A step back in time in Okawville...
|The Original Springs Hotel|
Strolling back in time… It almost felt like you should have a gown and bustle on as you walked across the wide wrap around veranda into the lobby of The Original Springs Hotel right in the center of the small town of Okawville, Illinois, population 1400. I expected to see wagons, buggy’s and horses tied to the hitching posts out front.
Okawville is a small unassuming little farming community right off of highway 64 in the heart of south central Illinois. It has long been a travel route to St. Louis. The hotel was established in 1867 on the site of a natural hot spring, when it was discovered that bathing in the mineral baths caused health conditions to improve dramatically. As we drove through town yesterday I couldn’t help but feel that I could live in a community like this forever! In fact if Illinois was not on my bucket list of places to leave, I would be looking for a small farm here.
The hotel has been through ups and downs, destruction and rebuilding many times throughout its lifespan. It is not a swanky, uppity spa, despite all the wonderful things it offers. Throughout its long history its owners have come to it, just as it was in its most dire need. I read up on the history yesterday before we arrived. I like to have a sense of a place that has a deep history. I want to know what to expect. Several owners have perished on the site, a guest or two also. It also was a hangout for some big Chicago gangsters in the roaring twenties. It has been the site of rivalry’s and disingenuous liaisons. And through all of it, the heart of this wondrous old girl has stayed true.
The oldest parts of the building lend themselves to nostalgia and feed the rumors of friendly ghosts that haunt the premises. The Civil War room which we got the opportunity to visit but not stay in, as it is only a one bed room, was amazing! Ava was quick to point out the picture of “Abe” on one of the walls. The Civil War room is reportedly one of the most haunted.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, I personally do and am very sensitive to changes in an environment, it is easy to understand not wanting to leave this wonderful little jewel. When we walked into the lobby we simply stepped backwards in time. Ava and I both noticed there was a feeling in the room, it even smelled of history. Like when you enter an antique store and the scent of the past is almost over whelming. The windows in the lobby are the old leaded glass, which makes looking through them a bit distorted and lovely. There are stair cases that lead off the lobby in many different directions and after checking in we were quick to descend the one that had a hand painted sign leading to the pool, much to Ava’s delight.
The pool will take your breath away, it used to be filled with the wonderful mineral water, tinting it a rich green. But government regulations have changed the old beauty into your standard pool filled with everyday water, but warmed to body temperature. You can tell where they have tried to make it a modern pool, but at the same time the fact that it is not uniform or level in anyway reminds you of its origins. It is indoors now, but the brick walls and exterior of the newer section makes you wonder if at some point it was actually outside. The skylight overhead does not allow a lot of light in, the lights surrounding the pool are dim and mimic the old gas lanterns that surrounded it in the past. We spent several hours happily splashing around with Ava, while sipping drinks delivered poolside. Ava had her first Shirley Temple, which she happily sipped with Gramma and Grampa while making the most of her opportunity to cannon ball in!
Our room is in the newer section, originally added in the mid 1900’s. Just around the corner from the pool itself, just past the indoor gazebo. It is clean, even if old, but we didn’t come to hang out in our room.
The main door to our room is across the hall from a beautiful wrapping staircase and the back door opens into the parking lot with an old church on the other side. The church is beautiful with hourly chimes coming from the bell tower. The melody is calming and peaceful.
The restaurant is in the original building, right off of the pool. It is elegant and the beauty is unmatched. Initially it appears to be small, as you only see the section right off the entry doors. Linen table clothes, lit candles and a sprig of flowers adorn each table. As you head up the stairs to the wide open space of the rest of the dining room you can almost envision the tables moved out and the dances that took place there in the past. They used to have weekly dances in there before The Great Depression. It was elegant and charming. The food was exquisite, the taste, texture and presentation perfection at its best.
Strolling through the building yesterday when we first arrived was an interesting experience. Some areas had as little energy as a trip to the mall, the air was not different, you didn’t feel that you had been joined by anyone. Other areas… Now that is a different story, the second floor of the main building has a very interesting feel to it. It is not frightening or spooky; I have been in buildings like that. The building I work in has areas like that. It was more a sense of energy, a slight pressure to the area, like I had felt when we walked through the door.
We didn’t see anything; at least we didn’t think we did.
Hubby took a picture of Ava and me in the hallway, and I was being a brat and snapped one of him first. I am not sure what is in that picture, but there is definitely something over his right shoulder. Right in the area where I felt the pressure the strongest when walking past, something showed up in the picture, is it the mysterious Lady in White that so many have reported seeing throughout the hotel in the past 50 or more years? Hubby showed the picture to several of the folks that work here and they insisted it’s the lady, but assured him not to be afraid that she is quite friendly.
Believe or don’t… That is a personal choice. The Ghost Hunters were here last weekend, I don’t know what they found or didn’t find. But I can really understand why they wouldn’t want to leave this beautiful old hotel.
It’s definitely a place that has not forgotten what customer service means, everyone that works here is so friendly and courteous, something we have forgotten in the city. Here in this small town they ooze a charm and kindness that is contagious.
In little less than an hour I will go and take a nice long mineral bath, see if the waters they are famous for will ease my aches and pains. Hubby will hang out with Ava while I am gone, she and I will hang out while he is taking his mineral bath. Maybe she and I will go for another swim while he soaks away his worries.
We will have lunch together in that beautiful old restaurant before heading back to the hustle and bustle of the city. It's amazing that Hubby has been asking me to come here for 10 years. Hard to believe that a mere 40 miles from my front door there is such a beautiful little place to unwind and relax. Yes we will be back, maybe the Lady in White will join us, maybe it will just be us, but we will definitely be back.