Sleep among history in these historic hotelsDec 22, 2020 11:54AM ● By Victor Block
The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, retains the tasteful traces that made it a popular mountain retreat for wealthy clientele.
Historic hotels offer a glimpse into the pastHow would you like to spend a night or more at a hotel once frequented by Clark Gable, Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe and a long list of other Hollywood luminaries? Or, snuggle down under the sheets at a former stagecoach stop along the famous Chisholm Trail which played host to Civil War calvary commander George Custer and famous outlaw Jesse James?
A hotel can be much more than just a place to catch a good night’s sleep. Properties across the U.S. offer stories of famous guests, accommodations that range from laid back to lavish, and opportunities to snooze in intriguing chapters of American history.
Bathe in luxury
An Arizona Italian Renaissance-style building was the go-to place for Hollywood celebrities when it opened in 1928. The Hotel San Carlos was both the first high-rise hotel in Phoenix and the first in the state to have elevators (which were hand-operated).
Marilyn Monroe and other movie stars and dignitaries who frequented the Hotel San Carlos over the years are memorialized by copper stars set in the sidewalk. Today, hotel guests enter the same limestone-tile lobby with its original carved crown moldings, elaborate crystal chandeliers and other architectural features that once greeted famous movie stars.
Some historic hotels were designed to be destinations themselves because of their opulent decor and furnishings. From 1913 to the late 1930s, the Grand Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana, offered guests the height of luxury. Recently reopened as the Omni Severin, it retains touches of its elegant past with a dramatic marble stairway, an immense Austrian crystal chandelier and original mahogany dressers located on each elevator landing.
The Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, was built during America’s Gilded Age to rival the finest hotels in Europe in stylishness and beauty. Rich woodwork, mosaic and terrazzo floors, gilded hallways and other adornments were created by artisans from France and Italy who toiled for two and a half years to make the building a monument to outstanding craftsmanship. Opened in 1913, the result of their efforts serves as a reminder of the U.S.’ decades-long period of economic development starting in the 1870s.
Some well-heeled travelers who could afford to overnight in the lap of luxury chose to “take the waters” at health spas that were built near natural springs. The 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was one such property. The massive stone structure perched on a hilltop is reminiscent of castles in Europe, earning the epithet “castle in the air.” Surrounded by acres of lovely gardens and forested walking trails, the Crescent Hotel retains the tasteful traces that made it a popular mountain retreat for wealthy clientele.
Likewise, skilled artisans were brought from Europe to build Colorado Springs’ famous hotel, The Broadmoor. Opened in 1918, it was hailed as one of the best resorts in the U.S., featuring an 18-hole golf course and hosting renowned Americans like Charles Lindburgh. Today, the prestigious historic destination continues to attract tourists to the Pikes Peak region.
Another favorite mountain retreat is Glenwood Springs’ Hotel Colorado, built in 1893 by silver baron Walter Devereux. His “Grande Dame” featured elegant attractions like a European-style spa, Victorian garden, bird sanctuary and a stunning indoor waterfall. The hotel has also hosted notables like the Unsinkable Molly Brown, and continues to offer access to Colorado’s many outdoor adventures and activities.
Cozy historic inns
The setting was less sumptuous at a Texas rest stop built along the Chisholm Trail in 1861 to accommodate ranchers and drovers herding cattle to Kansas. Over time, the modest but comfortable Stagecoach Inn provided lodgings for 19th-century notables who were passing through Texas.
Stagecoaches holed up for the night at quarters in Colorado that are older than the state itself. Following its debut in 1874, the Cliff House at Pikes Peak was a stagecoach stop along the gold mining route from Colorado Springs to Leadville. Later, it became a military barracks and eventually hosted VIP guests as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Dickens and P.T. Barnum. Many rooms offer guests views of towering Pike’s Peak and its surrounding foothills.
Equally inviting in its own way is a personal favorite located in a quaint village among the lakes and mountains of western Maine. The Rangeley Inn, set in a tiny town with the same name, opened as the Rangeley Tavern in 1909.
A visit to the sprawling wooden structure provides both an introduction to the surrounding area and a walk back in time. Vintage photographs hung on the Inn’s walls depict varying aspects of local history and lore. These include its long-held reputation as a freshwater fishing mecca, the narrow-gauge railroad that carried visitors from Boston, New York and Philadelphia back in the day, and the steamboats that completed the journey to the large hotels that once lined the shore of Rangeley Lake.
Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic preservation, features over 300 properties from around the country that have “faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity.” All are recognized as having historical significance and offer exceptional accommodations and amenities. To find and learn more about the historic hotels near you, visit www.historichotels.org.
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