to the bathroom. Once again we were chuckling at yet another hotel bathroom with privacy issues. (We've had our share) We did have a mighty nice tub, but no shower. And there was a step up into the bathroom, so we had to be cautious to remember that!
I love a view and we had a great one, looking down on Potter's Mill Creek. It faced the east, which might have offered a good sunrise, except the bluffs across the creek were pretty high and close... and there was no sun in the morning, anyway. Our north window had a view of the railroad bridge. We enjoyed the rumbling trains (with no whistle) at night.
We also shared some shredded pork served on fries. Both perfect for a cold night!
We spoke with Ron and Linda (pictured) and a couple others who gave us great tips for places to see in the next few days. And we chatted with Inn owners, Mark and Rachel who shared about their adventures of opening this place a month earlier.
I'm actually fine with that, but my clothes were beginning to get tight from eating on the road, so I wasn't up for a big sit-down breakfast.
We did manage to take in a few sights near the Inn before leaving town. It was well worth a stop at Bellevue State Park, just across the creek from the Inn. We found a great view of the town and the Mississippi, but a rather disturbing view of a few boys racing to get off the railroad bridge as a train approached, blasting its horn!
They managed to scramble off just before the train crossed. Then they were back on. So, in other words, there is excitement in Bellevue and the Mill area!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!