The Bed & Breakfast Experience

Many travelers are discovering the enjoyment of taking a room at the inn. Take a look at these neat local stops.

Long before luxury hotel chains, there were inns and boarding houses. First, coach stops in key spots along established routes provided overnight lodging for travelers and shelter for their horses, offering little more than a meal and a bed during journeys that could take weeks.

Later, as transportation improved and travel increased, these accommodations became common in cities and towns. Typically, they were set up in private residences, where homeowners made their livelihoods by offering inexpensive hospitality to those passing through – not just travelers but also cowboys, prospectors and other businessmen whose work took them from place to place.

At these inns/boarding houses, weary travelers were given a bed at the end of a long day, and then breakfast the next morning, before setting out on the next leg of their trip – and the “bed and breakfast” (B&B) was named. Following World War II, a boom in Americans visiting Europe revived interest in the B&B experience back in the U.S., an interest which grew throughout the late 20th century.

Currently, travelers in every state can choose from thousands of B&Bs. Now, however, more than a convenient stopover on the way to somewhere else, today’s B&B is becoming a regular lodging destination for many travelers.

Across the Old Northwest Territory and in the northwest suburbs, hundreds of B&Bs offer an array of styles and amenities that cater to any taste. Here, Northwest Quarterly profiles several, right in our own backyard – from Victorian to prairie style, urban to rural – with luxury accommodations, legendary breakfasts, and professional, personal service from friendly, hospitable innkeepers.

Barrington House B&B

203 Dundee Ave., Barrington
(847) 381-0203,

This bright and roomy brick home was lovingly restored and renovated by its current owners in the early 2000s. By preserving hardwood floors, molding and other architectural details, they’ve retained its historic charm while providing all of the modern amenities.

Innkeepers/Owners: Mary & Marty O’Donnell

Year built: 1894; addition 2002-2005

No. of rooms: 5

Amenities: Private bath, flat-screen TV with DVD, Wi-Fi, ceiling fans, towel warmers, individual temperature controls, wood-burning fireplace in two rooms, complimentary beverages and snacks in butler’s pantry, fresh flowers and candy in rooms at check-in, gourmet breakfast with fresh-baked pastries

Features: Private outdoor courtyard, music room with piano, computer in common area for guest use, outdoor porch with furniture, writing desk in each room

Activities/Attractions: “Our best feature is that we’re in Barrington,” says Marty. “We have great shopping and dining within blocks. The [historic] Catlow Theatre is just down the street. We’re four blocks from the train station, for easy access to and from Chicago.”

Kids/Pets: Yes, age 14-up/No

Events: N/A

Be sure to ask about: The music. “I play in a cello trio, and we practice here twice a month,” Mary says. “The guests seem to enjoy it. Then we get guests who play piano. Music brings people together.” Recorded music plays downstairs over a central sound system. “Music is a very important part of the Barrington House experience,” Marty says. “Mary has about 4,000 songs chosen particularly for mood and tempo. We get quite a few musicians as guests, and Carla Luft, a well-known Canadian folk singer, actually paid part of her bill with her music CDs. We love her music and have it on the play list.”

Of special note: The building’s provenance. “This house was always a rental property,” Marty says. “Mary researched at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, and it was built for a cost of $385 by a Mueller, to be a boarding house for recent German immigrants. In the 1950s, Reynold Smith, Barrington chief of police, converted it to a single-family home and lived here. It was never really a nice house, but I could tell that it had good bones. We like to say that we’ve returned the house to the glory it never knew.”

Why they run a B&B: “I like hospitality – cleaning and cooking,” says Mary. “We keep everything very clean. When everything is neat and orderly in a house, there’s a sense of peace and a feeling of being pampered.”
“It’s a lifestyle,” adds Marty. “We meet very interesting people from all over the world, and they aren’t always tourists. We get people in town for reunions, weddings or funerals, and we get a lot of business people. We’ve had at least a half-dozen Fortune 500 CEOs stay here. We like to serve people who are on their way somewhere or in town on business, and give them a welcoming, quiet place to stay.”

