Patchwork Inn | Where innkeeping is a passion
Innkeeping is more than a business.
It’s an art form. Building upkeep, marketing, customer service, and personal time must all be balanced. Bill and Stephanie (“Steph”) Nelson embody the ideal husband-and-wife team. They love working together.
Originally from Texas–their accents are a dead giveaway–the Nelsons have lived all over. While living in Dillon, Colorado, they worked for a diamond trading company. In 2009 it was acquired by a company in Canada that decided to close all U.S. offices. A change was coming. Bill found work after moving to Florida, but Steph struggled to find employment. At this time, they discovered something important. “We missed working together. So we began looking for opportunities to do that again,” Steph recounted.
Around the same time, Kent and Kathy Lawrence, dba Patchwork Vision LLC, bought the Patchwork Inn in Oregon, Illinois. The Lawrences were building a home in the area and would stay at the inn during construction. Mike and Jean McNamara and Ron Bry owned the Patchwork Inn at the time. “The Lawrences fell in love with the property as they are big into historic building preservation and decided to purchase the inn,” said Steph. The Inn now needed innkeepers to run the day-to-day operations.
Enter the Nelsons.
In 2010, Bill found the Inn online (workingcouples.com), and exactly one month to the day, they boarded a plane and were onsite with a moving van just a few days behind.
180 years and counting
The Patchwork Inn was built in the early 1840s by William Moore, one of Oregon, Illinois’ earliest settlers. Along with his wife and six children, Moore traveled from Pennsylvania to settle here. His home, now the front portion of the Inn, was constructed of brick and consisted of four large rooms with a central staircase in the Greek Revival style. Moore was an industrious man, involved in several businesses throughout his life in Oregon.
In 1848, he opened and operated a grocery store and later established one of the first hotels in this small town. According to the 1850 census, Moore is listed as an Innkeeper. On the front page of Oregon’s first newspaper published in 1851, the current Inn was listed as “Moore’s Hotel.”
A man named Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln played an important part in northern Illinois history during this early period. The future president traveled and spent time in our region before moving to the White House. During the mid-1850s, Lincoln visited the Moore’s Hotel for lunch and lodging. Records show that Lincoln stayed here August 16-17, 1856.
The Inn has experienced various owners and names during its life, including Moore’s Hotel, Oregon House, Rock River House, and The Blackhawk Hotel. Over the years the Inn had many additions until it had 30 sleeping rooms, but only 3 baths. It wasn’t until the 1980s–when the MaNamaras purchased it–that the first modern renovations started by taking the inn from 30 rooms down to 10. Private baths for all!
Where to begin…
In 2009-10, more renovations took place. “The first thing was to build a kitchen. We took the smallest room (Room 1) and converted it into a professional kitchen,” remarked Bill.
The backyard soon was tackled. It was just dirt and had weeds as tall as the house and just a few patches of grass. “We added the patio and used rocks from the original foundation for the flower beds. Every year the gardens get better,” commented Steph. “We love it when guests bring seeds or starters from their gardens as little gifts. We have the Davidson’s hostas from Greenville, IL, a hydrangea from Detroit, some Pig Squeak from Indiana, etc.”
Next up, all the mattresses and televisions were replaced. The beds were all full-sized at the time. The Nelsons hired a local craftsman to take parts of footboards and marry them to the headboards. This handiwork allowed the creation of king and queen beds using the original wood. Clever.
The porch upstairs was suffering from dry rot and was replaced with Brazilian hardwood, an eco-friendly product.
The entire lower level saw a complete redo from 2018 to 2020. Like any 182-year-old building, the house was sagging and getting worse. The 60-foot beams, joists, electrical, and plumbing needed to be replaced. When the house was jacked up, cracking of the walls and ceilings occurred. Eventually, they wound up reinforcing the external foundation walls. And lo and behold…
During the foundation work, workers discovered a tombstone. No casket or body was found, just a tombstone for little Martha E. Clark, who passed at four months and nine days of age. All work had to stop because of the discovery. Eventually, after a lot of research, it was found that Martha has another tombstone in the Stillman Valley cemetery. Why a second tombstone? “It is thought that our tombstone possibly has the wrong date and was tossed for fill,” said Bill. That’s one heck of a typo.
Closures due to the pandemic
By 2020, construction was complete, and it was time to open the doors to the public. Hello, COVID. “We were starting to think we had angered the gods. Two years of construction then the pandemic?” Steph recalled. “We tried to make ourselves as small as possible and hunker down.” By mid-2021, traveling restrictions had lifted a bit, and business opened back up at the Inn.
Even though their numbers were down in 2021, the Nelsons did better than expected. Oregon is fortunate to have three large companies that bring in many domestic and international visitors. The Inn has a waiting list many times on their calendar because of this type of customer.
