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Archive for the ‘Arkansas’ Category

Northbound from Belvidere, TN, I stopped by another gristmill-turned-inn, Ledford Mill in Wartrace. This 1884 mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is up a quiet country road and surrounded by lush greenery and waterfalls, along Shipman’s Creek.

I’d only driven a short distance and wasn’t ready to stop for the night, but had a chance to visit with owners/innkeepers John and Mildred Spears, who call themselves the “Accidental Innkeepers.” Looking originally for a residential property in the area, it just happened that Ledford Mill, already an inn, came on the market. They loved the property, scooped it up, and continue to offer lodging in unique guest rooms, which are built around the mill’s mechanical parts. I was able to see each room, all artistically rustic and elegant at the same time. Their Gift Shop is pretty cool, too. I’m putting this on my wish list for future lodging.

I continued north into Nashville and found lodging at a La Quinta Inn, still my favorite chain for a reasonably-priced room with work desk, breakfast and noon check-out included. To go with my chain room, I grabbed a table at Cracker Barrel and scarfed up some BBQ pork, turnip greens and cornbread. Took notes, looked over my map, sipped “unsweet tea” and watched a grandfather and grandson play checkers on a giant board on the outdoor porch.

By noon the next day, I was out of Nashville and headed west, thinking I’d follow I-40 along into Arkansas and either head to Hot Springs or turn north again around Little Rock and backroad it into Eureka Springs. Instead, in my typical impulsive way, I left the Interstate at Rte. 13, drove 19 miles north, past Hurricane Mills and Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, caught Interstate 70 and turned west again.

With this move, I ruled out Hot Springs, AR, and began to hear the Ozarks calling. Westbound, I crossed the Tennessee River and passed through the small towns of Sawyer’s Hollow, Bruceton and Hollow Rock. Near Atwood, intersecting highways took some zig-zags and I did a few about faces before finding my way to Cades, then Trenton, and eventually on into Dyersburg, where I picked up Rte. 412. Seventeen miles later, I crossed the Mississippi River and wound my way through a small portion of Missouri, finally arriving in Arkansas, The Natural State.

Still afternoon, I figured I had plenty of time to coast along mountain roads and make my way over to Eureka Springs, a quaint, though often crowded, Victorian town in the northwestern section of the state. Yet, driving slowly into the Ozark foothills, I was instantly taken with Hardy, an old railroad town on the Spring River, 16 miles south of Mammoth Spring and the Missouri border. Here I stopped to walk along Main Street, which is lined with antique shops, cafes, antique shops, an old malt shop, antique shops, a pottery factory and a few more antique shops. This is Antique Heaven for those who treasure the old and older, with a little of the not so old mixed in.

It was clear that Hardy was a town worth a little lingering time, so I wandered on down to 108 Main St., where I arrived at the door of the Olde Stonehouse Inn, which had an inviting porch and the front door propped open. I poked my head inside and was greeted by Ruth and Willard Bess. This wonderfully kind couple turned out to be inn-sitting parents of the regular owners/innkeepers, Greg and JaNoel Bess, who were out of town until the following day.

In spite of my impromptu arrival while the official innkeepers were away, I managed to get a room for the night. This due mostly to Ruth and Willard’s kindness, their ability to reach their son by cell phone, and my offer to skip breakfast, so they wouldn’t need to worry about the fancy morning meal that this inn usually offers.

I took Leah’s Room, a spacious Victorian style corner accommodation with private bath, private door to the front porch, in-room phone (not always available in B&Bs) and luxurious sheets, comforter and pillows in tones of rose and burgundy.

I grabbed something quick to eat just up the street at the market, since I was now beyond the typical early closing times of small town eateries. Then settled in for a quiet evening and a night of restful sleep. Little did I know my adventures in Hardy were just beginning.

Morning greeted me with the smell of fresh brewed coffee, which I poured into an Olde Stonehouse mug and carried to my room. I had expected to fend for myself with breakfast, but the kind innsitting parents had other ideas.

Just across the street from the inn, The Corner Booth, a former filling station, serves Belgian waffles, country eggs with bacon or sausage, and other morning meals. Ruth and I headed over there and grabbed a window seat, where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and the unusual Victorian decor of the cafe, which is packed with stained glass, dolls, lamps and other interesting knick-knacks. It was a great start to the day, a chance to absorb local ambiance and to watch the town through hugh, wide windows.

Gray skies gave way to a heavy downpour and, after finishing our breakfasts, we made a mad dash for the inn. Ruth went on to tidy up the place and I spent some small town time on the front porch, listening to sounds of falling rain and passing trains.

Shortly before noon, innkeepers Greg and JaNoel Bess arrived, returning from a trip to the east coast. Through their warmth and kindness, I was pursuaded to stay another night, to explore the town and to enjoy both visiting with them and meeting friends who might stop by to visit.

