Chain Hotel in the Blog?
When Don and I travel, we shy away from chains, because we like surprises. Hotel chains are predictable and don't usually make it into the Notable Nights Blog.
I just love the idea. Refurbish an old building in an urban area. Fill it with a luxurious hotel, an upscale restaurant and a modern art museum. Along with that, throw in lots of curious stuff!
The first of its hotels opened in 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky. Soon they will have 11 of these artsy, city hotels. They aren't in hip NYC or trendy Austin, but in states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee. Love that.
When Don and I started planning our road trip through Arkansas, we were thrilled to learn that Bentonville had a 21c hotel. But, the hotel was in a new building, with no history. There would be no city vibe. Blog worthy? We decided to find out.
Before we got curious about the hotel, we were interested in the Arkansas town... which is known to some, as the Birthplace of Walmart.
Whether you're a fan of Walmart or not, the Walton name has a lot to do with Bentonville history. I've actually been sort of intrigued with Sam Walton, since my history prof in the '70's spoke of him...
Downtown Bentonville looked charming, when we arrived last November. It was easy to imagine locals strolling down the sidewalk, back when Sam and his wife first opened Walton's 5 & 10 Variety Store.
70 years later, the original 5 & 10 Store is still open on Main Street... and there are over 50,000 residents!
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
61 years after Sam Walton opened his store, his daughter founded Crystal Bridges. The town began to explode. Like many, Don and I were lured to Bentonville, because of the museum.
The 217,000 square foot museum opened in 2011 and began attracting tourists quickly. Obviously, they needed more hotels.
Now... About the Hotel
Don and I were eager to experience a little of this now popular town. We had one day & night, so we hit the museum early. (Wonderful!) Then we headed to the hotel, about a mile away.
As we approached, the hotel looked clean and modern against the blue sky. I hoped there would be some good surprises in the somewhat stark building.
The old downtown area was bustling with festivities, leading up to the town's tree lighting ceremony. We were lucky to find a parking spot on the street, across from the skating rink. Wish we'd had time to skate!
We rolled our bags down the walk. As we got closer, the brick and glass building started to look more intriguing. We passed a lineup of windows, jutting out on the sidewalk. Odd!
Before reaching the entrance I spotted our first art surprise.
A sweet bee sculpture was clinging to the brick. He looked like he was heading up to the sign, that wrapped the corner. "The Hive Restaurant" Glad he pointed it out.
We walked past the entrance so I could take a quick hotel pic, without people around. A little later, the area was swarming with crowds, enjoying festivities.
The Fleetwood Cadillac limousine was a fun surprise. The green penguins, perched on the roof added a little extra amusement! They looked like they were guarding the place.
A chained off space beside the building, held a towering sculpture called, "Orange Tree". The balls and hoops tempted me to play, but it was obviously meant to be enjoyed with eyes only.
Two very friendly valet guys opened the entry doors, as we came through with our bags. They made us feel like we were entering a gracious old hotel.
The lobby looked nothing like a gracious old hotel. The airy space was more art gallery, than lobby. The registration desk was a simple table with stools and computers and a very welcoming staff.
Don checked us in and I checked out the art. I was drawn to the boats that floated along the white wall.
When I stepped closer to examine each piece, the art became eerier. Each boat felt like it was from a different dream. I really liked them, but I hoped I wouldn't dream about them.
Across from the desk was a snaking, couch. The divided gray pieces reminded me of cushy dominoes. They seemed ready for me to trigger some action, with a little tap. At the end of the curvy lineup was a treadmill... which was part of an art installation and not for running. Was the couch art? Should I sit on it?
Two years ago, Don and I stayed at another 21c, in Kansas City. We knew a bit of what to expect. The hotels all have permanent art galleries, as well as traveling exhibits that rotate through their hotels.
What a shame that the current rotation exhibit in Bentonville, was the same one we saw in Kansas City! I recognized most of the thought provoking pieces from the "Refuge" collection.
