Amazing history and hospitality awaits guests at Fort Madison's elegant Kingsley Inn and Guest House
When it comes to restaurants and hotels, I have the same view on things. Sure, you can find a decent meal and quality service at a chain restaurant but if given the choice between a chain and a locally owned one-of-a-kind restaurant, I'm going to pick that local favorite just about every time. The same can be said for hotels. If given the choice between your standard chain hotel and a unique bed and breakfast or boutique hotel that might have some good history to it, I'm of course going to prefer those one-of-a-kind accommodations.
The outside of the building kind of reminds me of wandering through the French Quarter in New Orleans with all kinds of beautiful Victorian architectural features.
Fort Madison is in Lee County in far Southeast Iowa and the county is often referred to as the "Florida of Iowa" because it jets down a bit (not unlike Florida). With a population just over 10,000 (including or not including the State Penitentiary?) , it is one of Iowa's oldest cities as it resides right along the mighty Mississippi River. There's a lot of history in this town and I'm sure that if some of the walls in many of the beautiful old buildings and homes could talk, they'd have some pretty amazing stories to share.
The Kingsley Inn is celebrating its 30th year this year (it was founded in 1990), though the building itself dates back to the 1860's. Over the decades, it's housed a number of different entities from a barbershop and a distillery to a wallpaper store and laundry business. A nice but brief summary of the building's history can be found on the website or in the room manual that is in each room.
The Kinglsey is really hitting its stride as one of Iowa's best boutique hotels. New ownership took over in 2018 and brought in new management. Chi Eastin is the new manager and is truly doing a superb job. It's not easy being a hotel manager these days with COVID-19 continuing to run wild.
Chi is a local native and you can tell her stewardship of the property and business is more than just a job - it's a labor of love. And it is easy to love this property. It's absolutely gorgeous inside and outside.
You'll enter in the west side of the building. There's plenty of complimentary parking on both the west and north sides of the building.
Every reservation will get their own personalized pass-code for both their individual room and for the building itself. It's a nice modern safety touch for an otherwise historic building.
Inside, you'll make your way through a small vestibule. From there, head past a luggage cart and a comfortable love seat and into the hotel's gorgeous lobby.
The historic touches are everywhere. From beautiful old woodwork and elaborate lighting to a handsome baby grand piano and beautiful artwork.
As someone who enjoys old maps and old pictures, there's plenty throughout the building.
There is a front desk where you check in. It is part of an enclosure where the hotel's main office is. It's obviously quite beautiful.
There's a display that provides visitors some good local suggestions of places to visit and things to do. Since Lee County borders both Illinois and Missouri, there are some tri-state tourism partnerships working together there. Iowa Adventurer of course offers suggestions and you can read about my previous visits to Lee County and nearby Van Buren County for ideas.
Of course, COVID-19 is continuing to rear its ugly head and there is a small table with hand santizer and some of the things that the staff is doing to limit the possibility of exposure to COVID-19. Additionally, they are being especially careful not to book rooms on any given night that are next door to each other (for added social distancing) and the room cleaners are waiting 24 hours after a guest checks out before going into the room, in case there is something lingering.
Right off the lobby is a larger ballroom that can be rented out for any number of different kinds of events. Before COVID-19, the Kingsley was utilized regularly for smaller wedding celebrations. I'm sure it could be a great space for graduation gatherings, dinners, anniversary parties, birthday parties, and much more.
On the other side of the lobby is a bar and restaurant, River Rocks Bar & Grill. They have a full bar and a nice menu of food choices.
There is also various seating options which includes views of either the Mississippi River and the nearby train tracks or your favorite sports team on big screen televisions.
Based on this sign I found out front, it looks like they are doing a special grill-out each Friday. You do not have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the bar or restaurant.
This sheet of paper I found in my room gives an idea as to what kind of menu they offer.
The second and third floors include all of the guest rooms. There is a beautiful staircase that will take you up to either floor or you can ride the gorgeous glass elevator.
The hallways leading to the rooms are carpeted and have the same patterned wall coverings that add some extra charm. There is nice white doors and trim throughout.
On one floor, I spotted a table with some brochures about local attractions.
I also located an occasional stand where you could get some hand sanitizer, some water, or an ice bucket.
I popped into the second floor parlor room. It would be a great place to kick back to relax and enjoy a game of billiards or watch some television on the big screen.
