Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Road trip stories: You can’t beat the pre-season price & peacefulness at this lakeside Indiana inn May 4, 2018

A sunset view of Lake James in Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana.

A sunset view of Lake James in Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana.

 

I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO STAY in a lakeside resort or cabin. And you’d think, as a life-long Minnesotan, that would be part of my vacation history. Yet, the opportunity to stay lakeside never presented itself. Until May 2016.

 

Docked at Lake James in Pokagon State Park.

Docked at Lake James in Pokagon State Park.

 

And it happened not in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but rather in the extreme northeastern corner of Indiana. Because my husband made a wrong turn, we ended up at the Potawatomi Inn Resort & Conference Center while en route from Minnesota to Massachusetts for our son’s college graduation.

 

The newer section of the Potawatomi Inn, opened in 1995.

The newer section of the Potawatomi Inn, opened in 1995.

 

Prior to departure, we’d plotted the location of our first day stopping point—some 600 miles away in Angola, Indiana. I’d researched lodging options, including a weekday pre-season special of $59 a night at the Potawatomi Inn. I mentioned the deal to Randy, who muttered something like “What are you going to get for $60?” So I scrapped the idea and resigned myself to staying at a non-descript chain hotel along Interstate 80/90.

 

Lovely framed signage inside the entry to the historic section of the inn complex

Lovely framed signage inside the entry to the historic section of the inn complex promotes Indiana state parks as “memories made naturally.”

 

Then came that wrong turn and we ended up directly in front of the entrance to Pokagon State Park, wherein the Inn is located. “It won’t hurt to look since we’re right here,” I suggested. “We can always leave if we don’t like it.” Randy agreed and steered the van along the tree-lined road into the park. After explaining our mission to the park ranger, we continued toward the Inn, our expectations low.

 

This is the original 1920s section of the historic inn with a dining room and lounge on the first floor and hotel rooms on the second level.

This is the original 1920s section of the historic inn with a dining room and lounge on the first floor and guest rooms on the second level.

 

We couldn’t have been more surprised. Rounding a turn, before us sprawled a complex of buildings perched atop a hill and edged by manicured plantings of trees, flowers and shrubs. It was beautiful to behold.

 

This massive sun deck overlooks Lake James.

This massive sun deck overlooks Lake James, the boat rental house and the public campfire pit.

 

The Lake James dock at sunset.

The Lake James dock at sunset.

 

The lovely sun deck up close as daylight fades.

The lovely sun deck up close as daylight fades.

 

And below, across a wide expanse of lawn, lay Lake James. The setting appeared like paradise to two weary travelers.

 

The decor is a bit dated and the bedspread showing wear. But the room was clean, the bed comfortable, the setting beautiful and the

The decor is a bit dated and the bedspread showing wear. But the room was clean, the bed comfortable, the wooded setting beautiful and the location quiet. Our room was located in the new part of the inn, opened in 1995.

 

Still, I wasn’t convinced. How could a place this lovely, at least from the exterior, cost only $59/night? Time to check out the interior. The front desk clerk, whose name eludes me, but whose husband is a native of Delano, Minnesota, greeted us with Hoosier hospitality and suggested that, since we were from Minnesota, we should have a lake view room. Perfect. It was a nice gesture. But the room was much too cramped, the promised lake view from a small, high window. We returned to the front desk, landing in a much more spacious room with windows overlooking woods. Perfect.

 

Cabins in the woods are also available for rent.

Cabins in the woods are also available for rent.

 

After being on the road for 10 hours, the Potawatomi Inn was precisely where we needed to stay. Away from the Interstate in a peaceful natural setting.

 

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the original wooden toboggan run in 1935. It was updated through the years to a refrigerated slide.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the original wooden toboggan run in 1935. It was updated through the years to a refrigerated slide.

 

We walked to the lake and then followed a trail to the park’s historic toboggan run.

 

The historic dining room, nearing closing time, was a quiet place to dine on a weekday evening in late May.

The historic dining room, nearing closing time, was a quiet place to dine on a weekday evening in late May.

 

We shared a dinner of barbecued ribs with enough for both of us plus left-overs. I love the pine cone design on the over-sized plates.

We shared a dinner of barbecued ribs with enough for both of us plus left-overs. I love the pine cone design on the over-sized plates.

 

Suspended from the dining room ceiling.

Suspended from the dining room ceiling.

 

We explored the buildings, dined in an historic dining hall. And then, when evening faded to dark, we joined a young couple around a campfire. From Elkhart, an hour to the west, they, too, were Hoosier friendly. As we talked, we learned what brought them to the Potawatomi Inn. Cancer. Tyler was taking a break from chemotherapy, his treatment set to resume four days later. He and Kelsey—ironically once an oncology nurse now working in labor and delivery—inspired us with their upbeat attitudes, their thankfulness for the good prognosis, a 95 percent cure rate for Tyler’s cancer.

 

A lovely courtyard filled with plants and with a water feature offers a lovely place to dine outside the Courtyard Cafe.

A courtyard filled with greenery and with a water feature offers a lovely place to dine outside the Courtyard Cafe.

 

Now, as I reflect on the wrong turn that led us to the Potawatomi Inn, I am especially grateful. We spent our first night on the road in a tranquil setting. We met some truly wonderful Hoosiers. And I fulfilled my wish to stay at a lakeside resort.

 

The Lonidaw Lounge just outside the historic dining room.

The Lonidaw Lounge just outside the historic dining room.

