Garth Woodside Mansion, Hannibal

Garth Woodside Mansion still retains the glory from when Hannibal’s most famous resident, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) used it as his getaway. In fact, this Victorian beauty was Clemens’ oasis whenever he returned home.

In 1902, Clemens gifted the widow of his long-time friend, John Garth, with a personal photograph that hangs in the stairway. His handwritten inscription reads: “In reverent memory of John Garth, an unbroken friendship for 55 years.” The mansion has another claim to fame: a Disney designer actually used the house as inspiration for the Disneyland Paris Haunted Mansion.

Today, the hilltop bed and breakfast is surrounded by 36 acres. Owners John and Julie Rolsen purchased the home in 1999, and with the help of a historic curator, they brought the home back to its 1870s splendor.

Wallpaper was reprinted from original plates in North Carolina; the dining room paper ran through the presses 14 times, one pass for each color. Woodwork has the 1870s walnut faux finish. Oriental carpets cover original walnut plank floors. The parlor’s walnut Eastlake chairs, used by Clemens and the Garths, sit by the fireplace. In the music room, guests can play an 1869 square grand Steinway piano made of rosewood.

Guests can choose from eleven rooms, including three cottages. On the mansion’s second floor, Samuel Clemens’ room boasts its original furnishings. Rooms offer updated bathrooms, and most have gas fireplaces.

“The first time people come to Hannibal, they visit the Mark Twain attractions in town,” says Julie. “On their second visit, guests enjoy the Garth for relaxing, connecting and our complimentary wine, gin and vodka tastings.”

An expansive dining addition, painted cherry red with white woodwork, serves as a backdrop to the gardens and rolling hills. Julie enjoys cooking and accommodates vegetarians and those with food allergies. Repeat guests often grill out for dinner. Outside, all who visit can feed the llamas in the back pasture, walk short trails and enjoy the porches and patio. Down the road, a stable offers horseback riding.

“I’m always digging up bulbs and giving them to our guests to take home and plant,” says Julie. “To get bulbs from a friend is much more special.”

Julie hosts an annual bridal fair the Saturday after Valentine’s Day, the next one scheduled for February 21. The new pavilion seats 200 for dinner and includes a dance floor. The gazebo is popular for weddings. Flowers grown on property are used in bouquets, and a local deejay, photographer and baker are all on hand.

When people ask, “What’s the best time of year to get married at the mansion?” Julie’s reply is, “What’s your favorite flower? The perfect time will be when it’s blooming in my garden!”

Marydale Inn, Jameson

Getting away from it all is effortless at the Marydale Inn located 80 miles north of downtown Kansas City near the Amish community of Jamesport.

A quarter-mile gravel driveway leads to the white New England-style farmhouse. Cornfields stretch to the horizon in all directions. Sunlight shimmers off two ponds in the front yard.

Named after its owners, Dale and Mary-Jo Christensen, Marydale took three years to build before opening to guests in 2009. The couple met at Boston College and eventually made their way to the Midwest after raising their family. They bought the acreage in the 1980s, and the cherry red barn still stands in its original spot. Innkeepers Art and Dian Kelly moved here three years ago to help out and live in the lower apartment. Dian and owner Dale are brother and sister.

Upon our arrival, we were enthusiastically greeted by Dian and her entourage—Jose, an endearing golden-colored mutt and Pierre, a gangly black lab puppy. A quick tour of the sprawling home revealed that guests have the run of the first floor’s two family rooms, wrap-around porch and expansive back deck that overlooks a koi fish pond and grove of trees with picnic tables.

Our bedroom, the largest of the two downstairs, was named the Oak Ridge Room, because the room’s lovely oak furniture was bought from Jamesport’s Oak Ridge Furniture store. Upstairs, two more bedrooms with individual bathrooms connect via a common sitting area.

Breakfasts are hearty country affairs served around a farm-style table. On Saturday morning, we chatted with fellow guests while indulging in a cheesy sausage and egg casserole, homemade cinnamon rolls and fruit. Other days, eggs benedict, fruit parfaits and scones might be on the menu. During the day, Dian likes to keep her favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on hand—a recipe committed to memory during her 47 years of marriage.

“Dale and Art love trees and have planted most of them on the property, and we harvest apples, peaches and pears from our small orchard,” says Dian. “Our homemade applesauce is used for our breakfast German pancake, called phannkuchen, which the guests really like.”

After a full day of shopping in Jamesport or Hamilton, guests who bring their rods can fish for blue gill, wide mouth bass and catfish. Other diversions include exploring the walking paths mowed around the numerous ponds and woods that lead to the Missouri River or simply reading in the backyard hammock.

Visit for more information.

