Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

As another year comes to a close, we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months and plan new goals for the coming year. For me, 2014 brought lots of opportunities to explore the Midwest, discovering more attractions, events and restaurants to share with you. It’s always amazing how much there is to do right here in the Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the Black Hills, from small towns to big cities. Today I’m sharing with you some of my personal “firsts” and also my top ten blog posts of the year, the ones most popular with you, my readers.

2014 New Experiences:

In March I discovered that anyone can paint—even no-artistic-talent me. At the Art Party Studio in Champaign, Illinois, bring your own wine, if you’d like, follow the step-by-step painting instructions, and every painting turns out well. If, on the slim chance it doesn’t, you can always blame it on the wine.

Art_Party_StudioI tried my hand at glassblowing for the first time at The Glass Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Okay, so my turn lasted only a minute or so, since I was on a group tour and we just had a sampling. It would be fun to go back and create a “work of art” of my own.

The_Glass_ParkI joined the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau dragon boat team in the Kenosha Area Dragon Boat Festival in July. As hard as our team tried, we came in last place, but we had a great time.

Dragon_Boat_RacesTwo new states were added to my list this year, Nebraska and South Dakota. I spent a couple of days exploring Omaha, including gardens, museums and shop. If you like zoos, you have to see Henry Doorly Zoo, my favorite zoo of all I’ve ever been to.

Henry Doorly ZooBesides the national monuments, national parks and so many other things western South Dakota has to offer, I took my first helicopter ride with the Black Hills Aerial Adventures, where I saw the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments at eye level and the Needles Highway from a bird’s eye view.

Mount Rushmore from HelicopterAs great as everything else was in South Dakota, the highlight was the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, where I bumped along in the back of a pickup truck right in the midst of the cowboys and cowgirls on horseback rounding up around 1,100 head of bison for their annual vaccines and pregnancy tests.

Buffalo RoundupThe year concluded with my second helicopter tour, this time in the evening with Chicago Helicopter Experience, along the Chicago lakeshore, with a great view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Michigan Avenue Christmas lights.

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Top 10 Posts of 2014

  1. Haunted DeSoto House Hotel, Galena IL was published in 2013 but continued to be the most popular throughout 2014.
  2. Ghost stories are apparently popular. Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost created quite a controversy among Traverse City locals, some believing the legend and others not.
  3. I don’t know whether it’s because of the location on Route 66 or if people are interested in car museums, but the Number 3 most popular post was Pontiac Oakland Museum, Pontiac, Illinois: Auto Nostalgia along Route 66.
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is always popular, so I’m not surprised that Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel made the list.
  5. Billed as the biggest biker destination in Illinois and along the Great River Road, Poopy’s Pub n’ Grub, Savanna IL; Popular Even with Non-bikers, came in at Number 5.
  6. Downtown shops in towns in southwest Michigan resort towns are always fun to explore, and Traverse City foodie fans especially liked Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight.
  7. Green County, Wisconsin, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cheese Days in 2014. In June I attended a press preview of the big September event and wrote about it in Cheese Days 100th Anniversary Preview, Monroe, Wisc. The event is held every two years, so plan ahead to attend in 2016.
  8. Published just in time for Halloween, another Traverse City supposedly haunted location came in at Number 8, Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City.
  9. Eating at a tiny ten-seat diner is fun, especially when the delicious food is served by a magician, like it is at the Suzie Q Café, Mason City Iowa: A Meal with a Dash of Magic.
  10. Old lighthouses are fun to explore. The stories behind them are always fascinating. Another Traverse City attraction, Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan made the list at Number 10.

I’m looking forward to sharing more fun and interesting attractions, events and restaurants in Midwest destinations throughout 2015. If you have suggestions on Midwest places to see and things to do, don’t hesitate to share them at, and I’ll help spread the word.

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Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel

Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel

HPI exteriorClean horizontal lines, extensive use of art glass, entry doors recessed into the building front. I knew I had reached my destination without even seeing the name of the Historic Park Inn on the hotel. It was obviously Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School architecture, the last remaining hotel designed by the renowned architect, which was to be my home during my three night stay in Mason City, Iowa.

The History
In the early 1900s James Blythe and J.E.E. Markley, attorneys in Mason City and board members of the local bank, wanted a single building to house the bank, their law firm and a hotel in an effort to perk up and promote the city. Markley’s daughters were attending the Hillside Home School, run by his aunt, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Intrigued with the Prairie School design of the school, Markley contacted its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, who agreed to design a building for Mason City. The hotel was to face a lovely city park.

