A B & B Sojourn

Marsh House

Marsh House

Twas the day before spring

And I had an itch

To travel the road once more

And hoped for no hitch.

Cheesy verse aside, I did once more yield to the call of the road.  This time I was heading to Galena, IL which bills itself as the most beautiful city in America.

Night 1

As I knew this would, more likely than not, be my last B & B outing until the summertime, I wanted to do something special.  So I decided to turn my visit into a B & B sojourn.  In order to have more exploration time in Galena and to kill two birds with one stone, I drove half of the trip on the first day.  I ended up stopping at the town of Grinnell in Iowa so I could visit Marsh House.

Grinnell was actually a surprising little city.  I was expecting a traditional small town, but this place was quite vibrant.  It had a bustling main street, a nice movie theater, a community theatre, and a wide variety of restaurants.  I soaked up the sights of the pleasant little burg and soon found myself at the doorway of Marsh House.

I was greeted by Linda who gave me a brief tour of the place.  I was struck by the elegance of Marsh House.  From the decanter of sherry by the front door to the period furniture throughout the home, I felt transported to a bygone time.  Linda led me to the Prairie Bedroom before leaving me to my own devices.

The Prairie Bedroom.

The Prairie Bedroom.

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That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

That sherry sure hit the spot after dinner.

I spent a few hours relaxing before heading out to dinner at the Frontier Café.  It was a quaint establishment and I took a seat at the corner where I ordered a Cowboy Burger that came with a cup of chili and French fries.  The burger was quite delicious, flavored with tortilla chips, bacon bits, and fresh jalapenos.  The chili was tasty enough, but was rather thin and watery.

I returned to Marsh House where I prepared and slowly sipped a sherry.  After an afternoon of driving, I was ready for a long, hot bath and a movie.  Unfortunately, Linda had forgotten to include any soap and shampoo in the bathroom, so my hopes for a bath went poof.  Right before turning my phone off for the evening, I received a call from Dave who was one of the owners of the B & B I would be staying at in Galena.  Apparently there had been an emergency and he would not be available for my 1pm check-in the next day, but would be in at 4pm.

With that news, I settled into bed for the night and enjoyed the solitude.  You see, I was literally the only person in the inn as even the owners did not live on property.

Day 1 & Night 2

The next morning I went downstairs for breakfast where Linda had prepared a vegetarian meal for my Lenten sensibilities.  I enjoyed a delicious fruit parfait, followed by a feta cheese omelet with a side of fried potatoes seasoned with garlic, and a blueberry muffin.  Linda apologized for too much garlic on the potatoes, but I assured her there was no such thing.

I read the newspaper as I ate watching my NCAA bracket go down in flames due to the upsets on the first day.  I polished off everything except the muffin which I decided to feed to the birds.  After breakfast, I asked Linda for some soap and shampoo so I could get cleaned up.  I returned Dave’s phone call where he told me that someone would be able to meet me at 1pm so I could have a base of operations while I explored the town.

I performed my ablutions, settled my bill, and got into the Chrismobile to complete my journey to Galena.  However, do get a room at Marsh House if you happen to be in Grinnell as it was a jewel in an oasis.

Bernadine's Stillman Inn

Bernadine’s Stillman Inn

I arrived at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn, owned by Dave and Bernadette at 1pm.  I called Dave who said Christian would meet me at the front door.  Christian gave me the nickel tour and led me to my room, the Royalty II.  After exploring the inn and snapping photos, I began to explore the town.

The Royalty II

The Royalty II

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Galena is an extremely hilly city, so get ready for a workout as you navigate the terrain.  My first stop was the visit the Grant home which happened to be right across the street.  Ulysses S Grant had lived in Galena where he worked for his family’s leather goods store.  Prior to the Civil War, Grant rented a modest two story home for $100 a year.  Due to his service during the Civil War, a group of wealthy citizens got together and gifted him with a permanent home.

Ironically, Grant did not get to spend a lot of time in his home as he had to be away a lot to wind down operations in the aftermath of the Civil War, then spent 8 years in Washington D.C. as President, and toured over 30 countries after his term of office expired.  Grant’s children decided to gift the home back to the city.  Oddly enough, while it is a nice house, it is fairly modest in its own right.

Grant's home.

Grant’s home.

Grant's dining room.  This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

Grant’s dining room. This is the only room in the house that is exactly the same as it was when Grant and his family lived in the home.

After visiting the home, I began touring the city.  Galena calls itself the most beautiful city in America and there may be some argument for that.  This city is littered with historic homes and bed and breakfasts.  Some of these buildings were shipped into the city just to beautify the place.

Ulysses S Grant

Ulysses S Grant

Belvedere Mansion

Belvedere Mansion

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I wandered down to Main Street and discovered they have a rather bustling economy.  Numerous restaurants and shops made up the main drag.  My eye caught a sign called Root Beer Revelry and I decided to visit the establishment.  The sign was quite truthful as the store sold nothing but root beer in all varieties and all shapes and sizes.  I indulged in a root beer float.

I returned to the inn for a little bit, but went back downtown to have dinner at the DeSoto House in the Green Street Tavern.  I enjoyed a grilled salmon sandwich and then went to the lobby where I continued my forays into the supernatural by taking the All About a Ghost Tour, guided by Steven Rupp.

