Elsah's Slice of Paradise
Kim and I were rookie reporters back in the mid-80s. Our desks faced each other in the newsroom, and we developed a lasting friendship. Each year we get together at a chosen place, halfway between our homes. This year we picked the Green Tree Inn in Elsah, IL - a peaceful village along the Great River Road. Kim's daughter Leah joined us for the outing. This charming inn is by far the most incredible place we've stayed.
The historic village, which sits between the Mississippi River and towering limestone bluffs, offers a step back in time. And The Green Tree Inn provides its own little slice of paradise. Our gracious hosts, Gary and Connie, made us feel at home upon arrival and pampered us during our stay. Connie gave us a tour and then showed us to our room on the second floor. The Meadowlark has a soft green color scheme with butterfly decor and overlooks radiant flower gardens. Later, Connie shared a bit of the village's rich history, which began with the founder, James Sepple, in 1853. When his family left Scotland for the United States, they last saw the Alisa Craig Quarry. Historians believe the village was named in honor of that quarry. To entice residents to Elsah, Sepple offered free lots to those who agreed to build their homes with stones from his quarry. Most of those charming homes remain today. I looked forward to a walkabout in the morning.
After settling, we returned to the dining room to catch up on each other's lives over a bottle of wine, a few appetizers, and Connie's homemade peanut butter brownies. Meanwhile, the grandfather clock kept chiming away the hours. Once a year is not enough for our heartfelt gabfests! Especially now that Leah has joined us with her refreshing Gen Z views on life.
Shortly after sunrise, I grabbed coffee and walked around the gardens where swallowtails were already sipping from the zinnias. The jasmine around the gazebo begged for my attention. There was still plenty of time to explore the historic village before breakfast. Elsah is home to 635 residents, at the last count. Many older homes are built from rough-cut stone and graced with gardens.
Our hosts served a tasty breakfast casserole, fresh fruit, and the best zucchini bread ever that morning! They mentioned interesting places we might want to visit during our stay. We had planned to spend the day in nearby Grafton, but we abandoned those plans after Gary and Connie's suggestions. Our first stop was the little general store, which offers vintage candy and soda, daily necessities, books, gifts, and fresh bakery products. Next door is Peace Works, a "Market with a Mission" that supports Fair Trade, a movement that helps marginalized artisans.
A few miles down the road, we visited the Treehouse Wildlife Center, where volunteers rescue and rehabilitate animals, releasing them to their habitat when possible. By mid-afternoon, we were ready to tour the grounds of Principia College, where studies focus on Christian Science. During breakfast, Connie mentioned that actor Robert Duvall is among its alum. The pristine campus sits on the bluffs of the Mississippi River and reminds me of a quaint English village. While driving through its rolling hills, we spotted a small building standing alone on campus. Later, we learned that the structure is known as the "Mistake House," a sample structure built by architect Bernard Maybeck to illustrate construction techniques, such as timbering, brick, concrete, and stone.
When it was time to head for home, there was still so much more to explore, such as the Elsah Museum and nearby trails. We look forward to returning to The Green Tree Inn. For sure, it will be when the gardens are in full bloom!