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11 Victorian Railroad Resorts

Step back in time with a stay at one of these grand Victorian-era resorts. By Clare M. Alexander

    The Hotel del Coronado's iconic red roof.

    The Hotel del Coronado's iconic red roof. (Photo: Courtesy of the Hotel del Coronado)

    During the Victorian era, as train travel became more popular, grand resorts were built to accommodate the increasing influx of railway passengers. Only a few of these expansive hotels (like The Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island) remain today—Bob Tagatz, The Grand’s historian, shared his list of Victorian-era railroad resorts not to be missed.

    Hotel Del Coronado
    San Diego, California

    Perhaps most recognizable as the backdrop for the 1959 Marilyn Monroe film Some Like It Hot, this iconic red-roofed beachfront hotel once had a spur track to accommodate the private rail cars of wealthy patrons. While you can’t pull a train car right up to the hotel today, you can still experience its Gilded Age splendor by taking in the ornate woodwork in the Main Lobby or enjoying Sunday brunch in the one-of-a-kind Crown Room.

    The Sagamore
    Lake George, New York

    Located on Green Island in the Adirondack resort town of Lake George, The Sagamore ferried guests from train station to hotel via steamboat. Today, you can replicate that experience by taking a tour of the lake on The Morgan, a reproduction 19th-century touring boat.

    The Equinox
    Manchester Village, Vermont

    What started as the Marsh Tavern in the late 18th century eventually grew to five buildings on a 1,300-acre property. An 1874 travel booklet published by the Central Vermont Railroad Company describes Mt. Equinox, which forms the backdrop of the resort, as “noted for its glorious views.” Thanks to its connection to the Orvis family (whose original homestead is now part of the inn), the hotel offers a multitude of outdoor pursuits, including fly-fishing and shooting.

    The Mohonk Mountain house has a dramatic cliffside setting.

    The Mohonk Mountain house has a dramatic cliffside setting. (Photo: Courtesy of the Mohonk Mountain House)

    Mohonk Mountain House
    New Paltz, New York

    The castle-like Mohonk Mountain House—perched atop a lakeside cliff in the Catskills—actually preceded the railroad’s arrival in New Paltz by six months, but soon horse-drawn carriages were delivering copious visitors from the station to the resort. You can still take a carriage ride around the property, or take in the pristine Victorian-era gardens on foot.

    Wentworth by the Sea
    New Castle, New Hampshire

    Its proximity to New York and Boston, along with its refreshing mountainous and coastal terrain, made New Hampshire all but synonymous with railroad resorts. The architecture of this 1874 building was modeled after an ocean liner, and is easily recognizable by its three mansard-roofed turrets. The hotel was nearly demolished in the 1980s until preservationists rallied to save it; after an extensive restoration, it reopened in 2003 under the Marriott umbrella.

    The Balsams
    Dixville Notch, New Hampshire

    What started as the humble Dix House in 1875 eventually expanded into a 15,000-acre complex when Henry Hale, inventor of the Pullman seat for rail cars, purchased it in 1895. Famous as the site where the first presidential primary and election ballots are cast each election year, The Balsams is currently undergoing a massive $30 million restoration project, and its reopening date is still uncertain.

    The Mount Washington Resort boasts impressive views of the White Mountains.

    The Mount Washington Resort boasts impressive views of the White Mountains. (Photo: Courtesy of Omni Mount Washington Resort)

    Mount Washington Resort
    Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

    Considered revolutionary when it was built in 1902 (with a steel superstructure and its own private post office and telephone system, still in existence today), Mount Washington Resort continues to enchant visitors with views of the White Mountains from its 900’-long wraparound veranda. As with the The Balsams, the Mount Washington Resort boasts a political claim to fame—the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference, which established the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, was held here in 1944.

    Mountain View Grand Resort
    Whitefield, New Hampshire

    The fourth of New Hampshire’s grand wooden hotels started as an accident, when William and Mary Jane Dodge took in a couple of wayward travelers who, enchanted by the view, ended up overstaying their welcome. Realizing they could capitalize on their serene setting, the Dodges transformed their humble farmhouse into a country inn, adding onto it gradually over the years as the railroads brought in more guests. After being shuttered in the late ‘80s, the hotel was bought by a private investor and fully restored—including its dramatic central tower, which offers the best spot to take in the eponymous view.

    Belleview Biltmore Hotel
    Belleair, Florida

    In 1897, railroad tycoon Henry Plant built a massive Shingle Style hotel (lauded at the time as the largest wooden building in the U.S.) on Florida’s Gulf Coast to serve passengers on his railroad line, which went right to the front door. Since 2004, the hotel has been the subject of a fierce battle between developers who want to raze it, and preservationists seeking to save it. (The hotel made the National Trust’s Endangered Places list in 2005.) Today, it’s still in jeopardy; find out more at savethebiltmore.com.

    The massive turret of the Jekyll Island Club offers a 360-degree panorama.

    The massive turret of the Jekyll Island Club offers a 360-degree panorama. (Photo: Courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel)

    Jekyll Island Club Hotel
    Jekyll Island, Georgia

    The Queen Anne-style hotel started life as an exclusive club catering to a who’s who of early 20th century society—in fact, a secret 1907 meeting between government and banking leaders at the club led to the development of the Federal Reserve System. The combination of the Great Depression and World War II dealt the club a fatal blow—it was shuttered on two separate occasions before reaching its current incarnation as a luxury hotel in the late ‘80s.

    Stanley Hotel
    Estes Park, Colorado

    It wasn’t a railroad magnate, but rather an automobile inventor (F.O. Stanley, co-creator of the Stanley Steamer) who built the 1909 Stanley Hotel. Still, the hotel received a fair share of railway passengers, who were ferried up the mountain in Stanley’s latest invention: the Stanley Mountain Wagon, a converted truck that functioned as an early motorbus. A newly opened museum at the hotel features an 8-passenger Stanley Mountain Wagon.

    Published in: Old-House Journal August/September 2013



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