Steven works at the Galena library and has accumulated quite a bit of knowledge about the city.  It ended up being a personally guided tour as I was the only who showed up.  Another couple seemed interested, but left to get some cash and never returned.  Could they have been. . .spirits????  Nah!

It was a pleasant evening for a walk and Steven shared all sorts of tales about the city.  It was more history and less mystery, though there were a few tales about the supernatural peppered throughout the night.  The most interesting tale was when a businesswoman contacted Steven and asked him if he had ever heard about a haunting in a new house.  He had to confess that he had not.

The businesswoman had rented a newly built house in Galena for a weekend so she could do some shopping in town after a seminar.  After the seminar, she was putting her feet up in the rental home when she happened to look towards the bathroom.  She saw a little girl staring into the bathroom, her back to the businesswoman.  Suddenly the girl’s head turned to face the businesswoman and just the head.  The body stayed still.  Then she went into the bathroom where she disappeared.  Steven was unable to discover any stories about the area, but theorized that old homes may have been demolished to make room for these rental homes which is why a ghost could be in a new home.

After the tour, I walked back to the inn where I had the best night’s sleep I’ve experienced in quite a while.  I didn’t wake up during the night and didn’t budge a muscle.

Day 2 & Night 3

In the morning, I was finally able to meet Dave and Bernadette.  Dave and I had been exchanging phone calls over most of Friday, but never had the chance to meet until breakfast that morning.  The repast began with a cream and peach yogurt sprinkled with pumpkin flaxseed granola.  Superb!!  After that, I elected to have a ham and cheese omelet with a side of turkey bacon and some cinnamon swirl toast.  The omelet and bacon were perfect, but they forgot my toast.  But that was okay because I was full from the other items.

Galena Trolley Tour

Galena Trolley Tour

I spent most of the morning writing before heading downtown for a trolley tour.  I was a little taken aback by the $19.50 price tag, but the tour would last for an hour.  I had a good time seeing some more of Galena’s beautiful architecture and learning something of Galena’s unique history.  In its heyday, Galena was the richest city in the country due to a lead rush.  In fact, 90% of the lead used in America is from Galena or the nearby area.

The conductor/tour guide also had a terrific story about how Ulysses S Grant came into the Presidency.  There was a powerful political family known as the Washburnes and Elihu Washburne badly wanted to be President, but would not be elected because his family already held powerful political positions which would make people be unwilling to vote for him.  Instead he and some friends decided to find a quiet, shy man they could propel into the office as a proxy.  They decided to support Grant as he was riding a tidal wave of popularity.  Grant was elected into office and he gave Washburne the position of Secretary of State.  However, Washburne had underestimated Grant’s backbone and integrity as he refused to govern the way Washburne wanted him and bounced him from the post after 11 days, through he did appoint him as a minister to France.

When the tour ended, the group was given a coupon for a free small popcorn at the American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor.  I decided to get a little snack and was hoping I could get an old fashioned ice cream soda, too, but the dispenser was broken.  I ended up returning to Root Beer Revelry and enjoyed another root beer float.

I returned to the inn to relax for a bit and then headed to St Michael’s for worship services.  It was a particularly good sermon from Father Reese who talked removing the “I” or emptying ourselves for Jesus and why the cross offends.

After a nice service, I headed over to Gobbie’s for a bit of dinner.  The food at Gobbie’s must be amazing because the wait was unbelievable.  If I wanted a table, I would have had to wait for 45 minutes as there were 21 people waiting.  I ended up taking a seat at the bar and ordered the gyro platter with a Greek salad.  This was probably the tastiest gyro I have ever eaten so I definitely recommend a visit to this eatery.

Once I had finished eating, I went to the P.T. Murphy magic show where I met two new acquaintances, Ken & Cindy of Davenport, IA.  This was an intimate performance.  The theater can only hold about 24 people, so all of the illusions and tricks are performed up close and personal.  P.T. Murphy is an excellent magician and performer with a sharp sense of humor and a well developed sense of improvisation.

Yours truly even got involved in the act.  At one point, P.T. Murphy asked the audience if anybody had a $50 bill as he was dedicating the trick to Ulysses S Grant.  Nobody had one, though one audience member was reluctant to part with a $100 bill.  I offered up $20 which P.T. Murphy had me sign on Jackson’s forehead.  Then I folded up the bill a number of times and placed it into an envelope.  P.T. Murphy then brought out two other envelopes with similarly folded pieces of paper.  Then he mixed up the envelopes and labeled them 1, 2, and 3.

P.T. Murphy asked me to select an audience member to pick an envelope so I picked my new friend, Cindy, who selected 2.  P.T. Murphy then proceeded to burn the other 2 envelopes.  He opened number 2 and iniside was a white piece of paper.  He carefully unfolded it to reveal the message, “Oops”.

Then P.T. Murphy asked me to bring over a box that was sitting in the corner.  He gave me the key and I unlocked the box and inside. . .was another box.  P.T. Murphy gave me the key to that box which I unlocked and inside. . .was a paper bag.  Inside the paper bag was on orange.  P.T. Murphy cut the orange in half and in the center was my signed $20 bill.