Copperstone Inn

6702 Yale Bridge Road, Rockton, Ill.
(815) 629-9999,

The original 1,000-square-foot limestone home from which the 9,000-square-foot Copperstone Inn sprang is indicative of many historic buildings in the area, and during renovation, its current owners removed decades of plaster and other coverings in order to reveal the 14-inch-thick limestone walls.

Owners: Richard Spanton Jr. and Chrissie Spanton (husband & wife)

Innkeepers: Saundra Spanton & Nikki Weldon

Year built: Original 1858; addition completed 2008

No. of rooms: 7

Amenities: In-room flat-screen TV, Wi-Fi; suites also include fireplace, jacuzzi, Bose stereo system, satellite radio, spa showers

Features: On-site spa for guests only, outdoor grill area/kitchen; theater room with 60-inch TV, surround sound and 400 downloaded films

Activities/Attractions: “The property is 135 acres with wooded nature and hiking trails and gardens,” Saundra says. “We have two ponds for fishing and many birds that come to the feeders and houses we have all around.” The Inn is just six miles from Rockton, Ill., with quaint shops, and within 15 minutes of Rockford. “We provide full concierge services for guests, with lists of attractions, museums, dining and shopping,” says Nikki.

Kids/Pets: No/No

Events: The Pavilion at Orchard Ridge Farms hosts weddings, receptions, reunions and corporate meetings/events for 100-500 people. “We host weddings every weekend,” says Saundra. “The wedding party often books the Inn, so we’re part of a very special day for many guests and families.”

Be sure to ask about: The organic apple orchard of 5,000 trees on the property.

Of special note: How the Inn and Pavilion came to be built. “Richard is my son, and he and his wife Chrissie had purchased a 130-acre farm about three months earlier, when the limestone home next door came up for sale,” says Saundra. “They married in January 2007 and couldn’t find a unique venue like this to host their wedding, and that inspired them to create the Inn and the Pavilion.”

About today’s B&Bs: “They used to be somewhat cookie-cutter, all the same,” says Saundra. “But today, you can find any style of B&B to meet your particular tastes.”

The Goldmoor Inn

9001 Sand Hill Road, Galena, Ill.
(800) 255-3925,

The main house at this luxurious inn was built in 1968, and was designed by a Taliesin student. Originally 7,000 square feet, now with additions, it is 30,000 square feet and features an English country décor. Each suite has its own unique theme.

Innkeepers/Owners: Patricia and Tom Smith

Year built: 1968

No. of rooms: Opened in 1981 with 2 rooms; today, it boasts 13 grand deluxe suites, 2 authentic log cabins, and 3 freestanding cottages

Amenities: Gourmet breakfast, whirlpool & fireplace, Wi-Fi, digital TV, microwave, beverage fridge, coffeemaker, heated towel racks, some with screened porch overlooking Mississippi River

Features: Spa services, full-service dining

Activities/Attractions: On-site mountain bikes, hike along the river, shopping/dining in Galena, local wineries, sightseeing, kayaking, hot air balloon rides, golfing, skiing. “The Galena/Jo Daviess area has so many things for couples, friends, families,” says Patricia. “Dubuque is just a 30-minute drive away, too.”

Kids/Pets: Yes/Yes

Events: “We are one of the leading properties in the county for destination weddings,” Patricia says. “Our property provides an enchanting country luxury setting on the bluffs of the river. We host a variety of weddings, from two people to 250 guests.” In the summer months, we also have First Friday BBQ parties, and for the holidays, we have special dinners.”

Be sure to ask about: First Friday BBQ parties under the stars and authentic Christmas Carol Dinners.

Of special note: The view. “We’re 150 feet above the Mississippi River,” says Patricia. “You see the river and about seven islands, and it’s adorned with water lilies in season. Every window facing west gets a view of the Mississippi.”

What distinguishes Goldmoor: “We have spectacular employees who really love what they do,” Patricia says. “Their level of warmth and hospitality is amazing. The service they provide is sincere and consistent, and returning guests ask about them.”

