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!
Frank Lloyd Wright's Creation!
Mason City, Iowa!
One would think if you wanted to sleep in the only remaining hotel built by the famous architect of Prairie School Design, you'd have to go to a big city. But, I guess it's fitting that this building style, inspired by the horizontal landscapes of midwest prairies, would be found in a modest town in north Iowa!
A Drizzly Stay
We arrived on a gray October afternoon. I so badly wanted to see the sunshine on the elaborate, yellow brick and terra-cotta facade. Then again, the blah weather made it easier to imagine the years when this building wasn't the spotlight of Mason City. By the 1970's, the city hardly knew what to do with it. It was almost torn down.
Back to Life
In 2010, the hotel reopened after complete renovation. The Wright designed City National Bank which was attached to the hotel, became the hotel's ballroom. On the Thursday when we arrived, the ballroom space was being set up for 8th Annual Iowa Independent Film Festival.
Was Frank Short?
I'm just under 5"3', so I didn't even notice. But after we checked in with Chaurice (who was the most delightful desk clerk we had during our 22-day road trip) Don just laughed at how claustrophobic he felt under the low ceiling. I had to google F.LW.'s height and he was indeed on the short side. I think he actually liked annoying people who had to hunch a bit in some of his low spaces!
This 2-story room behind the lobby made up for the cramped front desk area. It had once been the hotel's dining room, but was now filled with reproduction Stickley Mission-style furniture as well as Arts & Crafts style lamps and artwork. This lounging area was just plain inviting, especially compared to so many of the Victorian historic hotels we've tiptoed around! Not only was this space comfy, but the skylight made it refreshing. And the mezzanine above the lobby had a player piano tinkling away with some fitting tunes.
The 25 panels of skylight glass were all original. That's pretty lucky, since so many details in the building had been removed or lost over the years. Another window that looked out towards the park, showed hints of fall trees through the muted greens and yellows of the glass. Pretty lovely.
Hall on 2nd Floor
Our cozy room was perfect. Yes, it was a bit narrow, but it was nearly twice the size of the original. There are only 27 guest rooms now, but there were over 40 in 1910. No two guest rooms are alike in the hotel and this one was less than $100. It amazes me that you can have this experience for that price.
H P I
Cozy Room & Bath
We had 2 large square windows that looked over the hotel skylight. They also looked right into the windows on the opposite side of the hotel, so we mostly kept our shades down. I spotted more squares on the light fixtures and desk chair. In the bathroom we had my favorite honeycomb tile as well as more logo... on the shower curtains and super fluffy towels. Even the bath soap had a little FLW shape to it!
I fit right in with my book "Loving Frank" (Fictionalized Frank) as I sat in one of the many cozy areas. Don's 6'2" frame did not fit as he walked into the mezzanine area, which looks down over the lobby.
Hanging with the Gentlemen
In the basement we found Seth, in his vest and bow tie, tending bar at the 1910 Lounge. This area was once the Gentlemen's Lounge and I seemed to be the only woman, but no one kicked me out. We had a great time learning about area from Seth, who is a Mason City native.
Film and Billiards
It was a chilly, wet evening so we decided to stay put. In the lounge we chatted with Seth and Chef Kurt, who dashed in from the kitchen a few times to check on the football scores. We also learned about the Film Festival from a local writer and festival worker, who stopped in to take a break from setting up in the ballroom. Then, we chatted with another Seth, from Chicago, who had directed one of the films being shown at the festival. We didn't squeeze in a game of "billiards" which I'm sure wouldn't have allowed ladies back in 1910.
Up For Dinner
Good Morning Ladies
We had our complimentary breakfast in the area that was once the Ladies Lounge. The ladies had no billiards, but they had a balcony with a nice view of the grassy town square. I let Don join me for coffee, since I enjoyed the Men's Lounge the night before! I loved the square saucer and HPI napkin, but the breakfast was a bit skimpy. I don't think FLW would have been impressed. But then, maybe he wasn't a big breakfast eater.
Rain or Shine
The morning was as moist as the day before, but I'm so glad we didn't let the gloomy weather keep us from taking a walk. Not only did we see The Stockman House, also designed by Wright, but we strolled through the Glen Park Neighborhood. (Many architects who worked with Wright while building the hotel, were commissioned to build homes nearby.) And then of course, we had to walk across the "Music Man Footbridge" in honor of Meredith Willson, who was from Mason City. This town inspired Willson's "River City" when he wrote "The Music Man". Funny to picture Mr. W. being about 8 years old when FLW was overseeing the construction of our hotel!
Not only did the hotel seem too special to be tucked into this small town in Iowa, but the people didn't fit the Iowa image either. For that reason I was left feeling like I hadn't cracked the mystery. I have such a strong urge to go back and observe and learn more... especially on a sunny day!
Family Farm in Postville, Iowa
My Iowa Dream!
I lived my first 10 years in Iowa, but my father was a college teacher and I hardly have a memory of a farm. It has been my dream to go back to Iowa and stay on a farm!
When our car tires crunched over the gravel drive, the farm pets were first to notice. After a few kitty sightings and a sweet greeting by Rover the lab, we met our host Donna.
Donna and Rover took us to our barn. It was perfect!
Most barns don't have porches. But being a big fan of barns and a fan of porches, this was going to be my dream stay. Never have I stayed in a hotel, B &B or Inn, with a view like this! Ahhh, Cornfields!
This was luxury living as far as barns go. I've never seen a barn with kitchen and fireplace. It was homey-rustic, with everything we needed!
A Corny Bathroom
The wall around the bathroom door was made from old barn wood, showing some of the original red paint. Between the slats was yellow & green, corn-print fabric. I was glad to see a modern toilet and a shower curtain as nice as any Marriott's. But the sheep's water troth made for some amusing showers! The rectangular sink could have been 100 years younger than the desk it was built on. And all I could do was laugh at my image in the yoke framed mirror as I washed my hands!
Up in the Silo
The silo from the old barn couldn't be saved. But at least we knew this new one, which enclosed the spiral staircase, was plenty sturdy. The Dales thought of everything. They even had a small nightlight under one of the steps, to make it safe. The view from above was pretty fun!
We had 3 options for sleeping up in the loft. On one side there was a queen bed with picket fence headboard. Or we could have made our selves cozy under the quilt in the smaller "wagon wheel" bed. A cat walk away, was another sleeping area with a full sized bed.
Exporing Every Nook
Rain had been predicted, so I was thrilled that we had time outside! Don spent a little time with his uke and a sleeping, white kitty on the porch. I couldn't get over the corn! I wandered along the edge of the field until I got a good glimpse of some cows!
I packed a lot of silly stuff for this 22-day road trip and my "farm apron" was included. I had hoped I might get to do at least one farm chore during this stay. Donna did indeed humor me and she let me collect eggs with her. It was a hoot going in the coop and watching the hens feast on their dinner while we gathered up the brown eggs. Donna pointed out how the chickens like to crowd their eggs into 1 or 2 areas. "I think they spot an egg and figure it's a safe spot and then they all go for it. They end up getting cracked sometimes."
Eggs Put to Use
In the morning Donna carted a couple loads of breakfast goodies to our kitchen able!
There was a wooden box with dishes and placemats, drinking jars and cold chocolate milk. In the "cooler" we had all the hot stuff along with a list of where all our homegrown and homemade goodies came from!
There was an egg, potato and cheese bake in one skillet and crispy bacon in another hot dish. We had baked apples and a giant puff pancake served with pure maple syrup. All washed down with a a big pot of coffee!
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!