This was truly one of the most enjoyable events of my project.  If you find yourself in the Galena area, get a ticket to this show.  Afterwards, I returned to my room for a well deserved rest.

Last Morning

I had awoken at what I believed to be 6:30am according to the clock in my bedroom.  Since breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30, I just decided to putter around, relax, watch the news, repack,  and take a long shower.  After 90 minutes, I decided to go online to check the news and discovered that it was actually nearly 9am!!  My clock was an hour slow.

I threw on some clothes, quickly cleaned up, and made a speedy appearance in the dining room.  Today’s menus featured lovecakes (heart shaped pancakes) infused with cinnamon, banana, and/or blueberries, cinnamon swirl toast, a spinach quiche (with or without sausage), and linkers (sausages) or turkey bacon.  I opted for cinnamon lovecakes with the sausage and spinach quiche, turkey bacon, and cinnamon swirl toast (which I did get this time).  Once more it was a tasty meal with some delightful conversation.

With the end of breakfast came the end of my little sojourn.  Galena is a fun little town and my only regret was similar to my time in Abilene, KS as I came a little off-season.  There is so much to do here, but you need to come during the May-October season.  But there was more than enough to keep me occupied, interested, and entertained for the weekend.

And if you’re in the Galena area, get a room at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.  You’ll enjoy some great food and a most entertaining host and you just may have a bit of fun, educational or otherwise.

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Rivercene Plantation: A Most Mysterious Mansion

Rivercene Plantation

Rivercene Plantation

I started this project to share the incredible tales of inns and their towns, but I think I am going to be hard pressed to find a tale to match that woven by Rivercene Plantation, owned by Donn Upp and Dr. Joe Ely.

It was an atypically warm day in February as I answered the call of the road which would be bringing me to the dual cities of New Franklin and Boonville.  New Franklin is the home of Rivercene Plantation while Boonville (a mere 500 feet away) is a historical town of forgotten significance.

I actually made it into the region much earlier than planned due to basing my drive time on Mapquest’s estimates.  I’ve concluded that Mapquest estimates are clearly made by someone who drives about 30 miles under the limit.  In any event, I puzzled over how to spend my extra time and passed a sign suggesting I visit historic Blackwater.  Why not?

So I made my unexpected side trip and passed through the microscopic town (the population is only 199) and noted that it did have the feel of a bygone era.  The main drag actually seems more like an old west town.  I quickly said hello and good-bye to historic Blackwater and made my way to the historic site of Arrow Rock.

Now I was expecting Arrow Rock to be, well, a rock.  In actuality, it is a pioneer village covering about a mile and a half.  Tours are actually available, but are very limited during the winter months.  But I was able to amuse myself with a little jaunt around the village, snapping a photo here and there until it was nearly time to check in to Rivercene.

As I said earlier, Rivercene Plantation is a hop, skip, and jump from the town of Boonville and is located just beyond the Boonslick Bridge which crosses the mighty Missouri River.  The mansion, itself, is on a very secluded acreage.  I bounded up the stairs and turned the old fashioned doorbell key and was soon greeted by Donn Upp.

Donn is not only one of the owners of the mansion, but he is also an author of horror novels.  He is also, without question, one of the most energetic people I have ever met and a raconteur par excellence.  Donn led me up to Cora’s Room which would serve as my base of operations for the next couple of days.  I was floored by the sheer massiveness of the room.  Easily, the largest room I have ever stayed in.  For an avid reader like myself, I especially appreciated the sitting area by the gas fireplace.

Cora's Room.

Cora’s Room.

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After being left to my own devices, I quickly settled in and discovered a history of the mansion in my room.  And, trust me, this mansion is chock full of history.  The house was paid for by Matilda Clarke Kinney, the second wife of Captain Joseph Kinney (founder of Kinney’s Shoes and a steamboat magnate) after her husband gave her a wedding gift of $50,000 to build her dream home.  Construction of the house began in 1864 and would be completed in 1869.  Rivercene Plantation served as the Kinney’s summer home until Captain Kinney’s retirement, at which point they relocated to the mansion permanently.

Aside from the history of the mansion, the folder also contained Donn’s story of how he became the owner of Rivercene and the many ideas he has for the place over the coming years.  One of his most intriguing plans is what he calls Ridgecliffe Manor.

Ridgecliffe Manor (set to begin in 2016) is going to be a mystery event unlike any other.  Essentially, the guests are going to get to live one of Donn’s novels and the groundwork is actually going to begin next month with YouTube videos, a Facebook page, and a website.  Characters will be introduced and people can get to know the story before getting dropped into the middle of it with Ridgecliffe Manor.  From listening to Donn, Ridgecliffe Manor sounds like it will be a combination of interactive theatre and a top flight Hollywood production and I will certainly do my best to attend one of those events.

Speaking of mysteries, Rivercene Plantation has an unsolved mystery of its own.  In 1895, Nobel Kinney, the son of Joseph and Matilda, died under mysterious circumstances when he fell over the second floor balcony and landed on the 8th and 9th steps of the main staircase.  The truth of what happened never left the house.  Nobel was the favored child of Matilda who mourned herself to death over the next year.