"Sudden Gust of Wind"
Before heading up to our room, I peered down this hall. I could see the narrow windows, that we had passed earlier on the sidewalk.
A glance at the walls and ceiling, made me feel like a sudden cyclone had just busted out all the window glass. It looked like the wind had scattered a huge pile of papers! Those "flying" pieces of paper, were really 400 pieces of metal.
Clearly, our hotel didn't restrict art to the galleries. We passed a light fixture, that was a work of art. It didn't need a spotlight, since it was one.
While we waited for the elevator, I noticed movement behind us. The wall-like structure, suddenly seemed aware of us. Our movement sent the fan-like discs whirling. The shadow on the wall also came to life! Hard to capture in a still photo.
4th Floor Walls
We asked for a room on an upper floor and got our wish. We headed up to the 4th floor, which is the top floor. That's high for Bentonville.
When the elevator doors opened, we colorful surprise.
Even though I was excited to get to our room, I had to stop and stare at the wall. I was fascinated by the green design, that surrounded the emergency info panels. Were those faces? The patterns below, looked like intricate rugs, perfect for an elaborate dollhouse!
Who's in the Hall?
We turned down the hallway and I spotted one of the hotel's mascots!
I crossed fingers as we headed closer. Please be next to our door! Yep! He seemed to be guarding our room, #405.
Fun With Penguins
I love the 21c Penguins! Each hotel has their own colony. Guests are encouraged to interact with them.
I welcomed our Green Friend into the room for a visit. We checked out the view and looked through some books.
The whole penguin thing started as a temporary exhibit with the opening of the first hotel in 2006.
People fell in love with the red penguins in Louisville, so they stayed. Now, all the hotels have them. I loved our green guy. He looked perplexed when I talked into the receiver, which plugged into my cellphone. (another room perk)
Don and I met our first penguin at the Kansas City hotel. They had sky blue penguins there, which seemed to all disappear into guest rooms, later that evening. Staff claimed that the penguin kidnappings were due to the large number of "kids" staying that night.
That memory kept us from hogging our green guy for too long. After a while, Don took him to the elevator and faced him towards the doors, so he could properly await new guests. An hour later, he was riding the elevator...
More Room Perks
Our room wasn't cheap. Over $300. in a small town, is a lot to me. But the room was hip and spacious and scattered with animals. There was a hen pillow and dog pillow and a mighty fine hippo collage.
In the bathroom, there was another critter. The rubber ducky in the shower would have preferred a tub... like me. But the bathroom's sleek design, glowing mirror and soft robes made up for the lack of tub!
The hotel's Hive Lounge was super crowded, so we enjoyed our own happy hour with a view. I'm sure the lounge wouldn't have been as generous with olives, as Don!
We sat near the window and let it entertain us. We peered down at the orange, "Hoop Tree" and out towards the water tower. Later that night, we gazed down at the lit trees, on the square.
Around 8:00, we headed down to the restaurant and surrounded ourselves with honeycombs, bees and vines.
I also missed the meaning. I read that there was a serious element, to what I thought was whimsical art. The hidden treasures were more sobering than fun. (hidden skulls etc.) The bees looked cute, but there was a message, reminding us about current concerns, with honeybees and environment.
Waiting for a Table
We were told the wait could be 30 minutes for a table, so I made a quick dash while Don did the waiting.
I trotted down a block, with my camera and caught the last of the festivities. The live music had ended at 8, but Santa was still seated in his sleigh outside of Walton's. The trees looked like they wore glowing hairnets! I felt like I had stepped into a Hallmark Christmas movie!
I returned, just as a table opened up in the back corner. It was a fun spot, for taking in the beehive art and watching diners interacting with penguins.
Jessica was our very energetic server. Her black lipstick, colorful glasses and stories, made everything more entertaining. We worked up an appetite while Jessica raved about the chef's specialties.
I was cautious about saving room for the special treat, that I'd observed other diners enjoying.
Cotton Candy With Our Friend!
I've been to a restaurant or two that offered free popcorn, but never cotton candy! I was giddy when Jessica brought our complimentary bags to the table.
