A Travellerspoint blog

The Clark House on Hayden Lake, Idaho

Two nights in another time

I slip on my traveling shoes—old brown shoes bequeathed to me from Professor Brown Shoes. Inexplicably, these shoes help me listen.

And we journey to the Clark House Bed and Breakfast in northern Idaho to hear its story.

Clark House lawn

Clark House lawn

Its story is an unsolved romantic mystery. And since my brofriend Saul and his wife Valerie were to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, I thought this might be a perfect retreat.

Saul Chessin at the Clark House

Saul Chessin at the Clark House

The Clark House is a 100-year-old white mansion with green shutters and ten acres of luxuriant lawn that genteelly cascades to Hayden Lake. When the 15,000 square-foot mansion was completed in 1910, it was largest and most expensive home in the state of Idaho. The original property sat on 1,400 acres with barns, riding stables, carriage houses, tennis courts, greenhouses, guest and workmen’s houses, a putting green, 150 acres of landscaped grounds with exotic plants and trees from all over the world, lighted pathways, yachts and boat houses; the estate even boasted a private zoo with exotic birds and animals.

But what impresses me about the Clark House is not just its majesty, but its intimacy—

Here’s the story in a nutshell. (There’s much more info on the Clark House website: www.clarkhouse.com):

The Clark House was built by F. Lewis Clark in 1910 for his wife Winifred. Lewis moved to Spokane after being educated at Harvard. He was said to have a Midas touch and made his fortune in milling, mining, banking and real estate. Lewis was tall, dark and handsome; however, he was rather shy and introverted.

Winifred, on the hand, was not shy. She was described as “beautiful beyond words and “. . . reached out to everyone with her great charm and gracious personality.” She was educated in France and studied music at the Conservatory in Paris. She was an accomplished pianist. And she loved to host lavish parties.

So Lewis built the Clark House for Winifred, the woman he madly loved. But in 1913— three years after the mansion was completed— Lewis’ fortunes and health were deteriorating quickly. He and Winifred typically spent their winters in Santa Barbara, California. And according to the New York Times, “On Jan. 16, 1914, Lewis took Winifred to a train station, kissed her good-bye, left the station and walked to the limousine. He dismissed his chauffeur and walked into the night.”

Lewis was never seen again. His body was never found.

Winifred returned to Hayden Lake and waited for Lewis to return. In 1922, she lost the mansion and auctioned her furnishings. Winifred died in 1940, twenty-six years after Lewis vanished. Her estate was valued at $10,000.

The Clark Mansion barely survived. It was scheduled to be burned down as part of a firefighting exercise, until the current owner, Monty Danner, a supermarket executive from San Francisco, bought it in 1989. He and his family have been restoring it every since.
Clark House lobby

Clark House lobby

Clark House upstairs hallway

Clark House upstairs hallway

Saul and Valerie Chessin

Saul and Valerie Chessin

Morning sun at the Clark House

Morning sun at the Clark House

Here’s a PBS documentary on the Clark House.

Posted by davidmutticlark 10:25 Archived in USA Tagged romantic b&b idaho coeur d'alene Comments (0)

Soaking up Montana Mojo at Norris Hot Springs

Everything you need and nothing more

It’s not often Saul and I get into hot water with our wives and enjoy it. But Norris Hot Springs is where it can happen.

As Hannah—Saul and Val's daughter—said (She's the winsome brunette on the left in the photo above), "Norris Hot Springs has everything you need for a good time and nothing more."


Since Hannah is in her second year of law school, I don't want to argue with her. But, besides, I think Hannah is right. Norris Hot Springs is simple elegance. Unpretentious. Friendly and funky. Congenial and quirky, it feels like a throwback to the 60’s.

We order dinner at the window of the café, steps from the hot springs. And they bring our entrees to us while we wade in the warm water.

“Really? I can eat and drink in the pool?"

“No worries,” our server says with a smile.

