The Mason House Inn is a fine Bed & Breakfast in the heart of the Midwest, first built to serve steamboat travelers 168 years ago. Today, the tradition continues with your hosts, the Hansons.
The Mason House Inn was built in 1846, originally called the Ashland House, and was owned by William Robinson. It was built as a hotel to serve the steamboat travelers going from St. Louis to Fort Des Moines and Fort Dodge on the Des Moines River. It was built by Mormon craftsmen from Nauvoo, Illinois, who stayed in Bentonsport for several years, working and gathering supplies before making their trek westward to Salt Lake City, Utah. (Several of the brick buildings still in use here in Bentonsport were built by these craftsmen.) In 1857, the Ashland House was purchased by Lewis Mason and his wife, Nancy. They changed the name to the Phoenix Hotel, but the townspeople called the place the "Mason's House", and the name stayed. It was Nancy who started the tradition of "a cookie jar in every room".
Lewis James Mason Nancy Winslow Mason
Over the years, the Mason House has withstood 6 major floods: 1851, 1903, 1905, 1947 and, most recently, 1993 and 2008. Through it all, this magnificent building remains a stalwart landmark. During the Civil War, the Mason House was used as a "holding hospital" for the wounded soldiers who were waiting for the train or boats to take them to the hospital in Keokuk. It was also a station on the Underground Railroad. For a short time in 1913 the building was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium. But the building was too small for their needs and they moved to Des Moines. From 1920 to 1950, Lewis' grand-daughter, Fannie Mason Kurtz, ran the hotel as a boarding house for the town doctor and his wife and also the local school teachers. When Fannie died in 1951, the place was rented as a house for the Downing family until 1956.
The Mason House stayed in the Mason Family for 99 years, then was sold to Herbert and Burretta Redhead in 1956. The Redhead family ran the Inn as a Museum and Bed & Breakfast for 33 years. They hired some Amish ladies from the area to run the Inn because the building still did not have any electricity and cooking was done on the original Buck wood burning stove. There was a seven hole outhouse in the back yard. They built one bathroom on the second floor to accommodate the 10 bedrooms up there. In 1970, they bought the old Bonaparte train station and brought it over to the lot next to the Inn and ran it as a General Store. In 1972, the Redheads registered the old hotel on the National Register of Historic Places as The Mason House Inn. In 1989, Bill and Sheral McDermet bought the Inn and did extensive refurbishing. This included remodeling the train station and connecting it to the Mason House, providing for ground level accommodations with separate entrances and private baths. They refurbished the second floor rooms, making two-room suites and private baths in all the rooms. They converted the first floor Tavern room into a bedroom. This made 5 rooms on the second floor and 3 rooms on the first floor. Chuck and Joy Hanson bought the Inn in 2001 and continue the great traditions of the past. The Caboose Cottage was brought to the Inn in 2006. It is a real antique railroad caboose that has been transformed into a self-contained cottage for your enjoyment. It features a queen bed, dining nook (that transforms into a bed for 1 small adult or 2 children), a kitchenette, a private bathroom with shower, satellite TV, and internet access. You can sit out on the front deck and enjoy the wonderful sight of the river and possibly even watch the eagles.
The Mason family brought many antique furnishings from New York in 1857, and today more than half of the original appointments remain. The Wild Rose Room houses a massive 9 foot walnut headboard. The Mason Suite contains a 9 foot mirror, as well as the bedroom set of Mr. and Mrs. Mason. You will not find any closets because they were taxed as regular rooms in the 1840s, so there are coat hooks on the walls. The Mason House has an eight foot school bench from the Vernon School, and a cherry secretary from the James Brown House. You can play tunes on the 1882 Estey pump organ or the 1905 Kimball piano in the formal parlor. The first floor has central heating and air conditioning and each guest room has individual electric heat, an air conditioning unit and private bathroom with shower. A full country breakfast is served family style in our 40 foot Dining Room. There is a fireplace there and a TV for the guests to use. In the evening, guests gather here to play games and make new friends.
There are many antique and craft shops near the Inn. The village of Bentonsport has a variety of both. Iron and Lace features hand-thrown Queen Anne's Lace pottery and hand-forged artistic ironwork made by Betty and Bill Printy who live here in Bentonsport. They also sell wine from a local winery. The Greef General Store offers antiques and hand-made gifts. Gems-4-Me has polished rocks and gems and Bentonsport souvenirs. Forever Sweet Creations is a fudge and sandwich shop in the old Post Office Building. Tony Sanders' Native American Artifact Museum is open by chance or appointment. Shops in Bentonsport are open April to December, (the Inn is open all year long). Chuck and Joy will be glad to direct you to other activities within an hours drive. The wild night-life in Bentonsport consists mainly of owls and frogs along the lazy Des Moines River. However, the Hansons would be happy to direct you to several nice restaurants within a few miles. The Mason House is excellent for small retreats, reunions, and small seminars (24 maximum), or just a quiet get-away-from-it-all.
Come see us at the Mason House Inn, the oldest steamboat hotel on the Des Moines River!
More pictures of the Mason Family:
Edward R. Mason Minnie, Charlotte and Harry Mason Mary Mason Clark
Minerva Mason Wilkinson Anna Montague Mason Senator William E. Mason
Edgar S. Mason Schiller, Gayle, and Fannie Mason Kurtz
George Henry Mason Rebecca Williamson Mason with Harry
Nellie, Fannie, Will, and Harry Mason at the back door of the Mason House
I guess the flood of 2008 is now history, so here are some pictures of our experience:
The Des Moines River flooded it's banks on June 13, 2008. We had sandbags along the sidewalk in front of the Inn and all the way down to in front of the Caboose Cottage. The water was about 18 inches up on the sandbags for about a week before it receded. Our neighbor to the east did not sandbag, and we did not realize that our property is lower than his. When the water went into his yard, it seeped downhill into our yard and flooded the property around the Caboose and in front of Rooms 2 and 3. Chuck had a large sump pump going day and night for a week to keep the water from reaching the Main house. The pump took one gallon of gas at a time, and would run for two hours on the tank full. Chuck and I slept in Room 1 for the week so we could keep an eye on the water height. We set the alarm clock to ring every two hours so Chuck could get up and put gas in the pump tank. We called it "feeding the baby". We had moved all the furniture out of Room 1 (except for bed) and out of the Parlor (except for the piano), since these were the two rooms to flood first if the water would have come into the Main house. But, thanks to the sandbags and Chuck's diligence with the sump pump, the water never came into the Main house first floor. The basement did get water into it because the sump pump down there burned out and we got about 8 inches of water in there before we were able to get another one hooked up.
The upper picture shows the water up against the sandbags and the entire block, from Sanford Street to Des Moines Street, is under water. The second picture shows the Caboose Cottage being an island. The water was about 2 and a half feet deep here in front of the caboose. The third picture shows the water in front of the caboose and Rooms 2 and 3. The water came up to the sidewalk in front of Room 2 and did not reach the Main house, just 5 feet away. You can see the water being pumped back over the wall. The fourth picture is our view of the Bentonsport Bridge and Riverfront park.
The river ice broke up on Feb. 17, 2011 and left a mess of river ice in the park. Chuck is standing in front of a piece that is five feet thick! The ice is gone now, but I still think this picture is pretty awesome.