#272 - Queen Wilhelmina Lodge
Notable Night Worthy?
The face of Queen Wilhelmina on the sign, was notable for sure! It greeted us before anything else, when we arrived at this State Park in west Arkansas.
I knew the Lodge at Queen Wilhelmina State Park was not historic. I expected a nice stay, but not a notable one. But our stay had enough history and quirkiness to make the Notable List. Here's a quick glimpse.
The Lodge in April 2022
We enjoyed the pretty drive that took us to the modern lodge, on top of Rich Mountain. 2,681 feet high!
It was cold and windy. I was glad to have sunshine when we stepped out of the car to look at the lodge. It looked nice after its 3-year renovation a few years ago. But not epic.
The First Lodge 1898
If only the original lodge had survived! This is how Queen Wilhelmina Inn looked around the time of the grand opening, in 1898. Rock and timber... rounded porches!
For just over a decade the 3-story lodge welcomed wealthy travelers on the KCPG railroad. The guests likely expected a luxurious stay, at a hotel named after Royalty. The inn was actually named in honor of Queen Wilhelmina, because many of the railroad investors were Dutch. The young Wilhelmina was crowned Queen, the year the inn opened.
This was the walkway beside the parking lot. This was also the view from the lodge's windows and porches.
Even in early spring with no leaves, the view was lovely.
From the lot, I spotted lots of windows and rocking chairs and porches. That was good.
It was kind of sad that there was no round porch anymore. Also sad that there was so much pavement between the lodge and the view.
Back in 1963, there was lots of grass where the paved lot sits today. These kids look pretty happy, playing on the stone wall and running on the grass.
This photo shows the totally rebuilt hotel, in 1963. The original inn had fallen into disrepair by 1910. Sadly the new inn lasted only 10 years, before a fire destroyed it. Sad thought, but a nice vintage photo. So many summertime kids having fun!
There were no kids when we checked in, on a weekday in April. Just a lot of oldster retirees... like us. Kids would have made this place a more lively. They would have loved this bear.
This sweet bear happened to be standing beside some of the original stonework, that was salvaged from the first inn. The current lodge was built in 1975.
We chatted as we checked in about the weather. Evidently we had arrived after 3 days of rain and mud. We got our room key and headed for the stairs, feeling lucky.
Near the stairs, I peeked at the spacious (and empty) lounge area. Again, I felt lucky. It's so nice to be able to travel in the off season. The open space wasn't exactly Old Faithful Lodge, but there were huge windows and lots of seating and no tourist crowds. The carpeted open space reminded me of something. What? I couldn't pinpoint.
I always keep expectations low (for room comfort) when we book at State Park lodges. But our room on the second floor was a nice surprise.
There was no historic charm, but I was impressed with the size and set up. We made coffee in the room at took it downstairs.
The space was still tourist-free, but a large TV was blaring on a back wall. I found the remote and muted it. Don and I found some scrapbooks on the table and settled in near the window to read up on more of the park and inn's history.
After a bit, a couple wandered in and stood nearby. The woman sighed then commented in a booming voice. "Just like being on a cruise ship!" Don and I chuckled at that corny comment as we gazed through the glass ourselves. But then I had to agree. That's exactly how the big open space felt. And when I looked out and ignored the cars, I felt like we were peering down from a ship's upper level... watching the wind whip at the clothes of a few guests wandering the decks below.
History or People Watching
The books were interesting, with history and photos. The far off scenery was nice. But the activity in the parking lot took more of our attention.
We enjoyed some people watching as cars pull up to unload. We studied them and wondered where they were from and if they could possibly be interesting. So many older folks in travel rumpled clothes. A few had dogs and I spotted a cane or two. I noticed binoculars and real cameras hangin on a couple necks. Most of the guests looked nerdy and dull and I was glad to not be on a cruise ship where we'd be forced to dine with them. Then I laughed to picture us. Man, I'm really not sure that we're any cooler than these people.
The Card Corner
Before long, one empty corner filled up with 4 couples. They spread out at a few tables, with a huge coffee maker and mugs and lots of snacks.
There was no booze, just coffee. But they were lively and chatty and sort of annoying as they slapped cards and carried on. They weren't much older than us and all were dressed in "workin' in the yard clothes". Don and I smirked a bit and finally admitted to each other. "You know. That looks like fun, traveling with friends." We figured they'd come up from the RV park to escape the cold for a while. They were harmless and entertaining.
