Charlotte Beach can truly say, "Charles Lindbergh slept here."
Kevin and Sharon Ryan will greet some of their guests with a hug before they register.
And if you're looking for Marcia Nelson's Bed and Breakfast, it's that grain bin off Interstate 80.
Many visitors to Starved Rock Country have found creative sleeping arrangements off the beaten path with area bed and breakfast accommodations.
FOX RIVER BED & BREAKFAST
Jo Sylvester's first experience staying in Starved Rock Country was at Fox River Bed & Breakfast near Wedron.
Sylvester and her husband, Don, from Centralia, Wash., married in July 2011 after both had been widowed following long marriages. The couple was returning to Spring Valley, Ill., for a family reunion and honeymoon when the couple found the charming country inn on the Internet.
"We love meeting the people and the decor and the history," Jo Sylvester said. "I like getting to know the owners and the history of the area. When we were there it was for a reunion, so I met a lot of family and friends of my husband's I had never met before, so a lot of time was spent visiting and enjoying local parks."
Fox River Bed & Breakfast is known for hosting a famous guest in one of its previous incarnations.
Charles Lindbergh was delivering air mail from St. Louis to Chicago when his plane nose-dived into a nearby field in 1926, one year before he made his solo trans-Atlantic flight. Lindbergh stayed in what was then the DeBolt family home for two nights and later sent a thank-you note with $10 enclosed.
The room he stayed in is now converted into a guest room with Lindbergh-era memorabilia on display.
"The place is not a whole lot different than it was in the 1800s," owner Charlotte Beach said. "It's nice to preserve it right."
The bed and breakfast offers a sleeping capacity of 14 with five uniquely-themed guest rooms, such as the Texan Room, the La Madrid Room, the Knotty Pine Room and the Tribal Room. She is assisted by Amy Figenbaum, who helps clean rooms, cook and serve breakfast and meet and greet guests.
While many of her guests are couples, some families and groups occasionally rent the entire property.
"We promote more of a country style," Beach said. "People come here and end up being friends. They like the country and the activities, such as SkyDive Chicago, biking the Illinois & Michigan Canal, festivals, canoeing and camping. They come here to try to get away from it, to see what it's like living in the country."
That country atmosphere is what repeatedly draws the Sylvesters back.
"We like the peaceful quiet and I loved the cornfields," Jo said. "We always love meeting new people and having new experiences."
Beach enjoys visiting with guests and has a collection of cards and letters her new friends have sent after their stay.
"I think the house is a lot happier when people are laughing and enjoying themselves and having a good time," she said.
Kim and Steve Cosman of Schererville, Ind., were married in the garden on the grounds of the Brightwood Inn in Oglesby in September 2001 after their first stay the previous February.
"We took all the rooms," Kim Cosman said. "We usually return to 'the scene of the crime,' as Steve calls it, every fall to celebrate our anniversary. I love the notebooks that guests write in in each room and always look back to our wedding date to see what friends and family have written."
The bed and breakfast boasts nine guest rooms, each named after places the managers Kevin and Sharon Ryan have visited. Built 17 years ago by Kevin's parents, John and Jo, each room has a majestic view of the prairie and the vegetable and herb gardens. Nearby Matthiessen State Park also is visible from some rooms.
"The rooms are delightful," Cosman said. "We love the gardens, local bars, wineries and restaurants. But what really keeps us coming back is the Ryan clan. We consider them friends after all these years and give each of them a big hug when we arrive."
The Ryans emphasize hospitality and provide a DVD collection and WiFi for the modern guest. Recycling is also important to them, and Sharon Ryan says it is appreciated by many of their guests. They provide reverse-osmosis water and their garden stocks area farmers markets.
Many come to visit Starved Rock State Park, which is a five-minute drive away. Ryan said most come to relax and the rooms are designed for "staying in" if the weather demands it. There are fireplaces in each room and hot tubs in six of the rooms.
"Each room has its own identity," Sharon Ryan said. "When you go to a hotel, everything looks the same. Here it's not like that. All of our rooms have their own charm. We try hard, very hard to give good service and good food."
MARCIA NELSON'S BED AND BREAKFAST
Marcia Nelson's Bed and Breakfast has a down-home country flavor. Nelson has converted a grain bin on her farm off Interstate 80, northeast of Ottawa, into living quarters.
"(The grain bin) couldn't hold the weight of corn or beans but I wanted to use it somehow," she said. "It's energy-efficient. It's using an existing structure. It's sort of green."
Debbie Crowley, of Custer, S.D., discovered Nelson's property more than 10 years ago. At the time, Crowley lived in Iowa, where she had moved from Michigan. Nelson's bed and breakfast was about halfway for Crowley, who often had her horses with her. Nelson has horses of her own, so Crowley found it a good place to rest and relax.
"She was so excited to meet us," Crowley said. "She made us feel really at home, and made accommodations for each of the horses. She made a bonfire and we sat around it. It was a really great experience. She's just so ingratiating. She wants to make everyone feel comfortable and get what you need. She and I became really good friends."
The steps in the grain bin were handcrafted to work in the round. They wind up to a second floor loft that serves as the master bedroom.
Special touches abound in the architecture: an arched front door with a peekaboo window, the upper loft railing designed to mimic the curves of a grand piano, another part of the loft resembling a xylophone, and woodwork along the wall under the stairs in the image of a tree.
The table in the center of the living area is crafted to look like a tree trunk and with a homemade swing (yes, a real swing) also part of the living area, guests can feel they're on a picnic rather than having an ordinary meal inside.
Even the bathroom showcases creative flair with a bathtub-shower fashioned from a horse trough. Using a special insert, it's a perfect place to take a long, relaxing soak.
All of the whimsical touches are designed to make guests feel comfortable and relaxed, but at the same time intrigued by all the special details.
"People feel very much at home here. It's not upscale," Nelson said. "When people visit, they feel at home within seconds, which is neat."
Infobox headline: Check out these bed & breakfasts
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