As we nibbled, I saw the table across from us leave. I asked Jessica if she could grab their penguin for us. She whirled around and delivered the green guy right to us. Then when I asked her to take our picture she got serious. "Oh we need to stage this!" She cleared our dirty dishes and moved our friend to a better spot. Oh I do love to play at dinner!
The rest of our evening was lovely and we headed out happy the next day.
Our hotel could have been floating at sea and we'd have been content exploring and relaxing inside. But the location in Bentonville was a huge plus. My memory will be a combination of our hotel, the colorful town square and of course the Crystal Bridges Museum.
But let us not forget the penguins! I was afraid I might tire of the fun, but no. Yay for green penguins!
Over the years, Don and I have done some exploring in the Missouri Ozarks. We only learned recently about the town of Hollister. We were excited when we heard the small town had an historic hotel.
That's because there wasn't much to talk about. By the 1960's tourism had fizzled in the old resort town.
Back in the Day!
It was just this past year that Don and I both became aware of the town. It was my grandmother's "A Line A Day" diary that mentioned Hollister frequently.
In the early 1920's, my grandmother Daw, was a young woman. For a number of years, she jotted notes in her little red book about her daily activities. I was most intrigued when she talked about the long weekends she spent with her sister and friends in the town of Hollister. She never mentioned Ye English Inn, but she wrote about swimming and picnicking and she used the word camp a lot. I wondered about this river resort area, with all its clubs and camps.
England in the Ozarks
Don was equally curious, so in November we headed for Hollister, to spend a night at the inn. The winding drive through the Ozarks reminded me of childhood trips, riding through "hillbilly country" in the station wagon, with windows down...
But when we arrived in Hollister, we saw no cedar shacks or wild west facades. All the buildings on Downing Street were stone and timber. The little English Village faced the train tracks, almost like an Elizabethan version of Silver Dollar City.
Hollister got their first post office in 1904, about the same time Daw and her family took the train to the St. Louis World's Fair. There were no trains or tourists in Hollister at that time.
Hollister was a remote town when the train depot opened in 1910. William Johnson was the realtor who predicted a boom in tourism and built the English style hotel, 2 years later. In 1913 it was decided that all the buildings on Front Street, should have half-timber exteriors. The street name changed to Downing in 1963.
This vintage photo shows what passengers would have seen around 1912, when their the train pulled into the Hollister Depot.
The Bank of Hollister was on the corner next to the inn. The hotel only had two stories then. The words on the window said "English Inn Hotel". Maybe the "Ye" came later. I know the "Olde" didn't get added until a decade ago.
Folks can't do their banking on the corner anymore. The bank closed in 1934.
However, I could have stopped in and had my hair and nails done inside the cute little building. Sadly, many of the shops past the hotel, were not open.
By the 1920's, tourism was booming in Hollister. The hotel expanded to 3 floors and a dining room was added. Tourists would line up on the sidewalk for Sunday's meal, served on white tablecloths.
I'm not sure if Daw ever enjoyed a Sunday meal at the inn. She did mention going to some church revivals, though. I so wish I could find old photos!
Today, Downing Street Pour House Restaurant & Bar occupies the space on the right, under the awning. No lines, but the place was hopping by evening.
In We Go!
I was excited to step inside, since the website photos kind of confused me. I needed to be convinced that the stone fireplace and timber accents were original.
At a glance, the interior stonework did have sort of a stage set feel. But the chunky limestone rocks were solid. The lobby matched up perfectly with a vintage photo from over 100 years ago.
What a crazy design, with all the curves and primitive stonework! Evidently there were some fun things built into the rock. I'm afraid I didn't find the fish and ship, in the stonework. I should have asked.
I snapped more pictures while Don checked us in. From the entrance, the stairs seemed to disappear into a hole in the ceiling.
When I walked past the stairs, I could see that the steps led to an s-shaped balcony. There were beams in the ceiling and stucco on the upper walls. None of this looked like a turn of the 20th century hotel, in Missouri.