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The mystery of that night hangs over the inn to this day.  When Donn and Joe were preparing Nobel’s room to be rented out, strange things happened from the start.  The shower would spontaneously turn off and on.  Temperatures would go from one extreme to the other.  Donn said there was a sensation that nobody was allowed to use that room.  The room is not available for rent.

The home has been visited by paranormal investigators who say that the place is a hotbed for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena).  So if you are into ghost chasing, chances are you’ll want to visit this place and Donn will have some stories for you.

After Donn’s tour, I made the walk into Boonville to do a little exploring and then decided to get some dinner.  I had read of a restaurant called the 87 Diner which claimed to have “The Best Darn Cooking in the County”.  Well, I certainly had to put that to the test.

I arrived at the diner and it was packed!!  That certainly seemed to be a testament to the cooking.  I managed to find a table in the corner and was soon presented with a menu.  Nothing flashy.  Just good old fashioned comfort food.  I went for a turkey club and got it in an amazingly short amount of time considering how busy things were.

I can officially say there is some credence to the 87 Diner’s claims.  This was the best club sandwich I had ever eaten.  The bread was toasted just right, the bacon was firm, but chewy, and the turkey was the freshest I think I have ever tasted.  Definitely get a meal here.

I returned to the inn where I spent the rest of the evening organizing photos and enjoying the adventures of Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman burglar, Arsene Lupin, on my Kindle.

After a good night’s sleep I made my way downstairs to breakfast and met the other owner and chef, Dr. Joe Ely.  It was a fabulous meal due to both food and the company.  The inn was fully booked, so there was a large group to converse with and the food couldn’t have been better.  Mixed fruit, pecan cinnamon rolls, and a breakfast casserole fleshed out this excellent repast.  After 2 hours and buoyed by a good meal, I headed outside to begin a historical walking tour of Boonville.

The Grand Dining Room

The Grand Dining Room

As I’ve said, Boonville is a city of forgotten historical significance.  The Civil War plays a big role in Boonville’s history.  Heck, one battle was fought in the front yard of Rivercene Plantation.  The city is loaded with historical buildings such as the famed Kemper Military School which became defunct back in 2002.  Part of the campus has now been transformed into State Fair Community College.

Do you enjoy being outdoors?  If so, then take a walk on the Katy Trail.  This is a 225 mile hiking and biking trail.  Given that it was a blustery day and I had no food and water with me, I skipped the trail and settled for the 10 mile historical tour.

About halfway through the tour, my camera batteries died, so I finished the tour and then headed back to the inn, hoping to get back out later to finish my photography.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make it back out as the sharp wind and massive temperature changed caused a whanging headache so I rested in my room until it was time for worship.

I attended Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church which was very elegant, for lack of a better word.  It just seemed to possess a unique quality.  What made it better was that you could feel Jesus’ presence all throughout the service.  The deacon, who was an excellent speaker, gave an awesome sermon about the power of touch (both God’s and actual contact) based off the story in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus heals the leper.  It was the type of service that makes you feel like you’re floating 5 feet off the ground when the service is done.

Once services ended, I headed over to The Palace for some dinner.  Once again I had found a restaurant that was crammed to the rafters which is a good sign.  The place was so full that they actually had to makeshift a table for me behind the salad bar.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich which filled the cavity nicely.

From there, I headed back to Rivercene where I joined other guests and Donn in the parlor where we talked into the night about a variety of subjects.  About 10:30pm, I dragged myself up to my room where I crawled wearily into bed.

Breakfast the next morning featured a fully loaded table of guests as well as a repeat of yesterday’s morning meal though the sausage in yesterday’s soufflé had been replaced with spiral cut ham, plus Joe had prepared some orange rolls.  I chatted amiably with my new acquaintances, Tim and Christina, over the meal and about my future projects.  Donn appeared and announced that snow was set to begin falling, so I polished up my meal so I could finish the article and hit the road.

Due to its history and mystery, I would rate Rivercene Plantation as the most intriguing inn I have visited for this project.  If your journeys should bring you to this region, spend a night here.  You will hear some amazing stories, get some history, enjoy the company of a master storyteller, and taste some excellent cuisine.

Walking Into History: Abilene, KS and Abilene’s Victorian Inn

Abilene's Victorian Inn

Abilene’s Victorian Inn

So it was on an overcast and gray day that I found myself once more answering the call of the road.  I was headed to Abilene, KS, the home of former President, Dwight D Eisenhower, and Abilene’s Victorian Inn, owned and operated by Jay and Adrian Potter.

I felt like the Henry David Thoreau of the highway because of the solitude of my drive.  I was the only motorist on the road for long stretches of time.  Since there wasn’t much in terms of scenery, I had lots of time for thinking and rocking out to the shuffled up tunes on my MP3 player.  About 1pm, I thought that I was ready for some lunch, but no restaurant appeared on the horizon.  By 2pm, I knew I was hungry and decided to stop at the first place I could find.

