Midwest Hotels of a Dofferent Era
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Midwestern Lodging of a Different Era

Story and photos
by Kathleen Walls

There are many hotels that reflect a certain period of American life in the mid-west. Here are four of my favorites. I'll bet you would love them too.

Cottage House, Council Grove, Kansas, Westward Bound on the Santa Fe Trail

Cottage House began in 1867 as a three-room cottage and blacksmith shop.  With travelers along the Santa Fe Trail, Reverend Joab Spencer and his wife bought the property. In 1871. They enclosed the existing cottage with a two-story brick house and opened a boarding house. The next owners, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Mead, took things further. In 1879 they built a large two-story Queen Anne addition and opened as The Cottage House Hotel.

Today the Cottage House has 26 rooms in the main building, 10 rooms in their motel and two cottages. It''s just a block off Main Street. The spacious Victorian style porch has a gazebo providing a comfortable place to look over historic Council Grove.  I stayed in the main house. It felt like stepping back in time and enjoying a comfortable historic room while keeping all the modern conveniences like Wi-Fi.

Midland Railroad Hotel, Wilson, Kansas, The Coming of the Railroads

Midland Railroad hotel

Midland Railroad Hotel was a regular stop off for traveling salesman in Kansas in the early 20th century. The three-story limestone hotel, built in 1899, along the Union Pacific Railroad route between Kansas City and Denver. The original hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1902 but quickly rebuilt. The hotel focused on providing its guests with a luxury experience and still does. When it was rebuilt after the fire, it had one of only two long-distance phone booths in Wilson. Nowdays, that''s upgraded to hotel wide Wi-Fi plus other amenities you expect in a fine hotel.

During the depression, they used the third floor to house the chickens used to feed the guest. The chickens who provide the eggs for your breakfast, now reside outside behind the patio, as do some cute goats. Their Sample Room Tavern, named because this was where traveling salesmen would show off their wares to local buyers, serves traditional meals.  I had chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy and a salad. You enjoy a cocktail at the bar or on the outside patio. The newly renovatd barn makes a great event venue.

barn at midland

If the Midlands looks a little familiar, it might be because you saw Paper Moon, some of which was filmed here. Wilson is the Czech capital of Kansas, so you''ll find plenty of Czech history here.

The Arlington Hotel, Hot Springs, Arkansas, A Crown Jewel of the Gilded Age

arlington_ hotel

This is the third version of this turn-of-the-century hotel. The first Arlington that opened in 1875, was a three story, 120 room hotel. As the hot springs became more popular as a healing resort, the original hotel was torn down in 1893 to make way for a 300-room Spanish Renaissance building. That didn''t survive either. It was destroyed by fire on in 1924 and the present Arlington opened Dec. 31, 1924. Each new version kept the iconic twin towers.

lobby arlington

The lobby with a connected dining room has a Victorian era look. It''s decorated with room sized murals. Upstairs, the rooms reflect the history of the hotel but offer many modern amenities. There''s a roof top twin pool.

This was Al Capone''s favorite Hot Springs hotel in the 1930s. He rented the entire fourth floor for his staff and room 447 for himself. Today it''s the Al Capone Suite. He wasn''t the only celebrity who stayed at the Arlington.  Babe Ruth, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand and Yoko Ono. Not only stars enjoyed the Arlington, Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, George H. W. Bush and  Bill Clinton, stayed here and in its earlier days, William Pinkerton, head of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and Bat Masterson.

Rail Haven, Springfield Missouri, The Start of Road Tripping

Back when a Model T was the height of fashion for road trippers, it was only natural that new highways sprang up around the country, Route 66 being the most famous then and still a roadtrippers dream. It started in Springfield, Missouri on April 30, 1926 when a telegram announced it as "Route 66." John Steinbeck called it "the Mother Road" in Grapes of Wrath. It offered a way for people living in the small towns and cities on its route to earn a living. They opened tourist attractions, restaurants, and motor courts.  The motor courts were the lifeblood of the new Route 66. Travelers needed a place to stay. A few are still alive and flourishing.

Rail Haven Motel opened in 1938, the same year Route 66 was officially finished, with eight sand-colored cottages.  This was the same year Civilian Conservation Corp youth completed the last of the paving.By 1946, Rail Haven expanded to 28 rooms, the same year Texas hotelier M.K. Guertin formed the blanket group of independent hotels today known as  Best Western.

Rail Haven was popular and several celebrities stayed there. Loretta Young was one "big name" guest but Rail Haven's most famous guest came almost accidentally on May 17, 1956. Elvis Presley played the Shrine Mosque that day and got into an argument with this band after the show. Instead of staying in the same hotel with them after that. He left the upscale Kentwood Arms and walked down St. Louis Street where he saw the Rail Haven. He checked in and stayed in room No. 409, now called the Elvis Suite. Today, furnished with a pink Cadillac-themed bed and Elvis photos.

No lodging can live on just past fame. When I visited Rail Haven, I was impressed with the decor. It wasn''t fancy but it fit its theme. What I saw was a motor court of the 1960s but upgraded with modern amenities including WIFI and quiet air conditioning. I had a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a coffeemaker that worked for my tea. The art on the walls showed the era from which Rail Haven evolved. There are suites if you need more room and a business center if you need a workspace.


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FTC has a law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are  "sponsored" or compensated. We also are to let readers know if any of our links are ads. Most are not. They are just a way to direct you  to more information about the article where the link is placed. We have several ads on our pages.  They are clearly marked as ads. I think readers are smart enough to know an ad when they see one but to obey the letter of the law, I am putting this statement here to make sure everyone understands. American Roads and Global Highways may contain affiliate links or ads. Further, as their bios show, most of the feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.

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