I spent the afternoon exploring the town of Hardy, starting with a stop at Pepperfiends, an eatery Greg had highly recommended. My chicken burrito, made with “Arkansawlsa,” from Pepperfiends outstanding hot and spicy salsa, hot sauce and chutney collection, was absolutely outstanding. Bright red chairs and painted tables – white with red chili peppers around the edges – were surrounded by shelves filled with jars of spicy treats. A Route 66 sign hovered on one wall, maracas and chili peppers were hanging on others. A sarape and sombrero framed the front door, leading out to a small front patio with five outdoor tables.

Pepperfiends’ owner, Jeffrey Richards, reputed to be quite a character, wasn’t in at the time, unfortunately. I would have enjoyed meeting him to tell him how much I enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere of this clever cafe. It may be the first time I’ve ever regretted an eatery not being a chain, knowing I couldn’t just pop in for another great meal once I returned to California. The good news, though, is that the many of the hot products can be ordered through their website. I may need to get a shipment of Hometown Honey Salsa or Quesa Blanca – Pepperfiends’ famous white cheese sauce – to get me by until my next Hardy, AR, visit.

Moving on along Main Street Hardy, I browsed through many quaint shops, including The Green Rabbit, Hardy Pottery and Flat Creek Dulcimer Shop. Memory Lane and Barnett’s Trading Company gave me a look at some of the antiques that shoppers can find in this town.

I couldn’t resist a stop at the Old Time Candy Shoppe, where I picked up some maple nut candies for the road.

The Hardy Malt Shoppe was an especially cool step back in time. Outside, a yellow and white striped awning, park bench, lamp post and neon sign marked the portal to the days of old-fashioned ice cream parlors.

Inside, hula hoops dangled from the ceiling and black and white checked floors stretched out below yellow and red booths.

Owner Ernie, formerly from the Monterey area of California, has created a nostalgic spot to listen to oldies and sip on a vanilla malt, which is exactly what I did, surrounded by poodle skirts and old 45s.

Between my lunch at Pepperfiends and my dessert at The Hardy Malt Shoppe, I decided it was time to go back to the inn for an afternoon rest. I walked back to the Olde Stonehouse and relaxed into a comfy living room couch, surrounded by soothing, rich reds and natural woods.

The main living room at the inn is a perfect example of the guest-friendly atmosphere that Greg and JaNoel Bess have created. In conversations with Greg, he pointed out his feelings that running the inn is as much about re-socializing people as it is providing pampering accommodations. He cited the tendancy these days for people not to gather as much as they used to at locations such as community centers or post offices. He sees the main room of the inn as a place where guests, as well as family and friends, can relearn this lost art.

For me, this came to manifest itself in the most delightful way. Not long after settling back into the inn’s cozy atmosphere, the front door popped open and in sauntered a sandy-haired guy, who waved a few hellos around the room. Grabbing a nearby hat and taking a seat at the piano, he pounded out a few energetic chords, which brought others out to listen.

From the very first notes, it was clear this wasn’t just someone playing around at the keyboard. This was foot-tappin’, head-noddin’ music, the kind that sneaks through your skin and right into your bones and has you dancing along before you even know it. I soon found out it was my luck to have my visit coincide with this impromptu drop-in by Jason D. Williams, well-known rockabilly musician and friend of the Bess family.

The surprise concert didn’t stop there. Graciously, Jason invited us all over to his place for dinner. Before long we were seated before a feast of lasagna, salad and garlic bread, home-cooked by his wife, Jennifer. Pre and post-dinner music continued, as Jason popped by his grand piano frequently and pounded out everything from ragtime to classical, blues to Brubeck.

Just outside, dozens of bird feeders hung from porch beams and tree branches on a wooded slope, which stretched down to the edge of a lake. Music is only one of Jason’s loves in life. A devoted naturalist, Jason showed me some of his bird reference field guides and discussed activities such as “turtle fetchin’,” where he seeks out turtles crossing roads and helps them to the other side. In talking over birding in particular, Jason’s voice softened as he said, “It will be the greatest passion you’ll ever know.”

We finished off the evening with apple pie and ice cream, gratefully thanked Jason and Jennifer, and headed back to the inn. After a full day and exciting evening, the luxurious bed in my Victorian-style room looked fabulous. I slept soundly.

Before leaving the next morning, Greg and JaNoel whipped up a delicious gourmet breakfast, just part of their pampering offerings for inn guests. Over coffee, we talked about the Murder Mystery Weekends that Olde Stonehouse puts on once a month – more often, upon request. These are wildly popular and well-received by guests, who often find they enjoy their assigned roles more than they expect. Greg told me a few of the inside secrets to these weekends, but, of course, I’m not going to tell them here. You’ll have to go find out for yourself.

I left the Old Stonehouse Inn with great memories and a renewed sense of community. I don’t think I had realized I’d been missing it until I found it again. But then, that’s exactly what Greg hopes guests will discover. Re-socialization, he calls it. I call it a perfect weekend, filled with important life lessons to carry on down the road.

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