Looking for a winter escape close to home? Ditch the hotel reservations and find a bed-and-breakfast, where amenities flourish and no two stays are ever the same.
The good old-fashioned bed-and-breakfast offers an intimate lodging experience where you can find charming accommodations and a true retreat from the ordinary. These are one-of-a-kind inns where every room and every stay is special, in part because they come with so many extras, from homemade breakfasts to luxurious rooms.
Our region is teeming with bed-and-breakfasts that provide a quiet and relaxing stay, personalized service and a comfortable place to lay your head. Treat yourself to a getaway close to home.
T.C. Smith Historic Inn
As snow blankets the landscape and a crisp chill fills the air, Lake Geneva transforms into a winter wonderland. Just a few blocks from downtown, charming homes hearken back to days gone by. Among them, the T.C. Smith Historic Inn, 834 Dodge St., beckons visitors with a warm breakfast and a night’s stay.
Built in 1865, the inn has a rich history connected to one of Lake Geneva’s early settlers, Timothy Clark Smith. He moved to Milwaukee from New York in 1842 and eventually landed in Lake Geneva in 1844. He opened a general merchandise store and offered townspeople everything from tools to groceries.
“He had a general merchandise store with hardware, paint, flour and windows. They would have groceries like bread – everything you needed,” says Maureen Marks, owner of the historic inn. “It wasn’t like the stores now where you go to Home Depot for building supplies. Pretty much everything else, you’d get at the T.C. Smith Store.”
Smith expanded beyond retail into real estate transactions and contributions to the State Line and Union Railroad Co. This helped link Lake Geneva to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in 1871.
Marks purchased the original T.C. Smith home on Lake Geneva’s Main Street in 1980 and lived there with her family. She restored the home, listed it on the National Register of Historic Places and opened it to guests in 1985. She sold the building in 2000 and relocated to Dodge Street, where she re-opened her bed-and-breakfast in a different home.
This building is the only landmark of its kind to offer overnight accommodations in the city, featuring pre-Civil War architecture with Greek Revival and Italianate styles. Inside, remnants of the Grand Victorian era abound.
Each of the four guest rooms are decorated with 18th and 19th century furnishings and fireplaces. Full bathrooms are attached to each room, with some offering whirlpools and unique shower amenities like a steamer.
Guests are treated to a lavish breakfast buffet, featuring Marks’ signature egg soufflé and homemade bread. The inn’s proximity to attractions like downtown Lake Geneva, zip-lining and Marks’ favorite restaurant, Tuscan Tavern & Grill, ensures a delightful stay.
The inn hosts a variety of events, from bridal showers and weddings to anniversaries and birthdays. Marks’ personal touch includes thoughtful gifts for guests celebrating special occasions.
“I have many antiques, so if someone is staying several days and it’s a birthday or anniversary, I pick out something special and give it to them,” says Marks.
Originally built in 1885, the Steamboat House, located at 605 S. Prospect St. in Galena, features a Gothic Revival exterior and Victorian interior spanning 7,000 square feet. The house has served as a family residence, a funeral home, an antique store and a corporate retreat. Unique features include cranberry glass in the entryway, a billiards room and a grand piano.
The mansion’s historical roots are connected to steamboat captain Daniel Smith Harris, a key figure in Galena’s history. Harris hosted notable guests like Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Blackwell.
“Harris died in the 1890s and at that time, he was the oldest settler of Galena,” says innkeeper Carroll Gebelt. “He and his brother made their first fortune mining lead here in Galena. That’s how he got the funds to build this place.”
While preserving authenticity, the mansion also provides modern amenities. Private baths in each guest room, spacious accommodations, board games in the library, and evening wine-and-cheese gatherings provide comfort and a connection with history.
Gebelt offers several packages and collaborates with local businesses like Galena Cellars winery, Blaum Brothers Distillery and the Fried Green Tomatoes restaurant. These partnerships allow guests to explore the best of Galena.
A highlight of the stay is the communal breakfast, where guests have a chance to interact around the table. The menu, featuring dishes like potato casserole, baked egg soufflés, waffles and baked French toast, showcases a splendor of locally grown produce.
“That’s a large part of the experience – the socializing over breakfast,” says Gebelt. “I’ve had people who were neighbors and didn’t know it. They stayed here together and found out over breakfast. So, breakfast is more than just food. It’s a connection.”
Oscar Swan Inn
Chicago banker Oscar Swan built the mansion that would become Oscar Swan Inn, 1800 W. State St. in Geneva, in 1902 and sold it to businessman Frank W. Harding Jr. in the late 1940s. Remnants of the Swans and the Hardings can be found throughout the mansion and its seven rooms. While the rooms feature rustic paneling, European-painted furniture and floral chandeliers, they also come equipped with modern amenities like televisions and heating.
In 1986, Nina and the late Hans Heymann stumbled upon the property and, despite initial reservations, opened the doors to a new chapter in 1988. The setting, with its small-town charm close to the bustling city of Chicago, provides a unique getaway for those seeking a laid-back escape, Nina says.
“Coming here is a little like going to grandmother’s house or going home to the countryside in the good ole days,” she says.
The inn’s 8 semi-wooded acres offer a picturesque backdrop for weddings and events. The banquet hall, a large barn known as The Gathering, provides a rustic charm that complements the overall ambiance of the inn.
Guests are offered a full breakfast with options ranging from bacon and sausage to eggs. The inn accommodates dietary restrictions and preferences to ensure each guest’s morning starts with a delightful meal. The communal breakfast setting provides an opportunity for guests to share stories and make new friends.
Nina doesn’t offer set packages, but she does tailor the experience to meet individual preferences. It’s this flexibility and willingness to go the extra mile that makes it a standout choice for those seeking a personalized and intimate retreat.
Nina and Oscar Swan host a variety of events, not just weddings, but also engagements, art classes and brunches. Nina hopes to provide guests with a chance to step back in time and savor a charm that’s become rare in today’s fast-paced world.
“Maybe I’m too homespun, but that’s what I think is needed today. The world has gotten too commercialized,” Nina says. “I think people are starved for some good old-fashioned humanness, which is kind of lost out there, but you can find it here at Oscar Swan.”