Luckily, I had just entered the town of Clay Center, KS and found a Wendy’s.  What I expected to be a quick lunch break ended up being an early start to the adventure.  While I munched my burger and enjoyed a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, an elderly gentleman laid his cap down on the chair across from me and politely asked how my day was going.  I told him my day was going great and the gentleman headed to the counter and ordered a drink.

He then sat across from me and asked if I were a local.  When I replied in the negative, he said I had that look about me.  I chuckled softly and the gentleman started asking me where I was heading.  I handed him my business card and told him about my project.  We began to talk and I learned his name was Francis and that he was retired military.  Francis was a fount of knowledge about the city of Abilene and its neighboring cities, telling me a great deal about the history of the area.  After a half hour of chatting, we warmly shook hands and I continued on the road to Abilene.

I arrived at Abilene’s Victorian Inn at 4pm and was pleasantly greeted by Adrian.  She brought me into the gift shop (yes, there was a gift shop) and checked me in.  Adrian then gave me a tour of the inn.  There is a whole lot of house to explore and all of it beautiful.  Aside from the spacious suites, there is a good sized front parlor with a splendid chess set for anyone interested in a game.  The living room is very cozy with a large gas fireplace and a piano.  The dining room was well stocked with cookies, teas, cocoa, soda, and snacks for the guest.  Most interesting was a piano in the front corner.  Adrian explained that the piano had once been owned by Nat King Cole who had actually visited her parents back in the day and had played his signature song, “Mona Lisa”, on it.  I felt honored to touch such a piece of musical history.

Adrian then led me to the Eisenhower Room, my home for the next couple of nights. I loved the rich blue color of the carpet, the large comfortable bed, and the semi-private balcony.  In fact I’m sitting on it right now while I write, people watch, and soak up the scenery.

The gift shop at Abilene's Victorian Inn

The gift shop at Abilene’s Victorian Inn

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The Eisenhower Room

The Eisenhower Room

This piano was once owned by Nat King Cole

This piano was once owned by Nat King Cole

My semi-private balcony

My semi-private balcony

Dinnertime soon arrived and I decided to give Mr. K’s Farmhouse a try.  This restaurant is off the beaten trail and it actually is in a farmhouse.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the restaurant.  The experience was a bit of a disappointment.  Despite the restaurant not being very full, I was forgotten about moments after being seated.  After noticing that I hadn’t been served for 10 minutes, a kindly lady at a nearby table came to my rescue when she walked into another room and found a server for me.

I opted for the house’s specialty, steak strips.  The meal began with a very tasty soup which I believe was cream of potato.  It had a nice zip, was creamy, and the bacon bits were a nice touch.  The steak strips were a bit of letdown, being a touch on the bland side.  I finished my meal and returned to the inn where I spent the rest of the night working on a mystery game before retiring.

The next morning I awoke and was more than ready for breakfast.  I was especially looking forward to this meal because Adrian Potter has a great reputation for her culinary skills.  She has even written a cookbook of the inn’s meals which is available for sale in the gift shop.

Let me assure you that Adrian’s reputation as a chef is well deserved and then some.  Adrian started the meal off with an ambrosia parfait that consisted of cream, granola, bananas, blueberries, and the freshest, sweetest cherries I have ever tasted.  After that came Adrian’s specialty:  Coconut Praline Pecan French Toast served with a side of baked bacon with strawberries and sweet cream.  The breakfast looked so wonderful, I almost didn’t want to eat it, lest I ruin the presentation.  Needless to say that feeling lasted for all of a second before I began savoring the cuisine.

Braced by that terrific meal, I decided to explore the town.  I meandered through the business district for a bit and then made my way to visit Seelye Mansion.

Seelye Mansion

Seelye Mansion

Seelye Mansion was the home of Dr. Seelye and his family.  Dr. Seelye created a pharmaceutical empire that lasted from 1898-1938.  The empire came to an end when the FDA told Dr. Seelye that he could no longer make the medicine that brought him his wealth.  The house was once known as the Mystery House because nobody was ever allowed inside.  This all changed when Dr. Seelye’s two daughters, who remained in the mansion until the end of their days, befriended a young college student who became the caretaker of the estate.  In the eighties, the sisters began offering tours of the house and it is well worth a visit.

The house is in pristine condition and many of the home’s original items are still present.  I learned that Dr. Seelye’s wife and I share the same great love for Christmas.  Mrs. Seelye always loved decorating the house for the holidays, usually setting up 80 Christmas trees!!  That tradition is still maintained today as each room had a Christmas tree or 3.

Mrs. Seelye loved Christmas.  Note the figurines above the fireplace.  It was a magnet powered toy made by Thomas Edison that played 23 different Christmas carols.

Mrs. Seelye loved Christmas. Note the figurines above the fireplace. It was a magnet powered toy made by Thomas Edison that played 23 different Christmas carols.

Aside from the rich history and festive nature of the mansion, one of the more interesting exhibits was the bowling alley in the basement.  The old fashioned bowling alley was not only the predecessor to modern bowling, but it also was the predecessor to skeeball.

All of the visitors got to try their hand at the alley.  The rules for this version of bowling were that five paddles were set at the end of a long alley.  You used an oversized skeeball and threw it down the alley.  The best shot would be to take out two paddles.  You had three shots and if you could knock out all 5 paddles, it was a strike.  Otherwise your points were based off the number above the paddle you hit.  I scored a 4.