Across the hall is a kitchenette where you can find a good cup of coffee in the morning.
I stayed in room Wapello 301. Each room has a name and number and it's own distinct personality. You can look at each of the rooms individually on the website and decide which one you want to rent.
Each door has a modern keypad to key in a code for the room. There are no keys or even key cards.
Inside the room, I found a spacious room complete with carpeted flooring, beautiful green wallpaper, and antique furnishings. The bed is very comfortable and I definitely enjoyed the white noise machine next to the bed. I usually sleep with a fan on for white noise and it was all very relaxing.
There is a small crevice area that is perfect for a desk. I set up my laptop to do a little work.
The antique dresser included a guest book. I'm kicking myself for forgetting to sign it, myself. However, I noticed a number of people wrote glowing things about their stay in the Kingsley.
There is a bathroom in the room. It's not like some bed and breakfasts where it's a small room and a shared bathroom among guests. The toilet and shower are in it's own small room. The sink and mirror is in the bedroom part.
As you will notice, there is also a small television next to the sink and directly in front of the bed. I did not turn it on but there is an impressive array of channel options.
The shower and toilet area is very clean and modern.
There's some information in the room about the hotel, it's history, and other required emergency protocols.
If you have a pet with you, they do have options to ensure you can bring your "fur babies" in with you for the night. Room 204 is their "pet friendly" room.
The name of the place is "The Kingsley Inn and Guest House" so where's the Guest House? Well, if you get the chance to check it out, it's pretty spectacular! I was able to spend some time in the room in 2016 when a friend of mine got married. The new ownership group has even made some additional changes that have upped it a few more notches. You can rent it directly through the website, which is how the manager would prefer you do it (really any of the rooms). However, it is also listed on AirBnB.
From hardwood floors, fireplaces, and gorgeous furniture to shutters, chandeliers, and crown molding, no detail has been overlooked. You might not have expected to find something like this on the rental market in Fort Madison, but it is certainly available and ideal for many types of gatherings.
If you've ever wanted to dine surrounded by pillars and a sizable chandelier, you'll have to make The Guest House a bucket list rental.
They always say that kitchens are what sells houses. If this particular unit were to be sold as real-estate, it has a kitchen that would definitely get it sold quickly.
Nearby, there's a small powder room.
There's kind of an office or study between the master bedroom and the kitchen.
Through the office you can see right into the master bedroom. I didn't get into this room as it was in the process of being cleaned after a guest had checked out. You can check out more pictures on their website.
The outside rooftop patio is now part of the manager's apartment (so off limits to the guests), but Chi was kind enough to show it to me.
There are a lot of reasons people come to Fort Madison and one of the growing reasons is because they are a busy thoroughfare of trains. Whether they are hauling freight or hauling people (Amtrak), you can count on there being a lot of trains rolling through. Train enthusiasts can actually watch a live "Railfan" feed of trains from a camera that has been affixed to the Kingsley. Many of these same people like to come to see the trains in person.
If you aren't coming to see the trains, there is plenty of other things to do within a modest driving vicinity of the hotel. However, there's also a lot that is within walking distance. There are a number stores in town and some great architecture to enjoy.
Just up the street from the Kingsley is Lost Duck Brweing Company. I didn't stop in but I guess I'll have to add that to my itinerary for next time.
Across the street and the railroad tracks, between the hotel and the Mississippi River, is the beautiful Riverview Park.
This park is honestly worth it's own post (forthcoming), but there are so many great features to enjoy. The community has really made this into something incredible.
There's a veterans' memorial, the Old Fort Madison, a fountain, a walking path, and of course breathtaking views of the Mississippi River, among much, much more.
If you have never been to this area of Iowa (or it has been awhile) or are looking for somewhere new to explore, I'd definitely recommend this corner of our great state. There's so much history and natural beauty and you can build a long weekend itinerary without having to search very hard. When you do visit, you'll want to make sure that the Kingsley is the hub of your adventures.
Sure, there are other options, but none of them offer the kind of history and hospitality the Kingsley offers. As I said at the beginning, you can always find a decent meal at a chain restaurant - but you very likely will find a spectacular meal at a locally owned favorite. The same is true for hotel or motel accommodations. The Kingsley is the kind of place you'll remember for years to come.
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Lee County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through this site.