Boutique hotels are a delightful option for travelers who are not necessarily comfortable with the intimacy of bed and breakfast inns, but want more personality than often is offered in your typical chain hotel.
The Hotel Grinnell in Grinnell Iowa is my latest find, just perfect for my traveling style that embraces small towns, history, adaptive reuse of old buildings and more than a little bit of fun and sass.
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A Boutique Hotel with History in Grinnell Iowa
Located about 50 miles east of Des Moines, Grinnell is a pleasant little community of fewer than 10,000 people about 10 miles off of I-80. That population gets a small boost from the 1500 students at Grinnell College, a private liberal arts school.
In 1921, the growing community built a sturdy junior high school that served its purpose well for nearly 50 years. Then the world discovered that asbestos in buildings is not a good thing. It was easier to build a new school than clean up the mess in the junior high school. So the city of Grinnell took over the property, did the dirty deed and used some of the space for offices for a few years.
Building a Unique Hotel in Small Town Iowa
The Hotel Grinnell is now 43 guest rooms, most of them with the original pine floors from the 1920s. The former gymnasium, now the ballroom, also has the original floor. And the restaurant/cafe is in the boys locker room and contains the original scoreboard from the gymnasium. Too cute!
The former auditorium now serves as an event center and community theater.
If you tour the building with Angela, she’ll point out Room 109 that was originally designed as a resting lounge for female students. Back in the 1920s, education was considered a strenuous endeavor for young women. So they were given a lounge to rest and recoup from the workout of their delicate little brains.
Angela is rightfully proud of the original art from local galleries that fills much of the space and the creative display of bicycles that are free for guest use. She turned the lunch room into two guest rooms with bunk beds that can accommodate up to 10 at a time. Angela was thinking about traveling sports teams, but instead, it seems bachelorette parties have enjoyed this option quite a bit.
Then Angela giggled when noting the neck tie she chose for a “Do Not Disturb” sign. I didn’t discover the significance of that notification system until college, but this was the Roaring 20s and you never know about those junior high school kids in Iowa.
Overall, I found the Hotel Grinnell just delightful. There’s a fun restaurant in town called the Canary Prairie, some interesting architecture in the Louis Sullivan Jewell Box Bank, and not far away, a funeral home museum. So, just a bit of everything for the traveler looking for fun, adventure, history and sass.
Tip: A little farther west on I-80 is Davenport Iowa and another creative boutique hotel we think you’ll enjoy.
Go West, Young Man – to Grinnell, Iowa
Here is some fun trivia that may or may not be based in fact. Although he denies he ever said it, newspaper editor Horace Greeley is most frequently credited with the famous advice “Go West, young man.” Josiah B. Grinnell, for whom the town was named in 1854, said that Horace Greeley gave him that advice in 1833. So who knows, but something to think about when visiting this part of Iowa.