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Posts tagged: antiques and collectibles

Travel: Overnight idyll at Montana’s Virgelle Mercantile

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

   The two-story mercantile, a farmhouse, the old grain elevator, a bank building and a set of abandoned railroad tracks running across the grassland are the only visible reminders of the town of Virgelle, Montana. Settled in 1912 by homesteaders who rushed to claim their 300 acres in the harsh Montana landscape, by 1930 the boom was over and the little town was frozen in time


    After the last holdout left in the 1970s, the ghost town could have faded away but the property was purchased by a pharmacist who’d grown up nearby. He filled the mercantile space with an antiques business and turned the upstairs rooms into a Bed and Breakfast. One by one, original homestead cabins, rescued from the surrounding countryside, were brought in and refurbished. A vintage sheepherder’s wagon was added to the mix of restored accommodations.


    My room for the night was the 1914 Little Mosier homestead cabin. Big enough for a double bed, an oilcloth-covered table and two chairs, a big iron-and-nickel cook stove and a washstand with both a Coleman lantern and a battery lantern, the cabin faced the grassy slope rolling down toward the Missouri River. To my left, down the road a bit, I could see a working ranch. To my right, a bath house and the Mercantile building. A little further, more cabins and the rest of what remains of the original town.


    Dropping my bags in a chair, I opened the screen door and stepped back out to the porch and stood there a long time looking out, trying to imagine the scenes that had played out in the tiny cabin and others like it. I thought about what it must have been like to live there a century ago, a child on my hip, maybe another in a cradle by the stove. The family would have ached with cold in the harsh winters and been baked by the relentless summer sun. It’s easy to imagine early optimism giving way to fatigue and loneliness and perhaps, eventually, even despair. The reality of the hardscrabble life most early homesteaders faced would break most of us. Only the toughest made it.


    Grabbing my camera, chasing the golden light cast by the fading sun, I followed the path across the road and walked to where the old railroad sign still marked the town by the railroad tracks. A rabbit, startled by my footsteps, darted out and, deciding I was no threat,  skirted me, almost touching my boots, before continuing down what was obviously a trail, worn and defined by generations of other wildlife.


    As it always does, gazing out at the vast openness of the Montana sky and rolling grassland soothed the jangled tension inside me. Like many others, I am someone who needs quiet spaces but although I relish my solitude, I don’t need complete isolation to find it.  The little cluster of old buildings and cabins was perfect. There were a few others staying in the restored cabins and the sheepherder’s wagon surrounding the mercantile store, but voices were low and each of us seemed to be happy to be left alone with our thoughts.


    After a big meal served family style in the kitchen of the bed and breakfast, in the company of other guests—there were only one or two others as it was late in the tourist season—I was ready to call it a day. Flashlight in hand, I followed the path back to my cabin. A bird, startled by my footsteps on the porch, returned the favor and startled me as it flew over my head and out into the night sky. Inside the cabin, the lantern painted the walls with shadows.


    I slipped between crisp cotton sheets, burrowing under the heavy hand-stitched quilts. The early September night was already cool, tinged with autumn, hinting at the winter that would come.


    As I lay alone in the dark, listening to the coyotes call down by the river and the rustling of nightbirds and small creatures outside, I closed my eyes. Content, warm, safe, and, for the first time in weeks free of the noise of a busy life, it felt possible to pick up the loose and broken threads of work and family and all the other nagging worries that fight for attention in my mind and knit myself back together. I closed my eyes and let the night sounds sing me to sleep.
    

More information about the Virgelle Mercantile

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Sweet Dreams: The Garden Wall Inn

     In love and lodging, the little things always seem to matter the most.
      I was reminded of this in early May, when I traveled to Whitefish, Montana for the centennial celebration of Glacier National Park.  I was lucky enough to find a rare opening at The Garden Wall Inn.
    The beautiful bed and breakfast sits on a corner in a residential area just two blocks from downtown. Once the town’s finest home, thanks to the vision of owner Rhonda Fitzgerald, the lovely two-story house is now home to five of Whitefish’s most luxurious overnight guest rooms.
     Located just at the top of the quaint staircase, rose wallpaper and bedding, antique furnishings and artwork as well as lace curtains at the windows, all perfectly suited to the home’s provenance, gave my room a sweet vintage charm.
    Personal touches like paper-thin antique water glasses on the dresser, freshly ironed antique linen sheets and pillow cases on the bed and well-chosen accessories such as the delicate Wedgwood dish on the dresser, wrapped me in comfort and elegance.
    This, I learned, is a specialty of the house.
    Fitzgerald insists that whenever possible, vintage and antique items are used to decorate and accessorize the inn. This concept is carried through from the furniture, to the artwork on the walls, to the sterling silver bud vases on tea trays and bedside tables.
    The white-tiled en suite bathroom, complete with a massive vintage claw-foot bathtub, is stocked with a variety of Gilchrist and Soames soaps, lotions, bath beads and plenty of big, plush, monogrammed towels. After a long hike, I couldn’t wait to slip into a fragrant bubble bath and relax. There was plenty of stretching-out room in the big old tub. It was the perfect place to unwind and think about what I’d seen and done that day.
    It became clear that at Garden Wall Inn the luxury doesn’t stop with the accommodations. That’s just the beginning.
    Each afternoon a glass of sherry, or wine if you prefer, is served in the living room by the fireplace. When innkeeper Chris Schustrom discovered I like to have a cup of chamomile tea before bed, he delivered a silver tea tray complete with a vintage Blue Willow cup and saucer to my room at bedtime. Taken with the homemade truffle from Whitefish’s Copperleaf Chocolat Company left on my pillow at turndown, the combination was delicious and soothing.
    In the morning, half an hour before breakfast, a morning tea or coffee tray was delivered to my room, another specialty of the house. It is a most civilized way to ease into the day.
    The crowning touch is the signature Garden Wall Inn breakfast.
Owner Rhonda Fitzgerald is a trained chef. Her breakfasts are a culinary work of art.
    I sat down to a work-of-art fruit salad decorated with a slice of star fruit and livened by a spritz of fresh lime. Freshly squeezed orange juice and hot coffee were waiting on the table.
    The main dish was Montana smoked trout and served en croute, accompanied by slices of local artisanal bread and homemade huckleberry muffins.
    Everything about Garden Wall Inn is perfectly appointed. From the delicious gourmet breakfast, to the chance to unwind over a glass of sherry in the afternoon, to the delictable chocolate left on the pillow at turndown, guests are pampered by one little luxury after another. And, as any travel lover knows, the little things make a big impression. I can’t wait to spend another night in the beautiful white house on the corner.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons.”  Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

To see more photos of 
The Garden Wall Inn continue reading below.


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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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