Friday, December 1, 2023

Historic Perkins House Welcomes Guests Again

By Dixie Terry

Once again, the historic Perkins House will welcome guests, thanks to Kathy and Dean Harper, who recently purchased the property from the Hospitality House board as well as obtaining a hospitality certificate at the same time too.

The original Perkins House was a two-story log cabin at the same site, built by Jackson Simpson before the Civil War, and was opened by William Perkins in 1866 as The Perkins House.

The property was purchased by his son, A.J. Perkins, in 1891, following the burning of the log structure. The present building was erected in 1894.

A.J. Perkins was married to Miss Eliza Simpson, a daughter of another early Johnson County settler, and the Perkins couple became parents of 12 children.

The Perkins House was the first brick building constructed in Vienna. It will now be known as “The Perkins House Inn” by its new owners.

The building served as a hotel for decades and has also been used as a Greyhound Bus Station in the past several decades. Bob White became the owner of the hotel in the 1950s and it was known as the Bob White Hotel during that era.

On Oct. 30, 1990, the structure was named “Hospitality House,” providing low-cost or no-cost lodging for the families and friends of inmates of the area correctional centers, with up to 1600 women and children served annually. This service was provided by the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, along with the generosity of area congregations and individuals.

However, this all changed, when the correctional centers changed their visitation rules, and the visitors had no assurance that they would be able to see their loved one on arrival.

When Kathy heard of the closing of Hospitality House, she was concerned that the Vienna landmark would be purchased and then torn down.

For over 20 years, she had a dream of having a bed-and-breakfast inn in her hometown.

Said her husband, Dean, “She had the dream, while I had a nightmare.” However, after almost 60 years of marriage, and the two supporting each other in their separate businesses, he is very much involved in the new venture.

Although the Harpers are in the middle of cleaning and organizing the historic structure, the rooms have all been reserved for the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

There will no longer be a bus stop at the location, by Greyhound, Kathy pointed out, and for the first time in decades, the front entrance will be used as the main entry.

The ceiling of the entrance foyer will feature copper tiles, that are now being installed. There will be a “memory room,” upstairs, filled with Johnson County memorabilia, from the Harper’s long-time collection.

The Harpers are not changing the building structurally, but are redoing some plaster, painting each room, adding new molding and attempting to bring back the decorative look of the 1800s.

The furniture from the Hospitality House remains, in the 16 guest rooms, but Kathy is replacing some of the modern pieces with her antiques. One room will feature a Murphy bed, recently acquired from an auction, and a canopy bed will be used in the Victorian Room.

Each guest room will be decorated, using a theme, that will include: lodge, spring, summer, fall, winter, bicycle, primitive barn, farm house, safari, Victorian, vineyard, Americana, music, garden, denim and lace and the fifties.

Outdoors will be two patios, for the use of guests, along with picnic tables, lawn games, a grill and a new fire pit.

Landscaping has been underway, including the trimming of trees and shrubs and a flower bed to be installed the length of the west side of the inn.

A decorative bicycle proclaiming Vienna as “The Bicycle Capital of Illinois,” along with bike racks, will be ready and waiting for bikers.

The kitchen and dining area, along with a downstairs lounge, will be available for guests.

Kathy shared that there will be no TVs in the guest rooms, but a TV, VCR and tapes will be provided in the lounge area.

Presently, everything is in a glorious mess, with lots of cartons to be unpacked, and lists of to-dos awaiting.

Kathy has taken on their granddaughter, McKenzie Resczenski, as a business partner, and they have been working everyday to get everything in perfect order before their first guests arrive.

They will be providing a breakfast or brunch at one given time, but only when they have a full house booked.

Kathy’s “This ‘n That Flower and Gift Shop,” that she has owned for 39 years is presently closed. This is the oldest business in Vienna owned by one couple. The business, with or without the building, is for sale. If not sold by September, the Harpers will hold a liquidation sale.

Dean will continue his auction business and the storage building/carport business.

Kathy stated that she was ready for a change and saw The Perkins House as an opportunity. She can be reached by anyone interested in purchasing the flower business or for reservations, at 618-528-9776.