Find the perfect time to visit
Some folks prefer to travel when the tourism season is not at its peak. Peace and quiet are what a good portion of the traveling public prefers. With over a decade of running an inn in northwest Illinois, the Nelsons can help guide the way. “As odd as it sounds February and November are historically our busiest months. We book years in advance for the Autumn on Parade festival (early October) and the 4th of July usually keeps us hopping with lots of class reunions,” Steph mentioned.
A gracious stay
During my mid-week stay at The Patchwork Inn, I was greeted on their wide-covered front porch and helped into the check-in area. To the right of the front door, this room has plenty of tourism information for visitors to read. Another customer-forward amenity is the selection of beverages, from beers and wine to various liquors that guests can purchase at any time. “We have an honor system with our guests whenever we are not available after hours,” said Bill. “Hasn’t been a problem.”
NOTE: The inn doesn’t accommodate children 14-years-old and under. Keep that in mind when you book your reservations.
The room immediately to the left of the front door is called the Sample Room. During the passenger train era in Oregon, salespeople would get off the train and set up their wares in this room. Both local and hotel guests would stop by to check out the goods. That’s a pretty slick way of doing business.
Also in this room is a sign showing the breakfast menu for the next day or two. Since I have no food restrictions or preferences, the next day’s breakfast menu was perfect for me. More on my breakfast later.
The Nelsons gave me Room 5 (Steph’s favorite). It has a king-size bed, brick fireplace (non-working), a small writing desk, two more chairs, and a table with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. They were a perfect “sweet” way to begin my stay.
The room has a large full bathroom with a jetted tub and shower–plenty of room for guests to spread out. A flat-screen TV was an added welcome amenity. Not all inns or bed and breakfasts provide this nice touch. My front windows looked out on the charming second-floor covered porch. Conover Square, a popular shopping destination, is one-half block away across the street.
The underground–-or basement–-level serves as a community space for people to gather and relax. The stone walled hallway take guests to several areas set up for playing games and conversation. At the farthest end of the space is a cozy living room with a large TV and more DVDs than you can imagine.
Back on the main level, the dining area is now where an old covered back porch existed. Complimentary coffee, teas, water, and soft drinks are available to the Inn’s guests.
After a great night’s sleep, I puttered about getting ready for the day and enjoyed the late winter sunlight filtering through the lace curtains. At 8:30 a.m. I promptly appeared downstairs with a hot breakfast on my mind. Steph and Bill were ready and waiting to seat me in the cheery dining area. I was the only breakfast guest that morning and had the place to myself. Bill is a wonderful cook, and Steph is the ultimate hostess.
After getting myself a hot cup of coffee, Bill set before me a breakfast-of-champions:
- Bill’s house-smoked ham
- Potato cakes
- Cheesy scrambled eggs (done perfectly)
- House toast
- Fresh fruit
I believe every food group was covered. My delicious and satisfying morning meal put me in the right mind to hit the road back to reality. To tell you the truth, I skipped lunch!
122 N 3rd St,
Oregon, IL 61061
While staying at The Patchwork Inn, the Nelsons gave me several local businesses to visit that were in close proximity to the inn.
Of those recommendations, I chose Dos Amigos just east of the Inn on Highway 64 on the east side of the Rock River–198-100 N Hastings Ave. The colorful dining room and outgoing staff were my first impressions of the restaurant. Once seated, my server brought me a medium-sized margarita. Goodness. It’s a good thing I didn’t order the large. I wouldn’t have made it back to the inn. Even better, the salsa and chips arrived soon after.
It wasn’t long after my order was taken that my chile relleno, taco, and chalupa entree with rice and beans were presented. The flavors and presentation made for a satisfying meal. Don’t pass up Dos Amigos when you visit the area.
After returning to the Inn, I decided to take a quick one-block walk back into town to view the sunset over downtown to take some photos and stop into one more popular watering hole.
Cork & Tap
I made a quick visit to the Cork & Tap located at 305 W Washington St. This local bar has an extensive wine, beer, and liquor selection. It was a quiet night, and one glass of Sauvignon Blanc was all this writer needed before strolling back to the Inn. The downtown area has many charming businesses available to visitors. Just below are a few more to put on your “getaway to-dos.”
I visited Hazel’s Cafe for a wonderful lunch earlier in the month. The sandwiches my friend and I ordered were top-notch. The servings were generous enough for us to have leftovers for the next day. This restaurant is right next door to the Cork & Tap at 307 W Washington St. In fact, they share a door between the businesses. Don’t you love collaboration?
While enjoying a weekend getaway, Village Bakery and Sparklefox Confections are two businesses worth visiting. The Blackhawk Waterways has written blog articles about both of these establishments previously.
Another newer watering hole is the Ogle County Brewery on the corner of 4th St. (Hwy 2) and Route 64. This establishment opened around a year ago and has become a popular pub gracing downtown Oregon.
Oregon, Illinois is a perfect getaway
The list goes on and on. There are many popular businesses throughout the Oregon area and this article only touched on a small portion of worthy places to visit. My next visit will surely be more than one night.