Flood of 1943
Across from the stairs there was a mark on the wall, to show how high the water rose in the flood of 1943. Another photo showed the owner paddling a canoe in the lobby.
The town and hotel had already been suffering from a decline in tourism. Frequent flooding and The Depression didn't help. Sadly, the popularity of car travel lured tourists to other places. The hotel closed in 1951.
A quick peek at some adjoining rooms, made me see that the space had been remodeled in recent years. We asked our chatty host a few questions.
She didn't know much of the hotel's early history, but she knew the inn was purchased in 2010, by a writer named Janet Dailey. We learned that she died a couple years after opening.
Janet Dailey had an appreciation for the hotel's history. She and her partners renovated and reopened in 2011. As we climbed the stairs I thought about what we had learned an hour earlier from another local, in the coffee shop.
As we reached the lounge area on the second floor, I wondered about the hotel's eerie past. The local woman told us there had been 2 deaths in the hotel and that she had been asked to help with a visiting ghost hunter team. Yikes.
Up to Third Floor
Don and I headed up to the next floor, even though our room was on the second. This was the "newer" addition, but it felt older and creepier.
The curling stairway took us up to a hallway, with a thick archway and dark red painted walls.
Let's just say that both deaths occurred when guests died peacefully in their sleep... way down that hall... away from our room.
We booked "The Buckingham" room, which was tucked into the corner of the second floor sitting area.
The red and brown decor was a little kitschy, but I was all for it. I'm glad Ms. Dailey and her crew did not come in and gut the place. I like to visualize the past. Plus, swanky hotels have swanky rates.
Don and I usually pick lower priced rooms when booking, but we could afford one of the hotel's bigger rooms.
We had ample space, with robes and reading lamps... and lots of history, for just over $100. And how about that red carpet!
There was a ceiling light with a hidden fan and a floor heater if needed. There was a TV, but we didn't use it. We did make use of the luggage rack and the bench at the foot of the bed. Nice perk for people who live out of suitcases!
A Room in the Old Part
I was glad our room was in the front of the older section. In the exterior photo, our 2 windows can be seen on the left.
I loved having a set of chairs and windows looking down, over the train depot.
It was just November, but things were starting to look festive.
I was glad to have a window in the bathroom as well.
It was Friday night, so we made good use of the adjoining restaurant. The tables were all filled with what appeared to be locals at 6:00.
Don and I grabbed seats at the bar. We were happy the place seemed to be popular.
Even though he was super busy, Adam took good care of us. He also had some interesting trivia about the history of Table Rock Lake. He was much more entertaining than the guy with lame jokes, sitting next to Don. No photo of him.
We ordered dinner at the bar. Onion soup, salad, burger... all delicious. I had a good time studying the old parts of the bar... and doing a little people watching through the mirrors.
Coffee & Fire
After dinner, we got an Irish Coffee and shared it by the fire.
We flipped through old scrapbooks with hotel history and photos.
Checking on Things
Throughout the evening, I had to check on things repeatedly. Now and then I dashed upstairs to peek out our window.
We had a great view of the Branson Scenic Railroad, when it came through and stopped a couple of times.
I also had to step outside and check on the Christmas decorations. There was a lot of activity with Santa and Elves, when the train stopped. I'm not sure what that was all about!
And I had to check on the weather. Those are big raindrops, not snow. Snow would have been nice.
We slept well and heard no train whistles in the night. I wouldn't have minded.
In the morning we rose early and grabbed coffee, just outside our door. There were a few food options, but we headed off early to explore.
Wandering in Hollister
The town was quiet on Saturday morning. We had a nice walk and met a nice man and his dog. Here are some photos from the morning and the day before.
We found some old houses up in the hills and we found 230 steps that children once climbed, to reach the school. We found a closed antique shop and a park. I wish we'd had time to explore Turkey Creek or White River. That's probably where Daw cooled off in the summer.
We stayed in a British style inn, with gables and stone and timber... but we were in the Missouri Ozarks. That's unique right there.