Light Up That Fire!
Every time the door opened, I felt a gust and a chill. I finally asked at the desk if the fake logs in the fireplace could be started up. A sweet lady in "park uniform" was happy to oblige. She grabbed a cushion and headed over to the gigantic opening and removed the screen. Then she placed the pillow on the hearth so she could kneel and reach inside. (I was so tempted to photograph that!) There was a huge blast from some kind of exhaust fan. A whoosh and then flames!
We didn't get a lot of warmth from that gas fire, but we did gain some friends. Once we moved to the chairs near the fire, others started to flock. I've never seen a fireplace on a cruise ship, but it did feel like we were suddenly at some cruise social event, getting to know fellow passengers. Everyone introduced themselves and shared travel stories. It was odd and entertaining and curious. But it was hard talking over the loud fan. We didn't stay too long.
Exploring the Grounds
We made sure to explore the grounds before dark.
Down the hill we found an old putt putt golf course, near an old wall.
Not far from the golf course we found some old track and this fine engine.
I posed like a tourist and then headed across the street in search of something I'd seen in one of the scrapbook photos.
The Wonder House
This storybook cottage was not part of the original hotel property, but it has belonged to the State Park since 1958.
The Wonder House was designed by an amateur builder in 1931. Carlos Hill built 5 houses on Rich Mountain, but only this one is intact. This view of the front shows the uncut stone, found in nearby hills.
I was giddy over this thing! This side view shows the 2-part house was built on a sloping hill, connected with a breezeway. There are evidently 7 levels inside. The windows are all at different levels.
The "Wonder House" was built nearly a century ago as a vacation house! Oh how I wish you could rent the place now. I believe it's just a museum now.
The outside stairs made me wonder about the steps connecting all the levels inside.
The museum was closed so we didn't get to go inside to find out.
Posing in a Story
But, I was delighted to sit a spell at the top of those stairs and pretend I was in some fairytale. Hansel and Gretel maybe?
I loved the way the stone stairway wrapped around the rock chimney. I sat up by the little wooden door, waiting for some granny-witch or chatty-elf, to just let me in! No one came. Don and I let the cold wind blow us back up to the hotel.
By the time we reached the lodge, my cheeks were wet from wind tears. We freshened up and headed to the dining room before it closed.
First of all I kind of love the name. Queen's Restaurant! This photo was taken at 7am. When Don and I arrived it was actually too dark to enjoy the view.
I expected to be rushed a bit since most of the diners had finished and we were the last to be seated. But Stacy couldn't have been more welcoming. She brought us menus and promised we didn't need to hurry.
No surprise that there were no Dutch dishes on the menu. But I was surprised to see the price. $9.99 for the dinner special with 2 sides!
I ate more like a kid than a Queen and I was happy as can be about that. Chicken fingers, mashed taters and gravy... cole slaw and rolls! It was a treat!
Good Night Your Majesty
Don asked for some extra coffee pods at the desk and we headed upstairs.
I said goodnight to the bear. Don said goodnight to the Queen. Evidently Queen Wilhelmina never made it to Arkansas to see this place.
In the morning I peeked out the window and saw clouds, but headed downstairs with my camera... in case.
I opened the door and was blasted by cold wind. I wish it had been warm enough for coffee on the porch.
I glanced at the hummingbird feeders and knew I was getting old...
... when I thought about how entertaining it would be to sit in a rocker and watch those feeders all day.
I walked down a ways and saw the glowing pink sky in the east.
The wind and the sun blocking clouds sent me rushing inside for warmth.
I made it back to the room and peeked out the window to see a break in the clouds!
Sun! I raced back down and waved again to the desk staff and ran out to catch the sun before it disappeared again. It was a Royal Sunrise Surprise!
We were back on the road before 9, feeling pleased with our stay. What will I remember?
I'll remember the crazy wind and the pretty drive. I might forget about the curious guests we met and the fairly welcoming staff. I'll probably remember that the building didn't impress me much. But we really were perfectly content and enjoyed our stay.
I'm sure this is what I'll fondly remember the most. The Wonder House and the sunrise!
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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!