Time seems to have stopped at this quaint retreat in Geneva, but then again, staying ahead of the times and connecting with guests in a meaningful way has never really gone out of fashion.
Time has moved on but The Oscar Swan Country Inn, 1800 W. State St., Geneva, still revels in the treasured surprises of its unique elegance and rustic charm.
Situated within the city limits of Geneva, the Inn is a short drive away from both the busy Randall Road corridor and downtown Geneva, where quaint shops and dining destinations await. But on this 8-acre setting, a former estate founded in 1836 is a quiet and unexpected escape.
Nina and Hans Heymann have owned this property since 1985 and operated its mansion as an inn since 1988.
The Heymanns first became interested in the property when they saw it listed in a real estate magazine. The vast amount of antiques in the home were intriguing to Nina, a former home economics teacher, and Hans, a former engineer at GE and a university professor of finance.
“I was fascinated by the seven bathrooms, too,” adds Nina. “It took us seven months to make our decision to actually commit. After three years of hard work, we decided to open as a country inn, as opposed to naming this a bed-and-breakfast. That sounded more appealing to us.”
The couple have poured their dedication and passion into warming the hearts of all who step through the doors.
“Over the years, we have grown and developed our business,” says Nina, “and we couldn’t have done it without our dedicated employees. Many have been with us for over 20 years. We’re like family, and I don’t know what we’d do without them.”
This cozy estate offers many gentle reminders of the past. See a corn crib, a preserved 1836 barn, and other farm buildings on a landscape filled with flowers, trees and the essence of nature. History presents a backdrop for gatherings and much-needed solace.
Available for private getaways and social events, the Inn offers five scenic settings that host many a wedding reception and ceremony. There are several gardens, a pool and a walking path through still-untamed wilderness.
Outside weddings can serve about 300 people; the Gathering building holds more than 100 guests indoors, while the mansion accommodates 60 people comfortably for a wedding. “Each offers its own special characteristics, benefits and features,” Nina says. “The large tent at the front of our property provides much privacy and even a brick floor for convenience and comfort.”
The centerpiece of Oscar Swan Country Inn is a mansion that was built in 1902 by a Chicago banker named Oscar Swan.
His family sold the estate in the late 1940s to businessman Frank W. Harding Jr., who came from a prominent American cattle-breeding family. He was chairman of a Geneva-based livestock import firm and insurance agency, and the founder of American Live Stock Insurance Co.
The interior of the home still demonstrates many flourishes of opulence from the Swan family in the 1920s and the Harding family in the 1950s. The mansion’s seven bedrooms are adorned with rich elements such as rustic pine paneling, French Toile fabric ceilings, floral chandeliers and a secret passage.
“After we purchased this property, we were thrilled to get a visit from Mr. Swan’s only child, his daughter Betty Jean, who lived here from 1930 to 1947,” says Nina. “She was so happy to see her father’s name on the sign and see the house in use again. She took many pictures to share with her grandchildren.”
The private rooms are decorated with many authentic accents, and their private bathrooms feature pedestal sinks reminiscent of days gone by. The garden room sports a large gingko tree plant whose sturdy limbs and leaves meet in the center to form a heart.
“I love coming into this room and seeing the tree envelop the sunlit windows,” says Nina.
Antiques and nostalgic collections can be found throughout the mansion, creating a scenic backdrop for fun parties, elegant gatherings and other meaningful events. The Oscar Swan Country Inn has been a favored location for family reunions, birthdays, showers, anniversaries, memorials and retreats.
“All of our food is prepared on-site, too,” says Nina. “When we made the decision to handle all of our food preparation right here, it required the added expense of purchasing professional commercial kitchen equipment and making the room for the additional space. We have never regretted that decision, as it has given us complete control to produce the highest level of quality food for our guests.”
Because all food is prepared on-site, event menus are fully customizable. Guests who really enjoy their meal can take home a bottle of the Inn’s “Mother Mabel Poppy Seed Dressing.”
“Guests have been very pleased with our nice food presentations and the fun of serving meals on our various mismatched place settings of patterned china,” says Nina. A full-service bar is available upon request.
Not to be forgotten are the wide dessert selections, including customized wedding cakes and nontraditional centerpieces such as cupcakes, donuts or bundt cakes.
Keeping up with the demands of a busy inn, while also staying on top of technology and marketing, is an ever-present challenge. “We dedicate a large part of our time for events, so squeezing in time to make sure we spread the word about our Inn and managing our reputation is a top priority,” Nina says. “We feel it is very important, though, to pick up the phone and speak directly to clients. It’s a personal way to do business.”
That personal connection also provides an opportunity to sell the benefits of this retreat. “We have a very unique and large piece of property here,” adds Nina, “and we want to make sure that our prospective clients are aware of the various accommodations we have. For example, our parking is quite extensive in the rear of our building and can accommodate over 120 vehicles.”
Fashion consultant Pamela Schutt is a fan of The Oscar Swan Country Inn. “I’ve hosted fashion shows, a Mother’s Day tea, Christmas luncheons, family functions and informative programs here,” she says. “The atmosphere is warm and homey. The food is always fresh and homemade with a great presentation. Nina is available to assist with any needs, and she is always so friendly.”
While private social gatherings and overnight stays are staples at The Oscar Swan Country Inn, the general public is also invited to join special activities throughout the year. Lunches are hosted every Wednesday, and breakfast buffets are hosted Sundays at noon.
“Our Club Oscar Swan is back every first Friday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m.,” says Nina. “It’s a fun night to enjoy a little music, small plates of heavy hors d’oeuvres, for a small fee, and a cash bar. Past evenings featured our guests sharing a story and even learning a few new dance steps. It’s an informal night among new and old friends.”
A Valentine’s Day dinner is planned for Feb. 10. The menu includes beef tenderloin, roasted vegetables and comfort foods. Musical entertainment is provided by violinist Tony Marconi, who has played at Presidential inaugural balls and worked with Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and Liza Minelli. He’s joined by Bill Robinson, a third-generation hammered dulcimer string player from St. Charles.
Celebrate at the St. Patrick’s Day party and enjoy an Easter Sunday brunch, as well.
Additionally, the Inn hosts the Country Inn Art School, where students create artwork inspired by their surroundings.
Nina saves the personal letters she receives. They offer positive testimonials of time spent at the Inn.
“Nothing makes us happier than having guests tell us how pleased they are that we exceeded their expectations,” she says.