Queen Wilhelmina Lodge in Mena Arkansas
The beginning of the grand lodging tradition high
atop Arkansas's second highest mountain is rooted in the 1890's when
railroad expansion was big business in our country. Arthur
Stillwell, vice president of the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad
(KCP&G), decided to build the first north-south railroad, a route from
Kansas City, Missouri to Port Arthur, Texas, to provide rail access to the
Gulf of Mexico.
This brought the railroad's route through Arkansas, and inevitably the Ouachita Mountains. During the routing of the tracks through the valleys of the rugged Ouachitas, a flat area near the top of 2681-foot Rich Mountain was discovered. This windswept, mountain top location was brought to the attention of the investors of the KCP&G, many of whom were Dutch, as a site to build a resort retreat featuring a grand hostelry to entice railroad patrons to travel the rails.
The luxurious hostelry of Victorian splendor was
constructed of native stone and timber at a cost of $100,000. The
building was illuminated by carbide lights and made for a glorious site as
carriages topped Rich Mountain from the train stop at the base of the
mountain's north side. Thirty-five guest rooms graced the second
floor, with at least four "water closets" to serve their guests.
Maids and cooks were housed on the third floor. And, the glorious
first floor was used as a place to socialize. Especially beautiful
was the dining room which converted to a ballroom, would seat 300 people.
The grand opening of the inn came on June 22, 1898. Soon, Wilhelmina Inn became known as the "Castle in the Sky." The grandeur of this renowned mountaintop Inn with its breathtaking scenery, fine accommodations and exquisite service, however, was to last only a few short years. Less than three years after the opening of the lodge, the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad, facing enormous financial troubles, was sold to what is now the Kansas City Southern Railroad. With the new owners in place, the lodge was abandoned by its former owners and languished into disrepair. Although the lodge did not close permanently until 1910, its heyday had too quickly come to a close. The building fell into decay. The photographs below shows sheep standing in what was once the grand ballroom where elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen danced.
By the 1930s, only remnants of the original structure's stone fences and fireplaces remained standing, starkly silhouetted against the sky. The year 1940 brought a brief respite and renewed hope for the now desolate building. Earnest Rolston, a professor from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, decided to create a summer music school using a portion of the inn. The idea was good, but unfortunately the timing was not. The beginning of World War II in 1941 ended in further attempt to restore the old ruins.
After the decade of the 40s, the 1950s brought renewal into sight. The war years had brought a travel awareness to many men and women who had served in the Armed Forces. The growth of America's travel and tourism industry was now on the horizon.
In light of this, State Senator Landers Morrow and other community leaders created Resolution 17 to create a new state park on the site where Wilhelmina Inn reigned over the Ouachita Mountains. Act 76 was passed by the Arkansas General Assembly in 1957. Plans were soon underway to construct a new lodge on the site of the original inn.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the second inn opened it doors on June 22, 1963. Although less grand than the original hostelry, this lodge contained 17 guest rooms and a restaurant. Occupying the same site as the first inn, the second structure was built with some of the rockwork still remaining from its predecessor. Operated for 10 years by the State of Arkansas as an Arkansas State Parks lodge, the facility was a popular travel attraction until, on the evening of November 10, 1973, a fire that began in the kitchen area destroyed it. Thankfully, there was no loss of life, but the building was totally destroyed.
To carry on this grand lodging traditions atop Rich Mountain, Arkansas State Parks lost no time in constructing a new lodge on the site, opening a new $3 million dollar state park lodge in 1975. Today, this lodge is the crowning attraction of Queen Wilhelmina State Park. Within walking distance of the lodge are a park amphitheater, playground, campground with 40 sites and a modern bathhouse, and hiking trails. To add to the park's summer season offerings, two private concessions operate a miniature train ride and a rehabilitation center for species native to Arkansas. Queen Wilhelmina State Park remains as it has always been - the crowning glory of the the Ouachitas. Come experience this royal retreat high atop Rich Mountain.
The park is 13 miles west of Mena on
|For More Photos Click Here ►►|
Source: Queen Wilhelmina State Parks - Arkansas Parks & Tourism.
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