A southwest Iowa hotel that was once close to being demolished is one of nine projects to get federal grant money reserved for restoration of buildings on Main Streets. The Garland Hotel in Bedford has been owned by Ellis Houk’s family for more than a centry. Houk’s great-great grandfather build the first log cabin in Bedford. He added another log cabin on to that, and took in lodgers. In 1856, he sold the log cabins to a merchant and built part of what is now the Garland Hotel. Part of the hotel burned in the 1870s. Houk says his ancestors saved what they could and rebuilt on the same land. The hotel has a storied past. A tunnel for the Underground Railroad stretched from the hotel to the livery stable, helping slaves escape to freedom. “Crawling around underneath the hotel, we’ve been able to see the passages and where they went originally,” Houk says. In 1873, Jesse James robbed a train in Anita, Iowa, and stayed at the Garland Hotel afterwards. The wife of the hotel’s owner was the bank robber’s cousin, according to Houk who searched through family records. Houk’s great-great-grandfather was married to Charlotte James. “This was the connection” to Jesse James, according to Houk. “It’s pretty interesting to go back through the history of the hotel,” Houk says. The city of Bedford threatened to demolish the hotel, but Houk says the constant city deadlines prodded the family into getting the restoration started. He says their plan is to use the 40-thousand dollar federal grant they received yesterday to build a kitchen onto the hotel and restore the dining room to what it looked like in the early 1900s when it opened. They’ll do a little tuck-pointing on the facade of the building, and hope to open the restaurant a year from now. Houk says they hope to have the two floors of hotel rooms restored in three years. The second floor gues rooms will be restored to what they looked like in the 1920s. The third floor will be restored to what it looked like in the late 18-hundreds. There’ll be a community bathroom at the end of the hall to be shared by the occupants of all the guest rooms on the third floor. Houk says there will be 20 hotel rooms once the restoration is complete.
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