Harrison House B&B

26 N. Eagle St., Naperville
(630) 420-1117,

This home was built in 1904 for the town’s tailor, Henry Mickenbecker, and his bride, Amelia, who raised eight children here. Its current owners did extensive restoration and renovation prior to opening, and they continue to improve the property. Much to their delight, great-grandchildren of the original owners have stayed with them and shared some of the home’s history.
Innkeepers/Owners: Neal & Lynn Harrison and son Randy Harrison

Year built: 1904; after renovation, opened in 1987

No. of rooms: 5

Amenities: In suite: Private bathroom; TV with cable; high-speed Internet; private phone lines; ecofriendly shampoos, lotions, soap and bath gels; fresh flowers; fluffy bathrobes. Gourmet breakfasts; evening refreshments. “People are constantly commenting about our towels, pillows and bed linens,” Lynn says. “They love the fact that the pillowcases are crisply ironed.”

Features: Three rooms with king-size beds and whirlpool tubs; first-floor room with queen and twin bed.

Activities/Attractions: “North Central College is just a few blocks away and has a wonderful performing arts program,” says Lynn. “Just recently, we saw Bernadette Peters and then Sarah Evans. We’re just two blocks west of Main Street in downtown Naperville, which has so much to offer, including some kind of event almost weekly. It’s an easy walk to fabulous shops and dining, as well as the Riverwalk, Naper Settlement and the train.”

Kids/Pets: Yes/No

Events: “If someone books the rooms here, we’re happy to let them host a small gathering,” Lynn says. “We’ve had several couples get married here. The front porch is a popular spot for wedding vows. Also, some of our guests have had small business meetings here, with a handful attending. We’re not a huge place, and we want to be very considerate of extra traffic and such for our neighbors.”

Be sure to ask about: The motto, Arrive as Guests, Leave as Friends. Lynn recently spent a weekend in Wisconsin with a former guest who is now a close friend. “Just this week, Dave Derewisz, a first-time guest from Maryland, noticed the motto on his second day, and told us that he’d already blown right past the friend part and felt like family,” Neal says. “That’s a huge compliment. We want everyone who comes to feel welcome and glad to be here.”

Of special note: The quiet and calm of the house. “We’ve had people comment that they thought they were the only ones here,” Neal says. “They come down for breakfast and are totally surprised to see the other guests.”

Favorite part of the job: Says Neal: “The guests, without question. We get people from a few miles away and from all over the world. Recently we’ve had guests from Europe, South America, China and Australia.” Adds Lynn: “I love everything about this job – cooking, baking, cleaning – but the guests we’ve had and the friends we’ve made through the years are the highlight for us. It’s really all about the people. Owning a B&B was always a dream of mine, and we’re living the dream.”

Victorian Veranda

8430 W. State Road, Winnebago, Ill., (815) 963-1337

When the current owner purchased this property in 1986, the historic house was run down from years of use as a rental. Today, it’s fully restored to its original splendor. “Despite its condition, I saw the potential,” says owner Loretta McCoy. “I had stayed in several B&Bs and knew I would enjoy running one, because I like to cook, clean and talk. It’s a lot of work, but I love it.”

Innkeeper/Owner: Ret (Loretta) McCoy

Year built: 1863

No. of rooms: 5

Amenities: Private baths, TV in parlor, free Wi-Fi

Features: Quiet, rural setting; gorgeous veranda with lots of seating; homey atmosphere.

Activities/Attractions: “Guests can go to Rockford or Freeport for museums, shopping, state parks and shows,” Ret says. “This area is full of great theater, live music, museums and activities.”

Kids/Pets: Yes/No

Events: Location only (no food service) for weddings and/or receptions, showers, family gatherings, scrapbooking, quilting, craft retreats, and other special occasions. “We’ve had 98 weddings here,” Ret says. “We host graduations, open houses, anniversaries, reunions where the family or group of classmates rents out the entire house. Red Hat parties are my favorite. I’ve got one group of ladies that can get pretty wild.”