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Within ten years after the hotel and bank opened, the economy plummeted, the City National Bank failed, and the law firm moved its offices. Those portions of the building were converted to retail and office space with several structural changes.

Over the next several decades the hotel portion of the building fell into disrepair. Conversion to apartments in an effort to save the building had proven fruitless, as repairs were impossible to keep up with. Walls were beginning to cave in. Pigeons made the building their home.

Restoration and The Hotel Today
In 2005 a local group formed Wright on the Park and began fundraising efforts. Despite protests from naysayers who thought the effort futile, they raised $18 million through grants and donations to restore the hotel, which they purchased from the city for one dollar. The plan was to restore the hotel to as close to the original design as possible while incorporating modern day necessities and comforts. In 2011, 101 years after the hotel originally opened, the renovated Historic Park Inn reopened to the public.

64 holes were bored into the walls throughout the building to determine the original colors, which were then replicated.

A mezzanine above the lobby that had been removed was rebuilt using Wright’s plan. Originally the mezzanine was where orchestras played during events. Today, it holds a few comfortable chairs for guests to relax and a black baby grand piano for those who might like to play.


From the mezzanine you can view original art glass panels above the lobby windows that had remained in place and in good condition over the years.

Original art glass

The room behind the lobby was once a dining area with a 25-panel art glass skylight. Long ago removed from the hotel, the skylight was discovered in the home of Dr. Robert McCoy and his wife Bonnie, who donated it back to the hotel. Today’s Skylight Room serves as a sitting room for guests.

Lobby 3

Lobby from mezanine

The second floor Ladies Parlor, no longer just for ladies, includes the original floor, and the second floor law office is now a meeting room.

Ladies loungeLaw office meeting roomThe bank portion of the building, now a conference center, originally had no windows on the first level for security purposes. When the building transitioned to retail space, windows were added. During restoration, the windows were removed. Original art glass panels were found above the ceiling and are now prominent features of the room.

Bank conference center

bank art glass

There were originally 43 guest rooms in the hotel, with shared bathrooms. Today the hotel has 21 rooms in the original hotel portion of the building and another six over the bank portion. All of the original doors were left intact, doors with vertical slits designed for air flow before air conditioning existed. Door knobs were removed from the doors that are no longer entries into the rooms, and for privacy, full-length mirrors were installed on the backs of the doors that are still used.

Every guest room is different. Windows line the entire length of one wall in the room I was in. The original art glass is no longer there, but Andersen Windows donated inserts to mimic art glass.

Windows in room 2

My room had an obvious distinction of two rooms made into one. The first room is now a sitting room, with a sofa, chair, desk and flat-screen television. An open doorway leads to the bedroom and bathroom, which had been a second guest room in the past.

Sitting room

View from bedroom

Bedroom 1

1910 Grille and 1910 Lounge
The Prairie School design extends into the 1910 Grills, an upscale restaurant that ranks as the number one Mason City restaurant on Trip Advisor, located off the lobby of the Historic Park Inn. Even the napkin fold is reminiscent of Wright’s style.

1910 restaurant

1910 place setting

The 1910 Lounge is on the lower level in what used to be the Gentlemen’s Lounge. You can play pool on a 1910-era pool table, relax at the bar or choose a seat on a sofa or comfortable chair while enjoying your beverage of choice.

Pool tableLower level loungeThe Historic Park Inn is once again what Frank Lloyd Wright envisioned. Some things in the renovation could not be perfected. A couple of pieces of the art glass in the Skylight Room are cracked because the color isn’t available. Some of the floors were impossible to even out, like the floor in my room that sloped downward on the side of the bed, but it only adds character to this century old building.

Restoration of the Historic Park Inn has brought Frank Lloyd Wright fans from all over the world to Mason City. Many of the naysayers who originally protested the hotel’s renovation have changed their attitude. The hotel, albeit a century later than planned, has perked up and promoted the city. Frank Lloyd Wright fans come from all over the world to stay at the hotel, which still faces the beautiful city park, where a new statue looks back at the hotel, a statue representative of the hotel’s world renowned and respected architect.

Statue in parkThe Historic Park Inn is located at 7 West State Street, Mason City, Iowa.  Check the web site for further details.

Disclosure:  My stay at the Historic Park Inn was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office and the Historic Park Inn, but any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie


Other posts you may be interested in:

Laurent House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Little Gem: Rockford, Illinois

Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House, Springfield, IL: 12,000 Square Feet of Phenomenal

Fabyan Forest Preserve: Frank Lloyd Wright, Japanese Garden and Windmill