The alley is also a very valuable antique.  A collector had visited the mansion last year and offered one million dollars for the alley!!  The foundation turned down the offer.

The Seelye private bowling alley

The Seelye private bowling alley

I spent a couple of hours inside the mansion and then started walking back down the street to visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.  As I walked down the street, I decided I should get something small for lunch and I passed a restaurant called Taco Grande.  I stepped inside and the place was packed!  I took that as a good omen for the food.  I ordered a couple of tacos and found that feeling to be right on the money.  These were some of the tastiest tacos I had ever eaten.  If you’re just looking for a quick bite and you’re in Abilene, stop here.

Once I had finished my quick lunch, I continued on to the Presidential Library.  The museum was interesting, but I was a bit surprised as it seemed more concerned about the history of World War II and the technological advances that took place during Eisenhower’s lifetime than the life of Eisenhower.  If you’re a history buff, I would definitely recommend a visit.  I just would have expected more focus on Eisenhower’s personal history as opposed to the history of World War II.

What I found more appealing was Eisenhower’s boyhood home which exists on the grounds.  This house is tiny.  Maybe 7 rooms, at most.  The tour only took 5 minutes and I just tried to imagine how this house managed to contain the Eisenhower’s 4 energetic sons.

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Dwight D Eisenhower

Dwight D Eisenhower

Eisenhower Museum

Eisenhower Museum

After finishing my tours, I returned to the inn where I organized my photos.  From there, I attended services at St Andrew’s and then went to the M and R Grill for my supper.

By all means, have a meal here.  If you like sports, there are plenty of TVs around the restaurant, each on a different game.  I ordered a Kansas City Strip sautéed with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers.  After enjoying an excellent salad, I supped on a truly excellent cut of meat.  My steak was cooked to perfection and the corn on the cob served on the side hit the spot.

As I enjoyed the feeling of a full stomach, I returned to the Inn where I began working on this article and relaxed the night away.

This morning I got cleaned up and headed downstairs for another one of Adrian’s fantastic meals and some more stimulating conversation with the guests.  Today’s breakfast began with a goblet of grapefruit dusted with powdered sugar and topped off with a cherry.  That sugar really did wonders on the grapefruit as it reduced its acidity and brought out its sweetness.  From there, the main course was a frittata that had an alphabet of ingredients such as egg, turkey sausage, tomatoes, and several different kinds of cheese to name a few.  On the side were some small links of turkey sausage and a light, fluffy, buttery biscuit.

With another tasty breakfast under my belt, I went to my balcony to put the finishing touches on this article and get ready to return home.

In closing, let me say that Abilene is the best town I have visited since I started this project.  The people here are so friendly, especially the hospitable Jay and Adrian Potter.  There are a lot of historic homes to see.  There’s a lot of history to experience.  There’s just a lot to do.  I loved it so much that I’d like to return in the summertime so I can experience the seasonal attractions and more of Adrian’s fine cooking.  If you haven’t been to Abilene, go there.  Get yourself a room at Abilene’s Victorian Inn and tell them Chris’ Corner sent you.

McNeill Stone Mansion: Oskaloosa’s Fortress of Solitude

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My eyes fell upon this bed and breakfast while I was preparing my hunt list and once they did, I immediately moved it to the top of my visitation list and I certainly am glad I did so.  My stay at the McNeill Stone Mansion has proved to be one of my most enjoyable visits to date.

This trip was blessed from the start.  On a day that was supposed to be cloudy and cool, I ended up getting a proper spring day, full of sunshine and warmth.  I arrived in Oskaloosa a little earlier than I intended, but found that they had a college (William Penn University) nearby.  I wandered around the tiny campus for a little bit and even managed to get a small workout in as I did two miles on the indoor track in the school’s fitness center.

From there I attended worship services at St Mary’s.  I was fortunate to be attending the school’s First Communion service and it warmed my heart to see these children begin another step on their journey with God.  Most interesting, the children actually prepared the communion wafers used at this service.  They were just made out of wheat and water and Father Jeff said they would be different from traditional wafers.

He was quite right in that aspect, but I liked the message he tied it to after Communion.  Father Jeff said that people’s faces seemed to indicate, “Whoa!  That was different” and he said people are just like that when they allow Jesus into their hearts.  And he hoped that people would see us and say, “Whoa!  He or she is different.”  I’ve never heard the message of salvation so simply and aptly put.  Right on, Father Jeff!!

After church, I headed over to the McNeill Stone Mansion which is an imposing edifice at the end of a block.  I was heartily greeted by Ginny Walker who gave me a tour of the inn.  Ginny really knew her history, showing me articles and photos from when the mansion was originally built up until the present day.  At one point, the home had been abandoned for 18 years and was buried beneath an overgrowth of trees until Ginny and her husband, Gary, bought it and spent 7 years restoring it to its original splendor as pictured below.

Dining Room

Dining Room

Foyer

Foyer

Living Room

Living Room

 

I stayed in the Far East Room which was the mansion’s guest room when originally built.

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This room was a palace.  By far, the biggest room I have ever stayed at a bed and breakfast and one of the nicest, as well.