 

But what really clinched my appreciation for this resort was my husband’s response to a question asked by a friend about a favorite part of our Minnesota to Massachusetts trip. “The Potawatomi Inn,” Randy answered. I agree.

 

The library is well-stocked with books, board games and puzzles. You'll also find a pool, spa and sauna; activity, exercise, video and game rooms; and a gift shop on-site.

The library is well-stocked with books, board games and puzzles. You’ll also find a pool, spa and sauna; activity, exercise, video and game rooms; a conference room; and a gift shop on-site.

 

FYI: The low rate we got in May 2016 was a pre-season weekday special. Don’t expect a deal this good during the busy summer months. And since this rate is from two years ago, expect that rates have likely increased. I’d highly recommend staying here. It was a great option to a chain hotel and in the most peaceful of settings.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The Inn opens in historic building at Shattuck-St. Mary’s December 17, 2014

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR SOME FORTY YEARS the oldest building on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prestigious private college prep school on Faribault’s east side, stood empty.

BUILT: The original part of the building was constructed in 1871 as the library for Seabury Divinity School. When the school relocated, the building was sold to Shattuck School and a small wing was added to the east. The building became Phelps Cottage, serving as a boys' dormitory. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary's School.

YESTERDAY: The original part of this building was constructed in 1871 as the library for Seabury Divinity School. When the divinity school relocated, the building was sold to Shattuck School and a small wing was added to the east. The building became Phelps Cottage, serving as a boys’ dormitory. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary's, a conference/retreat center and hotel, opened on Friday.

TODAY: The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary’s, a conference/retreat center, banquet/reception facility and hotel, opened on Friday.

But, on Friday, the stunning stone and stuccoed building, with a section dating back to 1871 and edging a wooded ravine, opened to the public as The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

The front desk and lobby presents an inviting welcome.

The front desk and lobby present an inviting welcome.

Saturday afternoon I toured The Inn during the school’s annual Campus Christmas Walk and spoke briefly with David Connelly (former manager of an Owatonna restaurant), who’s genuinely excited to take on the challenge of managing what he terms “a historically modern retreat get-away.”

One of several guest rooms open during the public tour.

One of several guest rooms, with modern, clean lines, open during the public tour

That seems an accurate description for this one-time library, then boys’ dormitory and infirmary now transformed via renovation and an approximate 10,000 square foot addition into a complex with 12 guest rooms, meeting/conference rooms and banquet/reception space. The Inn includes a full catering kitchen. It also serves as a retreat center for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, which partnered with Shattuck on the project.

Old flows into new as shown here at The Inn entry.

Old flows into new as shown here at The Inn entry.

From the exterior, The Inn, vacated in the early 1970s (except for feral cats), presents a timeless European style that fits this aged campus. Arched windows and steep, peaked roofs and stone prevail.

Detailed close-up of the old portion of the building flowing into new.

Detailed close-up of the oldest portion of the building.

In the early 1920s, a wing was enlarged and covered with stucco. It became the Phelps Infirmary. The infirmary opened just in time for an outbreak of scarlet fever. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary's School.

In the early 1920s, a wing was enlarged and covered with stucco. It became the Phelps Infirmary. The infirmary opened just in time for an outbreak of scarlet fever. It remained open into the early 1970s. Phelps was last used in 2006 as a Halloween haunted house. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

It’s a beautiful structure which seamlessly blends old with new, as it should given the oldest section is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Church style windows add Old World charm to this guest room in the old part of The Inn.

Church style windows add Old World charm to this guest room in the oldest part of The Inn.

The original staircase.

The original staircase.

The breakfast area, just off a conference room and the lobby.

The breakfast area, just off a conference room and the lobby, has a definitive modern feel.

Inside you will find, as Manager Connelly says, a thoroughly modern facility with all of the amenities you would expect. Touches of the past remain, though, in sections of exposed stone, in those arched windows and in the original stairway from main to second floor, although I suspect that the wood was not painted white back in the day.

A maze of hallways, some featuring stone, lead to guest rooms.

A maze of hallways, some featuring stone, lead to guest rooms.

Hallways wind to guest rooms in a deliberate way that definitely makes this place feel more inn-like than hotel.

Decor throughout The Inn features earthy shades of green and brown.

Decor throughout The Inn features soothing earthy shades of green and brown.

Muted green and brown hues complement the natural setting of The Inn on the wooded west edge of the campus.

In a sectioned off meeting space, windows showcase the woods.

In a sectioned off meeting space, windows showcase the woods.

Banks of floor-to-ceiling windows in the meeting/reception spaces and a spacious woods-side deck and patio showcase the outdoors.

The opening of The Inn seems a smart move on Shattuck’s part. Many couples are married in the historic The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, just a short walk away. Parents from all over the world visit their children at the school. And top-notch hockey teams (think NHL feeder school) draw out-of-town fans to games.

The lobby and entry, simply and beautifully decorated for the holiday.

The lobby and entry, simply and beautifully decorated for the holidays.

On opening day Friday, The Inn guest rooms were three-fourths full, Manager Connelly says. And on Saturday, during the Campus Christmas Walk, visitors seemed duly impressed with the newest old addition to Faribault’s lodging and banquet/meeting facility options.

A touch of Christmas outside the front entry.

A touch of Christmas class outside the front entry.

FYI: Click here for more information on The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Room rates range from $110 – $150 Sunday – Thursday and from $140 – $180 on Fridays and Saturdays.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vintage photos are courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and are published here with permission.