The salads are fresh; in fact, the produce is from their garden and greenhouse. My wife loves her veggie burger, and I devour my grass-fed Montana beef. I confess: I’m the only carnivore in our group. But no one minds. This is Montana. Vegans and vegetarians eat, drink and soak with beef and bison eaters. No ideological lines are drawn in the pool.

As the sun sets, stars scintillate above us, unobscured by city lights. Norris is a long way from a big town. It’s close enough to Yellowstone National Park (about 90 miles) to visit but far enough to lose the busloads of tourists.

Old bodies, young bodies, tattooed and toned bodies glide through the water and talk. Strangers become friends.

I bump into a middle-aged couple who were just engaged. They live in Phoenix, but he’s originally from Bozeman. He overheard me say, “This is the best salad and burger I’ve ever had.” So he tells me the beef most likely came from his brother’s ranch nearby. He points in the direction of the ranch. I take their picture in the pool and later email it to them since they forgot their camera.

We look to the stage where a boy in a bubble begins to play. He sounds a little bit like John Prine? Or Van Morrison?

Ah, yes. We are all mellow now. Everything you need and nothing more.

Posted by davidmutticlark 18:12 Archived in USA Tagged rocky_mountains yellowstone ennis_montana norris_hot_springs Comments (0)

Beginning our soul search with Saul & Professor Brown Shoes

Put on them magical travelin' shoes

When I travel I try to wear my magical walking shoes— brown shoes with a sole that never wears out.

The shoes were a gift, compliments of Professor Brown Shoes, an old, black bluesman.

At this point, you might think I’m delusional . . . and you’d be partly right.

Professor Brown Shoes is a figment of my imagination. He’s a voice in my head. He’s a counselor, advisor and friend.

Years ago when I spiraled into a deep depression after my father’s suicide, I wanted to talk to somebody about it. Someone advised me to get right with God. But God was too big, too remote and too scary. So I thought if I put a human face on God what would it look like?

I wanted someone who had lived through it all. Someone who had experienced life at its grass roots. And above all, someone who would listen— intensely, empathically, and nonjudgmentally.

And Professor Brown Shoes was born. The Professor represents the bluesmen who came before rock and roll, the ones who enriched our musical heritage and died in the poorhouse. He’s a troubadour for troubled times. He travels a circuit visiting the people who need him most. He visits small towns and out-of-the way places where folks meet on a Saturday night. And after he sets himself behind the piano, he plays the boogie-woogie until the cock crows.

The Professor told me I needed to get out. He said, “You should travel! Meet new people. Listen to their stories so you can better hear your own.”

“What?” I said.

“Everyone, every place has a unique sound. Listen to their melodies. It will help you hear your own tune, yours from way, deep inside.”

So the Professor bequeathed me his brown shoes. I slip them on to travel and to listen. And to see places and to hear stories that help me explore my world both inside and out.

Along the way, I’ve made another best friend, a guy who is not a figment of my imagination. His name is Saul Chessin, and like the Professor, Saul listens. To have a friend who listens is a special gift.

But I think our friendship works because we have so much in common. I love to eat. Saul is a gourmet cook. I love coffee. Saul buys freshly roasted coffee beans, grinds them to perfection and only uses a French press. I love jazz and the blues. And Saul is a masterful musician playing the piano, composing most all of the music he performs.

We’re lucky our wives are such good friends. So we travel together. Our kids are grown, and we have the good fortune to be able to explore far-away places for the first time and nearby places we've visited often but haven’t really seen with a brown shoes’ perspective.

So this travel blog is about searching for souful places. It’s about destinations that resonated with us internally. Some trouble us and make us think. Others please us and coax us to drink. They’re places with melodies that help us hear our tunes from way deep inside.

Posted by davidmutticlark 16:03 Archived in USA Tagged australia tasmania montana idaho soulful_places coeur_d'alene idaho_falls Comments (0)

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