Most of all I loved feeling connected to the area, through my grandmother. I so wish Daw was still with us, so I could ask her questions.
Just yesterday I called my dad in Springfield and asked him what he knew of the town. "Hollister!" He answered, "We used to stay in cabins in Hollister when I was a kid." What!? Next time we visit Missouri, we'll take Dad as our tour guide!
Rustic Luxury in the Ozarks
In late November, Don and I enjoyed the scenic drive towards Big Cedar Lodge. We both chuckled to see the yellow "Bass Pro Shop" logo, above the sign.
I wasn't sure about this. I like a little luxury now and then and I'm always game for rustic. But I'm not keen on a gimmicky combination. I've always questioned this resort, created by Johnny Morris, 30+ years ago. Would it be like staying in one his 70+, mega stores?
I liked the idea of a lodge, but I hardly needed a resort. I liked the idea of staying a night in the Missouri Ozarks, but I didn't care that we'd be conveniently close to touristy town of Branson.
Then, Don found reduced winter rates and I was suddenly game. It could be a fun stop on our Missouri road trip. It might not make the Notable Night list, but the off season prices convinced us to check the place out.
Okay, I'm Excited
We followed the road, hoping to find the registration office. With lodges and cabins scattered over thousands of acres of property, it was mind-boggling.
The drive was pretty, even if we'd mostly missed the fall colors. That would have been spectacular. But lucky for us, Big Cedar had decorated early for Christmas. The kid in me started getting excited.
After passing over a bridge or two, we spotted two white buildings. We could also see a glimpse of Table Rock Lake behind.
Was that an enormous Cedar tree, to the right of the road? I believe there was a star on top of that gigantic tree!
Old or New?
As we approached the Welcome Center, I wondered if this was one of the old buildings that was saved and refurbished, when the property was bought in 1987. I liked knowing Johnny Morris appreciated old. I also liked hearing that Morris' first business was selling fishing tackle from his dad's store as a kid. He was an Ozark boy!
The white, welcome center was pretty and classic, but not historic. They did a darn good job, if I couldn't tell.
The lobby was gigantic, with an amazing mix of rustic wood & stone. I spotted an upside down canoe, hanging near the skylight.
The center of the grand space was filled with a twinkling, winter display.
Above the snowy scene, was a soaring cast-iron chandelier. I spied fish and tree branches and deer. It was like searching for Hidden Pictures in my childhood Highlights magazine!
We were greeted by a friendly woman at a massive, lobby desk.
I stood back and just stared at the textured wood, with panels of metal art. It was hard to believe this was all crafted in recent decades. Usually you have to go to historic lodges like Yellowstone, to find such large and well-made pieces.
I love traveling off season. On a Tuesday in November, we seemed to have the place to ourselves. I wanted to come back later and sit in this corner of the lobby, with lake-facing windows and stone fireplace.
We did return to the lobby later, but found a different spot.
We enjoyed the leather couch after the sun got lower. Just a bit of light illuminated the upper stained glass.
The lobby also held a Lincoln Log table, with cute built in seats! A nice family, kindly let me join in for a bit!
The Worman House
Soon after we checked in, we found two of the original vacation homes built by Mr. Worman and Mr. Simmons. They were the wealthy Missouri men who bought 300 acres near an arm of the White River in the 1920's. That was decades before Table Rock Lake existed. The area was known as Big Cedar Hollow.
The Worman home was a lovely stone and stucco house. The stained glass windows were gorgeous in the afternoon light. I assume the Carriage House next door, was also original.
Simmons Log Mansion
We found the old Simmons' home, closer to our cabin. It now houses the Devil's Pool Restaurant.
I couldn't find a vintage photo showing how the "log mansion" looked, when it was the Simmons' resort home in twenties and thirties.
In the 40's or '50's?
I did find a photo that showed the other side of the building, in later years.
This photo was taken after Simmons and Worman sold the property in 1947.
It became Devil's Pool Guest Ranch, after a pool, lodge and stables were added.
Today the restaurant looks over a curvy pool with no diving board... and no bathing beauties. At least not in November.