Once I had settled in and relaxed for a few hours, I headed into town and enjoyed a meal at Tasos’ Steakhouse.  This must be a popular restaurant as it was jammed to the rafters.  Fortunately, I was able to be seated very quickly.  I decided to try Tasos’ House Ribeye sautéed with onions, mushrooms, and green peppers.  It was one of the best cuts of meat I have had in a while.  It was cooked to absolute perfection and I took most of it to go for my lunch today.

It was about 9pm when I got back to the inn so I drew a hot bath in one of the deepest bathtubs I have ever seen and nearly fell asleep as I was so relaxed.  As I prepared for bed, I realized I had forgotten the small fan I travel with for the white noise I use to help me fall asleep.  Fortunately, the room had an electric fireplace which I turned on and the illusory flames lulled me into a deep and restful slumber.

Upon awaking the next morning, I headed down to the dining room for one of the most enjoyable breakfast experiences I’ve had in a bit.  After three straight reviews where I was the only guest at the bed and breakfast, I actually had some company.  I had the privilege of meeting Dave and Monica Settle of St Charles, MO who were visiting the McNeill Stone Mansion for their 30th anniversary.  Happy Anniversary!!  So aside from the outstanding food, I also had the pleasure of some wonderful conversation.

Breakfast was a grand affair, beginning with a dish of fruit topped off with a yogurt.  I enjoyed several bites, but knew I had to save stomach capacity for the other courses.  After the fruit, was a cinnamon roll topped with almonds that was moist and delicious and practically melted in my mouth.  Afterwards was the main course of egg casserole which looked like a quiche stuffed with ham, cheese, and other tasty items along with some bacon for a side dish.

When breakfast had been eaten, Ginny surprised the Settles with a little yellow pudding cake she had made for their anniversary.  And if you’re wondering, yes, the Settles were kind enough to share a bit of their cake with me.  It was delicious, btw.

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Before I knew it, 75 minutes had passed and I knew I  had to hurry if I were going to write up this adventure before I left.

If you find yourself in Oskaloosa, make a point of staying here.  You’ll be treated to a truly delightful pair of hosts, some excellent food, and brilliant conversation.  Even better, if you like classic cars, start up a conversation with Gary as he has a national reputation for restoring them.

Splendid Isolation: The Prairie Creek Inn

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One of the many things I love about travel is that, oftentimes, it seems like on I’m on a quest due to my many wonderful discoveries.  This trip is no different as my road has brought me to Walton, NE where I have been privileged to stay at the Prairie Creek Inn, a true hidden treasure.

Aside from the little musical humor I injected, the Prairie Creek Inn does have a bit in common with The Waltons.  Like the home of the Waltons, the Prairie Creek Inn is a bit isolated on a beautiful spread of land.  This makes it the ideal place to go if you simply want to get away from it all, clear your head, and renew your spirit.

Also, like the Waltons, you will always be welcomed here by the owners, Bruce and Maureen Stahr.  They were truly good, Christian folk and I was honored to get to know them a little during my stay at their inn.

For the third straight time, I was the sole guest at a bed and breakfast, which made me feel a bit more like Henry David Thoreau.  And my comparison to that famed author is quite apt as I was staying in Inspiration Pointe, dubbed the room for writers and pictured below.  The room gained its name from a CEO who had once stayed in this 2 room suite and actually wrote a novel.  Bruce said others have written poetry here, so I feel honored to be able to add my own little contribution to this literary abode.

Inspiration Pointe

Inspiration Pointe

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Inspiration Pointe's sitting room

Inspiration Pointe’s sitting room

Like Thoreau, the property where the Prairie Creek Inn resides also has a lake on the grounds so I now actually have an inkling of Thoreau’s thoughts as he wrote about Walden Pond.

After meeting the Stahrs and getting situated in my rooms, I decided to take advantage of the waning daylight and walk some of the trails on the land.  The property is massive and I was able to take a good, long, brisk walk (brisker still when a sharp wind started and flurries began).  I enjoyed the peacefulness and quiet of the Creekside and Northwoods Trails and felt a serenity settle into my soul as I walked about the grounds.

The Stahrs are diligently expanding the property as my constitutional brought me to a very nice looking log cabin as well as a smaller guest cottage which are being built and renovated for further rentals.  And, of course, there is the lake on the grounds.  Though frozen over, it was still a magnificent sight.  I was fascinated by this duck sitting on the ice and thought it would make for a terrific photo if I didn’t get scare it off.

Quietly I made my way over to it.  Step by step.  Avoiding branches and dry leaves, I crept up to the little quacker and. . .discovered I’d been duped by a decoy.  I chuckled to myself as I continued on the trail back to the house.

To date, the Prairie Creek Inn is probably the largest and most impressive bed and breakfast I have visited.  I wandered through the entirety of the house, marveling at its beauty and attention to detail as I snapped photos.  Even more interesting is that the foyer contains a stand of pictures explaining how the Prairie Creek Inn came into existence.  Apparently, the Stahrs bought the house for $1.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The house was in Lincoln, NE at the time.  After the purchase, it was loaded onto a semi trailer and carried the 11 miles to its present locale.