The Inn at Defiance, Defiance

When I called for a reservation at The Inn at Defiance, I learned that my husband and I would be visiting on the inn’s one year anniversary.

Located in the heart of Defiance and at the gateway to Missouri wine country, this upscale bed and breakfast will quickly become a favorite. From the inn’s doorstep, the Katy Trail is nearby, and a bike rental shop is only a stone’s throw away. Four wineries, including the Yellow Farmhouse Winery across the street, lie within a mile radius.

For 30 years, Jeff and Chris Comotto frequented the area to ride the trail, and they fell in love with Defiance. When Jeff retired from Anheuser-Busch as a tax attorney, the two decided to make Defiance their home and bought the inn.

“Jeff and I started the St. Louis chapter of Make-A-Wish foundation in 1986, and we worked well together,” says Chris, a former teacher. “So we knew that this partnership would be successful, too.”

The Comotto’s taste for excellence shines throughout the inn. When my we arrived, Chris invited us to sample local wines, accompanied by a cheese and sausage platter with meats made at the Bavarian Smoke Haus in nearby New Melle. She gave us a quick overview of the house that dates to the early 1900s. Remodeled from head to toe, all four rooms have private entries off the wraparound porch; three rooms have completely new bathrooms.

An earlier expansion added a lovely four-season room with hot tub, wood burning fireplace and a 600-square-foot suite on the second floor. Upstairs, the sharing library features game and pub tables and an observation deck overlooking the river valley. It’s the perfect place for morning coffee or a glass of wine in the evening. Since the Comotto’s live two miles down the road, guests have the house to themselves, including the modern kitchen and deck with a grill.

Chris wanted to make the inn as hypoallergenic as possible. Carpeting was completely ripped out and floors are now tiled or hardwood. Locally-made face and hand soap cater to people with allergies.

“I found a great line of hypoallergenic bedding and ‘green’ towels that don’t require as much water and detergent,” says Chris. “We’ve traveled extensively, and I want our inn to be the kind of place where I’d want to stay.”

Jeff cooks breakfast during the week, using mostly organic and local products. He served us a flavorful vegetable succotash under an egg with a side of bacon, finished by a yogurt and fresh fruit parfait. On weekends, professional chef John Richardson cooks up a constantly-rotating array of inventive dishes that wows guests. Richardson even cans the local bounty, such as grilled peach ancho chile barbeque and spicy basil ketchup. Throughout the year, the inn features Chef Richardson’s five-course meals paired with beer, wine or cocktails.

Visit for more information.

The Gathering Place, Columbia

Located smack dab in the middle of fraternity row across from the University of Missouri campus, this Georgian colonial bed and breakfast is a gem.

Innkeeper Deb Strid and her husband, Marc, say that guests and parents of MU students return to The Gathering Place year after year. Marc has a master’s in hospitality management and also works as MU’s Director of Educational Technologies for the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Lumber baron Hugh Davenport and his wife, Cora, built the house in 1906. After 1917, it served as a home for widows before being converted to individual apartments and, then, a fraternity house. Transformed into a bed and breakfast in 1996 by individual owners, it was purchased in 2008 by the College of Agriculture Foundation, a private corporation. Today, the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources leases the home, which is managed by the Strids—an unusual setup that works well.

White woodwork contrasts with dark walnut floors that were milled locally in Boone County. Tastefully decorated with antiques, such as a burled walnut buffet and pristine oak pie cabinet, some pieces are from the Cornett Collection, a north central Missouri family that left its farm and furnishings to the Ag school. The formal dining area’s centerpiece is a leaded glass window acquired in Shakertown, Kentucky. Five suites on three floors offer guests plenty of options. Bathrooms are completely modern, and individual rooms use a keyless entry system.

Originally the Strids dreamed of opening a restaurant, but now Deb channels that passion into finding new recipes online and in magazines. Deb and Marc share chef responsibilities.

At check-in, each guest receives a breakfast menu from which to choose the next morning’s meal. The main entrée, usually an egg dish, changes daily. Accompaniments and à la carte items vary from cornmeal pancakes, a German apple pancake, beef hash or from-scratch potato sides. Deb loves tea and offers more than a dozen special order flavors. Marc roasts Honduran and Guatemalan coffee beans that support third-world farms.

“Marc started roasting about 12 years ago in a popcorn popper and recently built his own custom roaster,” says Deb. “We found a source for green coffee beans on one of the mission trips that we took with students from The Rock church, located on campus.”

Also unique, the B&B is operated by MU’s hospitality management program. Most of the staff are students from the program who perform housekeeping and laundry duties, serve breakfast and manage scheduling and reservations.

“At 7 a.m., I have students here who set the tables, do prep work in the kitchen and serve our guests,” says Deb. “They gain invaluable experience.”

Visit for more information.