Be sure to ask about: Ret’s wall maps, one of the U.S. and one of the world, with pins indicating where her guests have come from, including Morocco and Saudi Arabia. “I’ve finally had someone from every state, since someone from Rhode Island stayed here this summer,” she says.

Of special note: Zealous Packer Backer Ret’s extensive collection of Green Bay memorabilia, including a Christmas tree decked out with Green Bay Packer decorations.

Advice when staying at a B&B: “Be willing to talk to strangers,” says Ret. “When guests get to know one another, they often find they have something in common.”

The Oscar Swan Country Inn

1800 W. State St., Geneva
(630) 232-0173,

Originally a simple 1860s farmhouse, in 1902 it was converted into this three-story colonial Williamsburg revival mansion by Chicago banker Oscar Swan to use as a country estate. He moved his family to Geneva permanently following the 1929 stock market crash. After Swan’s death in 1947, Frank Harding, founder of American Livestock Insurance Co. in Geneva, bought the property, which served as his family’s home until its current owners purchased it in 1985.

Innkeepers/Owners: Nina and Hans Heymann

Year built: 1902; opened as a B&B in 1988

No. of rooms: 8

Amenities: Private bathroom, king- or queen-size bed, fireplace in one bedroom and in common area, TV, Wi-Fi, heated whirlpool tub, a suite of two adjoining rooms

Features: Striking architectural features, such as six-over-six windows, hardwood floors, crown molding, carved fireplace mantle and winding oak staircase; multiple dining areas and glassed-in Garden Room; antique furnishings and historic photos and magazines

Activities/Attractions: Eight acres with stately trees, front, side and back gardens; children’s outdoor playhouse; in-ground pool with brick patio. “People comment about our breakfasts and our lovely grounds,” Nina says. “My husband, who loves to garden, just planted 8,000 bulbs this fall. Also, we’re in the middle of a beautiful, historic town, filled with wonderful shopping, great dining and fun attractions. We’re just a mile from the river. Geneva has much to offer visitors.”

Kids/Pets: Yes/Yes, as long as they are well-behaved.

Events: Weddings, wedding receptions, showers, reunions, business meetings, seminars, luncheons, girlfriend getaways. “We’ll do anything anyone wants for 10 or more people, up to 300,” says Nina. “We have a commercial kitchen and a liquor license, so we cater the events. We have linens and table service, so we can do it all for you, or you can add your own personal touches. Our historic 1836 barn holds 150. We also offer many special-occasion and holiday luncheons and dinners during the year.”

Be sure to ask about: The visit by Betty Jean Swan, daughter of Oscar. “I had the privilege of meeting her, and she provided photos from her family’s history here,” Nina says. “She was delighted that the home is a B&B and can be appreciated by so many people.”

Of special note: The second Oscar Swan inn, a contemporary English country manor built in 1998 near Galena, in rural Scales Mound, Ill. “The inn has five bedrooms, and we also have a cottage available, all set on 30 acres with beautiful views,” says Nina.

What sets The Oscar Swan apart: “There are 110 years of history here,” Nina says. “We’re filled with unique, eclectic décor that fits the home’s period. We have so many historical photos, including photos of Oscar Swan and Frank Harding and their families. People especially enjoy our huge collection of National Geographic.”

Shady Oaks Bed & Breakfast

15 Lakeview Pl., Lake Zurich
(847) 438-6797,

Just two families have owned this Dutch Colonial shingle-style cottage in its 108-year history. Built by the Kohl family as a summer resort, visitors could rent bathing suits, boats and beds – not rooms, but beds – and there were no interior bathrooms, only outhouses. Of the three Kohl daughters, spinster Maybelle inherited the property after years of caring for her elderly mother, and it remained her home until her death in 1999. Its current owners purchased it in 2000, and spent six years restoring it.