The log exterior was somewhat hidden behind decks and glass, but we could see the same narrow chimney, visible in the old photo.
Spring View Lodge
We wandered around the pool and spa, then peeked at the lodge next door. It was a fun surprise to find historic lodging from the 1940's.
The website didn't talk this up, but if we'd known this log lodge was historic, we'd have booked our night there. I wonder who stayed here in the '40's? Hunters, fishermen, families?
Our Little Cottage
We booked one of the duplex cottages, across from the lodge. It looked old, but I couldn't find any info about when these were added.
We were excited to see the stone chimney and firewood, ready for burning.
The cottage interior was pretty sweet. The knotty pine reminded us of some of the dusty and musty cabins we've stayed in, over the years! But we didn't spot a cobweb or catch a whiff of mildew.
It could have been a little creepy sleeping beneath a deer head, but I was in the "when in Rome" spirit. The taxidermy, antler chandelier and fox fur made it feel like an old hunting cabin. The fish on the lamps and drawers, also fit the theme.
The bed was as comfy as it gets, with the linens and Pendleton blanket. The earthy, lodge furniture was well made. Actually, I guess a real hunting cabin would never be like this!
The biggest surprise was finding a lit Christmas tree next to the fireplace.
Later that evening we moved the Old Hickory style chair aside, so Don could make a fire.
We got into the comfy hotel robes and enjoyed tree-shaped ginger cookies, that were waiting for us... along with a recipe card.
The bathroom was worthy of 2 photos. I soaked in the Jacuzzi tub and took in all the features. Even the smoke detector was worth noting. It was cleverly hidden behind a metal, leaf-shaped decoration.
Everything was pretty top notch in our little bathroom from bead board to the vanity, to the Old Hickory mirror. Only issue... a very startling jacuzzi cleaning system, with a piercing sound that made me leap in the air!
Don and I loved not having to drive anywhere. It took 1 minute to walk to dinner. First we checked out the Buzzard Bar, in the lower level of Devil's Pool Restaurant.
The tables were full (unlike photo) when we arrived. We sat at the bar for a bit, but it was loud and the chatty man next to us, wanted to talk about nothing but himself and hunting...
Devil's Pool Restaurant
We graciously slipped away with our drinks and headed upstairs to peek into the main dining room. The restaurant was full of guests, but nice and roomy and much quieter.
There was a wait for a table, so we headed to a different bar, connected to the restaurant.
The beautiful bar near the cozy fireplace, was totally empty. We ordered some tasty pulled pork, salad and potato soup. We dined and chatted and wondered more about the history.
What We Learned
We got a few questions answered by staff, but mostly the internet helped us piece together some of the mysteries of this huge place.
This beautiful area in the Ozarks was once home to the Osage Indians. Supposedly they were the ones who gave the name Devils' Pool, to the deep spring that was once on the property. In 1958 the river was damned to create the lake and Devil's Pool pretty much disappeared.
Church and Bridge
Looking at the map of the entire resort was mind boggling. It was easier to just absorb the buildings and pathways near our cottage.
I don't believe the little church and Devil's Pool Bridge were old, but they were built nicely, into the landscape.
We didn't get down to the marina to see the boats, but we saw this one, with Santa.
Even if we'd been staying a week, the thought of so many options sort of wore me out.
It's nice that they offer so much for those who care, but my favorite part was just wandering. The best part was walking after dark, with a chill in the air and a zillion lights.
Those Christmas lights made me a happy kid... instead of an eye-rolling teenager. It's easy for me to play travel snob. I'm too cool for a mega resort. But, luckily there was lots that pleased us.
We slept well in our woodsy cottage. In the morning we got coffee at the Truman Cafe. What's the history with that sweet building?
We took our warm drinks to the lobby and enjoyed a little Christmas decor before checking out.
Our one night at Big Cedar was full of little surprises.
Most of all I loved discovering lots of little bits of history about the property and learning a little about the "low-key billionaire" who created this resort. Our one night was worthy and notable!
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!