Landmark Lodging

These historic properties marry tradition and modern touches

Mohonk Mountain House

Stately beauty: Mohonk Mountain House (pictured), on the shores of Lake Mohonk in New Paltz, N.Y.

Given our society's relentless obsession with all things new, it's comforting to know that a few special spots still exist where history, tradition and a more relaxed, genteel pace are the order of the day.

On the following pages, M&C takes a loving look at five special resorts, true treasures of the hospitality world that can imbue events with a timeless old-school ambiance and charm, as well as keep up with the more modern needs of today's plugged-in groups.


> MOHONK MOUNTAIN HOUSE
New Paltz, N.Y.

Nestled in the Hudson Valley north of New York City, the Mohonk Mountain House offers a soothing respite from urban stress. A member of Historic Hotels of America, the property has been owned by the Smiley family since its founding in 1869.

Mohonk's strong meetings legacy dates from 1897, when founder Albert Smiley, a Quaker, launched his annual conference for national and international leaders to meet and discuss world problems and possible solutions. The conferences continued through 1916 and included notables such as President William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan.

Today, the resort's 14 meeting rooms, ranging from the expansive Victorian Parlor to intimate wood-paneled studies, are outfitted with cutting-edge A/V and free Wi-Fi (available throughout).

Accommodations remain decidedly vintage: All 259 guest rooms are decorated in either traditional Victorian style or more spare classic décor, all without televisions (a limited number of TVs are available for rental).

Activities are low-key, as well: Guests gather around stone fireplaces, relax in the spa, hike along woodsy trails, go on guided nature excursions or take historic tours of the resort.

Traditions extend to dining. Complimentary cookies and tea are served each afternoon, and jackets are required for gentlemen in the dining room during dinner hours.


> OMNI BEDFORD SPRINGS
Bedford, Pa.

The eight mineral springs at this Allegheny Mountain resort have attracted prominent guests for nearly 200 years. Among the illustrious was President James Buchanan; in fact, the property was known as the Summer White House during his years in office (just before a man named Lincoln took over).

In 1984, the venerable resort officially was added to the roster of National Historic Landmarks. It closed its doors two years later and reopened in 2007 following an extensive restoration.

 

Today, the Omni Bedford Springs has 216 guest rooms that feature very up-to-date amenities such as 32-inch flat-screen HDTVs, iPod entertainment docking stations and Wi-Fi access (complimentary to Omni Select Guest members). It also features 20,000 square feet of meeting space with state-of-the-art accoutrements.

Despite modern upgrades, the resort's historic past is still evident, from its natural spring waters that feed the indoor pool to delightful rituals such as afternoon tea and a library stocked with a selection of quaintly hand-cut, wooden Stave jigsaw puzzles. Other activities include, biking, guided hikes and fly-fishing.



> THE GREENBRIER
White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Spread over 10,000 private acres in the foothills of West Virginia's Allegheny Mountains, this classic American resort traces its roots back to 1778. In its earliest days, The Greenbrier drew U.S. presidents, politicians, judges, newspaper editors and diplomats who came in summer to seek relief from heat and humidity. The property's storied past includes a stint as a hospital during World War II, while in the 1950s, a bunker was secretly built on-site to house the U.S. Congress in case of war.

Tradition is the byword at this designated National Historic Landmark. For example, The Greenbrier posts a formal dress code for guests on its website. Dinner in the main dining room calls for "ladies and gentlemen in their finest."

While recent years have seen changes -- most notably the 2010 opening of the 103,000-square-foot Casino Club -- many earlier touches remain. Along with golf (on five courses) are genteel pursuits like carriage and sleigh rides, croquet, falconry and horseback riding. Guests also can take historic tours of the property, which might include a peek inside the aforementioned bunker. The newest attraction is the Center Court at Creekside tennis facility and stadium, to open in June.

The Greenbrier's 710 guest rooms include 33 suites and 96 guest and estate houses. Many of the 40 meeting rooms, such as the exquisite Cameo Ballroom, are decked out in retro furnishings and décor, and all are equipped with Wi-Fi.


> GRAND HOTEL
Mackinac Island, Mich.

On Lake Michigan, this Victorian property got its start in 1887 as a summer haven for Midwest power brokers. Today, many of the Grand Hotel's Old World charms -- afternoon tea in the parlor, croquet on the expansive lawn, and a sweeping 660-foot-long porch overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge -- are what brings visitors and groups.

Even golf here bespeaks a bygone era: The property's scenic 18-hole Jewel course employs a horse-drawn carriage to transport players from the front nine to the back nine. Among other activities on-site are tennis, horseback riding and biking.

 

Posh porch: The vintage
1887 Grand Hotel in
Mackinac Island, Mich.
Posh porch: The vintage 1887 Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, Mich.

Each of the Grand Hotel's 386 guest rooms retain a timeless, elegant look courtesy of decorator Carleton Varney's signature use of vibrant colors and floral patterns. The more modern in-room amenities include flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi.

The property's Woodfill Conference Center combines period style with state-of-the-art convention facilities in six meeting rooms; the resort has an additional 10 meeting and event spaces.

A National Historic Landmark, the Grand Hotel also is a member of Historic Hotels of America and is certified as a Green Lodging Michigan Leader by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth.


> THE AMERICAN CLUB 
Kohler, Wis.

A proud holder of both Forbes 5-Star and AAA 5-Diamond ratings, the luxurious American Club sports vestiges of its humble roots as a dormitory for immigrant workers at the nearby Kohler manufacturing company. The building also served as their social hub, with its own pub and bowling alley. The Wisconsin Room, one of the resort's finest eateries, originally served as the workers' dining hall.

In 1981, the brick, Tudor-style building (erected in 1918) was transformed into an elegant resort -- a member of Historic Hotels of America -- with all the modern trappings (including Wi-Fi throughout), yet filled with traditional American-heritage Baker and McGuire furnishings. A sense of history pervades here: The oak-paneled hallways are decorated with vintage photos, while the Library sports painted portraits of distinguished Wisconsinites like naturalist and author John Muir.

Famed interior designer Frank Nicholson outfitted the 240 guest rooms, all of which, fittingly, feature Kohler fixtures in their bathrooms. Each room honors a famous American (Ernest Hemingway and Lou Gehrig, to name two) with a portrait and various pieces of memorabilia framed on the wall.

The resort, another entrant on the National Register of Historic Places, has 12 meeting rooms. Downtime facilities include the Kohler Waters Spa, which offers exclusive therapies; stables; a yoga center, and a fitness center. Attendees also can play on either of two renowned golf courses -- Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run.