On the Road Again, Part I: Thornton House and Lansing, IA

Thornton House

Today the road has brought me to Lansing, IA.

How good it feels to say those words again.  I was badly in need of some downtime and a little research found me the relatively unaffected by COVID county of Allamakee in which lies the town of Lansing which is home to Thornton House Bed & Breakfast owned and operated by Frank Ebersold.

I enjoyed the scenic drive to Lansing, eschewing the interstate as much as I could and making a brief stop in my hometown of Fort Dodge to grab a quick bite to eat at Taco Tico before continuing to my stopping point of Mason City where I had a suite reserved at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites.

For my regular readers, you might remember that when I traveled to Scotland last year, I joined the Hilton Honors program in order to check into my first hotel sooner.  Shortly after returning home, I also joined the IHG loyalty program.  IHG owns a number of hotels, most prominently Holiday Inn, and that loyalty program has already paid dividends. 

With my travel bug neutralized for most of the past 6 months, I have been taking an occasional night to myself at a Holiday Inn.  Thanks to various promotions which have boosted my points and tier score, I have earned enough points for a couple of free nights, achieved Gold Elite status, and am 2 stays away from reaching Platinum status (a status that normally requires 40 nights to earn, but a special promotion is letting me do it in 5).  My stay in Mason City was my first night as a Gold Elite member.  As such I automatically earned 300 points as a gift just for staying and I was warmly welcomed to the hotel with a sign in the lobby.

My room was quite comfortable and spacious, but seems to be following the trend of suites being really big rooms instead of multiple rooms.  A nice soft king sized bed was the centerpiece of the room and led to a full night’s sleep for the first time in a while.

The hotel did offer a breakfast consisting of cereal, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches served cafeteria style.  I had a “bowl” of Apple Jacks and a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich along with some OJ while I watched the news.  I also invoked one of my benefits as a Gold Elite member and took a late checkout of 12:30pm so I could just check right into Thornton House when I arrived in Lansing.

It was a beautiful day for a drive and it seemed to go rather quickly due to the increased concentration needed to get to Lansing as one must navigate a series of back roads to reach the town. As I came closer to Lansing, I was stunned by the sudden transformation of the landscape into a valley as the hills grew in size and were covered by a lush forest.

I arrived in Lansing, a port town on the Mississippi River and also at the base of Mt Hosmer.  The town reminded me of a much smaller version of Eureka Springs, AR due to its incredibly hilly nature.

I found the inn, parked my car, and rang the bell and was greeted by Frank who gave me a socially distant welcome and gave me a little history of the house.

Thornton House is an Italianate Victorian mansion built by Alexander McMichael, a grain shipping magnate, in 1873 during a boom period in the local lumber industry.  Eventually the house passed into the hands of Dr. John H Thornton who, with his son, John W, became known as “the best medical team this side of the Mayo Clinic” and practiced out of the mansion.  For the next 120 years, the house was owned by a Thornton before passing into the hands of Frank.

Frank led me to the Grand Room which would be my headquarters for the next few nights.  The room consists of a bedroom and bathroom separated by a small foyer.  The bathroom contains a jetted tub while the bedroom has a full sized canopy bed with original or period correct furniture and overlooked by portraits of Presidents Pierce and Lincoln.

I made a quick exploration of the house before taking a walk down Main Street where everything and I mean, EVERYTHING, is located.  Gas, groceries, shops, restaurants, medical care, city hall, it’s all located there.

From there I returned to Thornton House where I puttered around for a while before heading back to Main Street and dinner at Milty’s.

Milty’s

I had been in the mood for a steak, but Milty’s seemed to be operating on a limited menu.  Instead I enjoyed a rather ripping chicken, bacon, and ranch wrap with a side of fries.  With the inner man satisfied, I went back to the inn where I spent a relaxing evening reading, organizing photos, and watching some classic game shows on BUZZR before enjoying a restful night’s sleep.

The next morning, I met Judith and Eric, who were also staying at the inn.  Positioning ourselves on opposite ends of the table and we took turns serving ourselves from dishes Frank had set up in the kitchen.  For myself, I enjoyed a delicious glass of triple berry juice and put together a plate consisting of a croissant, cheesy eggs (seasoned to perfection), sausage patties, and a homemade waffle which was quite light and fluffy.

Frank positioned himself on a nearby couch so we could share in some socially distant conversation which worked out surprisingly well.  With a satisfying breakfast tucked in, I took a drive up Mt Hosmer to the local park where I spent a half hour walking the trails and getting a couple of good shots of the Mississippi River and town.

From there I went back to the inn for a bit before visiting the nearby town of Harper’s Ferry at Frank’s suggestion.  Harper’s Ferry contains a Catholic church called Immaculate Conception which had been founded in 1848 by some Irish priests.  The land is known as Wexford, named after the village where the priests had lived in Ireland and the church, itself, is reportedly a duplicate of the church in Ireland.  A cemetery is also on the land and contains graves dating back to the same date as the founding of the church.  A very interesting visit for lovers of history.

Immaculate Conception-Wexford

After that I returned to the inn to write and rest for the remainder of the afternoon.

About 5:30pm, I walked down to the Main Channel for my dinner.  This is a local bar/restaurant and it would satisfy my craving for a steak as the Saturday night special happened to be a 10 oz sirloin with 3 grilled shrimp along with 2 sides.  As you may have guessed, I did select that.

I had asked for a house salad which proved to be surprisingly simple as it just consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and croutons with a bit of ranch dressing.  The fresh vegetables were a welcome treat and I crunched away while reading a new volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.

The main entrée of steak and shrimp was quite delicious and it must have been my lucky night as the chef slipped me an extra shrimp.  The steak was prepared just right and a little melted butter and au jus helped to bring out its flavor.  The service wasn’t the best as I was only checked on once at the end of my meal, but as I didn’t need a refill, it came out in the wash.

A little jaunt back to the hotel found me writing a bit more, selecting photos for the article, and enjoying a relaxing bath in my jetted tub.  And from there I read myself to sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was similar to the previous though we had sausage links, blueberry scones, and tomato and cheese omelets added to the menu.  Another satisfying meal and a long round of conversation with Frank made for a fine morning.

So if you find yourself in Lansing when you travel again, you’ll find some nice outdoor activities, a little antiquing, some history spots, and a fine inn and host at Thornton House.

Normally this would be where I sign off, but this escapade isn’t over quite yet.

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