Innkeepers/Owners: Suzanne and Fred Branding

Year built: 1904; after complete renovation, opened as B&B in 2006

No. of rooms: 5

Amenities: Private bath; Wi-Fi; flat-screen TV with cable; king- or queen-size bed; heated bathroom floor; lakeside views from three rooms, two with balconies; gourmet breakfast

Features: Period decor, antique books and magazines, front and back porch, flower garden, lakeside with dock

Activities/Attractions: Fishing from dock, nearby public park with swimming, nature preserves with hiking and biking trails. “We’re just a few minutes away from places like Volo Auto Museum, historic Long Grove and the Lake County Discovery Museum,” says Fred.

Kids/Pets: Yes, over 14/No

Events: N/A

Be sure to ask about: The Brandings’ historical connection to the house. “Both of us were born and raised in Lake Zurich,” Suzanne says. “Since purchasing the house, we believe Fred’s grandfather, who was a contractor in town, helped to build it. We haven’t located any architectural plans, but Fred has his grandfather’s ledger, which shows hours billed to the Kohl family.”

Of special note: Artifacts found on the property. “We’ve found a porcelain doll body – no head or limbs – a child’s leather shoe, chunks of glass and pottery, and out in the lake, we found an old soda bottle with the metal stopper still inside,” Suzanne says.

Royal Victorian Manor

344 Fremont St., Woodstock, (815) 308-5432

Set on top of a hill at the end of the street, this three-story Queen Anne Victorian was built by a Woodstock attorney who became a McHenry County judge. For a time, it served as a convalescent home, until it was purchased by the Ratchfords, who raised nine children here. In 2008, the family sold it to its current owners.

Innkeepers/Owners: Karla Stewart-Martin & Everton Martin

Year built: 1894; after extensive renovation and restoration, opened as a B&B in 2010

No. of rooms: 5

Amenities: Private bathroom, Wi-Fi, king- or queen-size bed, body sprays in shower, TV in two rooms, breakfast

Features: Outside: Wrap-around porch, one-acre lot with perennial garden and fruit trees, circular outdoor patio. Inside: Original woodwork and décor, three fireplaces converted to gas, extensive common areas. “We’re one of the largest homes in the area, and 80 percent of the downstairs is for our guests’ use,” Everton says.

Activities/Attractions: “We’re just six blocks from historic Woodstock Square, with its beautiful architecture,” says Karla. “It has boutique shopping, antiques, wonderful restaurants. The Woodstock Opera House offers fantastic live entertainment and lectures. We’re also about six blocks from the Metra station, and it’s about an hour and a half from here to Chicago.”
Adds Everton: “The town itself is amazing. It’s very peaceful and calm, and the people are open and friendly. It’s like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.”

Kids/Pets: No/No

Events: Gatherings of 20-25. “We have a promenade outside for small, intimate weddings, and on-site parking,” Karla says.

Be sure to ask about: The house’s connection to the film Groundhog Day. “This was the inn where Bill Murray’s character stayed, but Murray never actually stayed here – it wasn’t an inn until we came along,” Karla says. “The view of the gate which his character saw every morning was actually shot from the roof. They didn’t even film the interior of the house, only the exterior.”
Says Everton: “We really wanted to focus on providing a Victorian experience – hence the name – but we couldn’t shake being the Groundhog Day house. About 50 percent of our guests are Groundhog Day fans.”

Of special note: The highly personal touch. “You can’t book a room with us online – you have to call,” Karla says. “We want to speak with our guests before they arrive. It’s all about making our guests comfortable and providing a personal touch.”
Continues Everton: “One newly married couple from London came here because a visit to the Groundhog Day house was on their bucket list. The night they arrived, because we’d established a rapport on the phone, the husband confided to us that the next day was his wife’s birthday. He hadn’t had a chance to get her anything and wondered if we could help. So when they came down for breakfast the next morning, we had the table set for her birthday and gave her a little party.”

Why they run a B&B: “We’re from Milwaukee, and we were planning for our retirement and decided a B&B was a good fit,” says Karla. They had a vision of the house they wanted, and this was it. “The view from down the street is what really got us – we were smitten,” says Everton. The division of duties fits each perfectly. Creative Karla loves to decorate and cook, and tool man Everton loves home repair and yard work.