Today the road has brought me to Racine, WI.
It was almost exactly a year ago that I enjoyed my last normal B & B run when I visited Astor House of Green Bay, WI. So it seems apropos that my most normal run since the start of the pandemic would also take place in Wisconsin. My destination for this journey would be Christmas House Bed & Breakfast owned and operated by Pamela Deskins.
The trip couldn’t have started out any better. The weather was absolutely perfect and I managed to dodge the rush hours of both Omaha, NE and Des Moines, IA. I got to enjoy a meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, listened as the Iowa Hawkeyes delivered an absolute drubbing to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in basketball and arrived early at my first stop, Davenport, IA.
I had booked a junior suite at the Holiday Inn & Suites, but I didn’t know how good of a room it was going to be.
This was a very elegant Holiday Inn. I’d put it at 4 stars. Thanks to digital check-in, I was able to check-in the day before and merely had to pick up my key at the front desk. My room was on the top floor where I had a good view of the city and, while I’m not positive, I think I might have been upgraded to a full suite as I had a spacious living room, bathroom with a double sized shower and a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed.
I had a good rest that night.
I decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, the J Bar, for breakfast. Even had my diet not been limited by Lent, the breakfast buffet still would have been overpriced at $10 as it only consisted of a few items. I had some scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and a granola bar. The server did bring me a wonderful green salsa that added the perfect kick to the eggs and potatoes and the orange juice was mighty smooth.
At 11:15am I checked out, gassed up and continued the jaunt to Racine. My journey took me on the toll road that has taken me to Algonquin, IL on several occasions, but I was surprised to learn that all of the toll booths were closed. To pay, you need to go to the Illinois Tollway website and register your plate. Then the Tollway will eventually charge your credit or debit card.
Around the 2pm hour, I got off the interstate and started passing through small towns. I smiled as the towns seemed a bit more vibrant and enjoyed the vast farmlands and imagined what the leafless trees would look like in full bloom. Around 3:20pm, I saw the mint-colored Christmas House looming in the distance.
If this is your first time visiting my blog, you should know that I am a Christmas nut. It’s my favorite holiday and I feature a Christmas B&B review on my website each year. Thus, Christmas House called out to me with all the subtlety of the ringing of a chow bell.
I was met by Pamela who gave me a tour of the mansion before leading me to the Glam Suite which would be my base of operations.
The Glam Suite offers one plenty of room to stretch out and relax. The room’s mint-colored walls and off-white carpeting promote a calming effect. The room contains a small kitchenette with a fridge that contains complimentary water, a pair of comfortable red leather chairs, a large TV and a comfy king-sized bed with what felt like a memory foam mattress.
Once getting settled in, I started a more detailed exploration of the mansion.
Christmas House had been built in 1893 by Emily Baker, the widow of former Racine mayor Robert H. Baker, and one of the original “Big Four” partners of the J.I. Case Company, nowadays known as Case New Holland. The mansion has been home to some of the most powerful people in Racine’s history and also served as the women’s dorm for the St Luke School of Nursing for 35 years. It gained its name in 1987 when it began hosting the Christmas House for Cancer benefit which it did until 1995.
The house is actually a blend of two styles. It is built in the Colonial Revival Style, but follows the plan of a Queen Anne. It is also mammoth. This is easily one of the three biggest inns I’ve visited, yet it only contains 4 suites which allows for plenty of privacy. A Carriage House is also available for rental for even further seclusion.
And, yes, the theme of Christmas is prevalent in the mansion as the first floor contains Christmas trees, knick-knacks, decorations and a life-sized Santa Claus.
When I finished looking around the mansion, I took a constitutional around the neighborhood and soaked in the view of Lake Michigan. From there I returned to the inn where I relaxed for a bit before picking up some dinner from Red Lobster in nearby Mount Pleasant. I enjoyed some Salmon New Orleans with mashed potatoes and a Caesar Salad. After my meal, I spent a quiet evening watching a little TV and organizing photos.
Breakfast was a grand affair the next morning. An extra leaf was added to the table for social distancing and I met a truly charming couple, the Jacksons, from Bloomington, IL. We had some incredible conversation and I thank them for pointing me towards my next major B & B outing, Black Bear Manor of Ouray, CO, which I hope to do this summer after I’ve had a poke or two of COVID vaccine.
Pamela whipped up a delicious skillet of sunny side up eggs, sausage and hash browns along with cornbread crumble and Kringle, the famed danish pastry of Wisconsin. I also learned that Pamela has almost limitless energy and boundless humor. Pamela is not only extremely knowledgeable about the Racine area, but she is well known for her entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Aside from owning Christmas House, she is also a realtor and “Big Sister” for Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
She bought the inn in 2014 after it had been in foreclosure for 7 years and was responsible for over 70% of its restoration into the grand inn it is nowadays. To give you an idea of its disrepair at the time of Pamela’s purchase, the house literally had no roof.
For the first time in nearly a year, I actually managed to enjoy some local activities. I began with a long, leisurely walk through Petrifying Springs Park where the gurgling water of the streams provided some succor to the soul. I also had a phone call with my best friend, Josh, and some childhood memories were triggered as I saw some children enjoying themselves on classic playground equipment of slides, swings and merry-go-rounds.
After my hike, I visited a Kenosha, WI classic: Mars Cheese Castle. Admittedly, I originally thought it was a castle made of cheese. It is actually a store shaped like a castle that sells cheese, meats, clothes and old-fashioned candies and sodas. It even has a deli, restaurant and bar.
From there it was back to Christmas House when I did a little writing and took in an online worship service with Fr. Matt Barone.
When the service was completed, I was faced with a quandary. Did I want to have a very early dinner or wait until my normal dinner hour? Pamela had mentioned a local eatery called Kewpee’s, but it closed at 5pm. I thought about it and realized I wasn’t in the mood for a regular meal that night, so I went with the extra early dinner.
Kewpee’s is actually a Racine stalwart. There actually used to be a chain of them, but now only six are left and the Racine location is the only one in Wisconsin and it’s been operating since 1926.
The restaurant has the look of a fifties diner and is inspired by the famous kewpie dolls and there is a display case full of them inside. Being so close to closing time meant that there weren’t a lot of people inside so social distancing was an easy task. I ordered the double cheeseburger with the works, a side of fries and a Coke.
Not only does the place look like a fifties diner, it also has portion sizes to match with prices not that far behind. I personally appreciated the portion sizes as you get a great meal without feeling overstuffed. These are old fashioned burgers cooked fresh on a flattop grill and the fries are crinkle cut. Kewpee’s is also noted for its homemade root beer which I’ll make a point of sampling at some future date.
With dinner digesting, I returned to Christmas House for more writing, reading, photo organizing and some classic game shows on BUZZR.
Another great night of sleep led into a new day. Breakfast that day consisted of a pecan Kringle, strawberry waffles with whipped cream and cornbread crumble had sausage and egg added to it for quite the tasty melange. I had another satisfying round of conversation with Pamela and the Jacksons where I was introduced to the dancing skills of Pamela’s dog, Dewey.
This trip was just what the doctor called for and if you find yourself in Racine, make plans to stay at Christmas House. It’s truly as festive as the name sounds.
Until the next time. . .happy travels.