After exploring the house, I headed into Lincoln where I enjoyed a meal at Parker’s Smokehouse.  It’s not a bad little BBQ joint.  I had the Nebraska Melt (smoked prime rib with cheese and onions on toasted marble rye bread), steak fries, and a cup of the World Famous Smokehouse Chili.  If you happen to stop here, I would definitely suggest the melt as it was smoky delicious.  I would suggest taking a pass on the chili, though.  It had a good taste and I thought the use of Samuel Adams Lager in the chili sauce was an interesting touch, but it was too watery for my tastes.  However, their original BBQ sauces were quite tasty and I would recommend the Liquid Heat as a good dipping sauce for fries.

After dinner, I returned to the house, made a quick stop to the rec room where I picked up a Dr. Pepper and returned to my room where I could sip and get my photos organized and posted onto Facebook.  Upon completing that, I enjoyed the old-fashioned clawfoot bathtub and stayed up for a while reading the classic novel, The Time Machine, until my eyes began to get bleary with sleep.

I snapped off the lights and watched the glow of my electric fireplace until sleep claimed me.  And I slept like a log.

When I awoke the next morning, my covers hadn’t even been ruffled and I felt like I could take on the world.  I headed downstairs to breakfast where I was served a meal fit for royalty.  A bowl of mixed fruit was waiting on the table and I put a few spoonfuls of that into my dish and munched away while Bruce brought me a goblet of orange juice and a glass of milk.  Then he brought out the main course which I had smelled cooking all the way up in the attic.

It was called egg casserole, but it looked more like a pizza.  It was a fantastic and slightly spicy combination of egg, cheese, bacon, and potatoes.  Maureen brought out homemade cinnamon rolls and I gladly helped myself to one as I chatted with Bruce about his plans for renovating the barn to hold receptions and possibly even have movie nights and music festivals.  I wished the meal wouldn’t end, but after 30 minutes of slow, savory enjoyment, I was full and came up to write today’s article.

If you find yourself in Walton, NE (just outside of the capital city of Lincoln), do yourself a favor and book a room at the Prairie Creek Inn.  You’ll experience peace, tranquility, beauty and enjoy an excellent meal under the hospitality of two great innkeepers.

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Whispering Pines Bed & Breakfast: The Oasis of Nebraska City

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After a long week, I was ready for a little escape.  Fortunately, my researches showed that there was a bed and breakfast just an hour away from Omaha in the town of Nebraska City called the Whispering Pines.  Perfect!!  It sounded like just the place for an overnight getaway.

Let me assure you that I would stay here again in a heartbeat.  The Whispering Pines is located on a six acre piece of land in Nebraska City, making it the most spacious property I have stayed in to date.

Upon my arrival, I was warmly greeted by its proprietor, Jeanna Stavas, who promptly offered me homemade chocolate chip cookies and tea, coffee, or cocoa.  I declined the drink, but helped myself to a couple of cookies which were the pinnacle of cookiedom.  Nestle Tollhouse, eat your heart out because you’ve got nothing on these cookies.

For the second time in a row, I was the sole guest of the night at a bed and breakfast, but that was okay because Jeanna was quite friendly, an excellent hostess, and a great conversationalist.  She led me to my room, Victoria’s Suite, which is the smallest room of the inn, but, in my estimation, the neatest.

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That fireplace sure felt good.

That fireplace sure felt good.

 

These tiles were heated.

These tiles were heated.

 

 

As you can see from the photos, this room actually felt more like a little house than it did a room.  I relaxed for nearly an hour and then went up to the dining room for my supper.

Unlike many bed and breakfasts, the Whispering Pines also operates as a restaurant.  All I can say is if you have a chance to eat lunch or supper here, do so.  I had Beef Wellington with a side of toasted potatoes and roasted carrots with lemonade to drink.  The presentation was magnificent.  And the taste was even better.  I don’t get to use the word, savor, very often, but I spent 45 minutes savoring every exquisite mouthful of this meal.

After supper, I wandered around the house and snapped a few photos and had a little conversation with Jeanna and her friend.  Afterwards, I retired to my room, where I enjoyed a hot bath, did a little work on my laptop, and ended the evening by watching the classic film, Stalag 17, and then falling into Dreamland as I watched the soft glow of my electric fireplace.

The next morning, I actually allowed myself to sleep in a little before I headed upstairs for some breakfast.  This meal now ranks as one of my two favorite breakfasts that I’ve ever had at a B & B.  Jeanna started the meal with a few slices of banana nut bread, a small dish of fruit with homemade yogurt with agave nectar and homemade granola, and a wine glass of orange juice.

Then came the main entrée of eggs benedict with the eggs done over medium, mixed with cheddar cheese and ham and served on a bed of cinnamon raisin toast.  Just like the previous night, I lingered over my meal for about 40 minutes as I enjoyed each and every delightful bite.

The only disappointment about my stay is that I found out they’re holding a murder mystery dinner tonight which I would have loved to be a part.  One day, I hope to get back and attend one of their mystery events.

If you live close to Nebraska City or find yourself passing through, spend a night at the Whispering Pines.  I guarantee it will be a night to remember.

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