Pioneer Woman Mercantile & Lodge, Pawhuska Oklahoma

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This weekend we visited the Pioneer Woman's Mercantile and Lodge in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.  The town is about an hour outside of Tulsa, and a beautiful day drive. Ree Drummond began her journey as a blogger, photographer, and home chef, and soon grew a food empire around the small town.  Her show documented the renovation of the building now housing "The Mercantile" a 25,000 square foot store with a bakery, two coffee shops, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, and retail store. The food is everything you would hope for - warm and welcoming, with a elegant touch and recipes influenced by the ranch.  Next door, you will find her boutique hotel (which was booked solid in the first year rooms were released, I know because I tried to get a room!)  The hotel has beautiful decor.  If you are her fan, your best bet to a get a room is to subscribe to her newsletter and get updates!

Ree Drummond's idea was to bring back some of the business activity to Pawhuska, after the area's rise and fall as a oil town.  Her blog and show chronicled the 4 and a half year renovation of the 1910 Osage Mercantile that she painstakingly took on with her family to bring the life back to the town.  It is a very inspiring place to visit, as you can see her dream come full-circle. The attention to the true architectural history of the building is evident. You can view displays of her photography of the ranch, as well as an ample selection of well-curated fine food and kitchenware, as well as fun kids' toys.  I picked up a Rosehip hibiscus syrup for seltzer and cocktails. The kids loved seeing the stuffed dolls of Ree's dogs on the show, and some of the children's books dedicated to her pets.  Her store does not disappoint.

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We began our tour at the Mercantile, where you go to pick up tickets for the lodge tour (which is where the show is filmed).  We were surprised by the site of hundreds of visitors lining the streets of the little downtown area.  It was a happy site, especially because it was so well-managed by employees eager to help us. 

The lodge is only open select dates.  The staff person on the outside line noticed we had a big family, so she offered to grab our ticket inside, and we waited for her and she brought the ticket to us! 

We noticed that people waiting to eat at her restaurant were being entertained with friendly conversation, and even umbrellas to stay out of the sun!  I heard that at times (when there is a wait for the restaurant) they give out water, play games, and explain the history of the area.  The food looked fabulous and everything on the menu is very reasonable for the quality (from $10-$20).  Do not miss the pecan pie-it is also available upstairs at the bakery to go-it is the best I've ever had-and I lived in Texas which is Pecan Pie Capitol, I am not exaggerating about this Pecan Pie-trust me, try it.

The store really is a family-affair and visitors often get to interact with family members at different times, and to our surprise at the end of our tour we got to meet Ree herself in the upstairs coffee shop, where she was signing cookbooks. The welcoming environment really made us feel at home.

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The ticket for the lodge tour is free and it provides a map of how to get to the Pioneer Woman Lodge.  Although you will not see the actual home, the lodge is on the property and you will pass the "Drummond Family" Ranch sign on the way.  The road is a gravel road-so your car will get a bit dirty, but is totally worth it-you will see many of the familiar sights from the show and experience the beauty of the countryside.  

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The lodge is the exact location where her food network show is filmed. A guide wanders around willingly offering information about how the show is filmed, the history of the area, and friendly conversation about anything you want to know about!   

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My daughter Lilliana, has been an avid fan of her show since she was 3.  As in, she would rather watch the Pioneer Woman's cooking show, than a cartoon.  I have such great memories of cooking with all of the kids, so this trip really was a way to celebrate our love of cooking as a family. The view is beautiful - and the sights of the ranch and scenery above the hill are very peaceful to take in.  On the tour, you can see her big kitchen, cooking utensils and food lining various pantries, as well as the guest rooms, outdoor space, and the family area.  You really feel at home, and are allowed to explore the lodge at your own leisure. It is a very relaxed feel - and in case you are wondering- you might catch a glimpse- like we did of the dogs that are on the show lounging away in front of the lodge.  It is really apparent that the dogs are just chilling as they do on the show.

 

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It was fun to see her different hand-painted kitchen-aides up close, and also see the catering kitchen that is not on the show in the back.  There is no room that is off limits, which is pretty amazing, as you really feel like you are fully immersed in the set of the show.  It is much bigger than it appears on TV and it lets you appreciate the authentic nature of the show on a fully working ranch.

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From there, we went back to the Mercantile. I picked up a Rosehip hibiscus syrup for seltzer and cocktails.We decided to go upstairs to the bakery to grab some coffee & dessert, to discover that the Pioneer Woman was signing autographs, so we quickly bought a cookbook for her to sign. 

She was authentic and gracious - even being the last family in the line we felt that she took her time with us and got to know our family. It is apparent that she really loves what she does.  She was so warm and played with our baby - Jeremy- who gave her lots of smiles.  This was just a beautiful end to a wonderful day exploring the Pioneer Woman's world.  This trip taught my daughters that any dream they envision can become a reality with hard work and persistence.  I was so happy they got to see a real tv set, and got to talk to the person they had felt connected to through this wonderful show. I highly recommend a visit- it is well-worth the drive and you will leave feeling relaxed and not hungry.  The pecan pie, lemon bars, blondies, and cowgirl coffee (with a bit of cayenne) left me very happy!  It was a great memory and a wonderful day drive.  

For hours of the mercantile & lodge tour visit the official page below.  Also keep in mind that the site is closed on Sundays.  The lodge tours are on select dates which you can find on the website and I have reposted below. 

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https://www.themercantile.com/pages/lodge-tours

Here are the remaining dates of the lodge tours, for this year as posted on her site: 

UPCOMING DATES 2018
July 30 - 31

AUGUST

August 1 - 4
August 6 - 11
August 13 - 18
Friday, August 31 

SEPTEMBER

Saturday, September 1
Monday, September 3 (Labor Day) 
Tuesday, September 4
Friday, September 7
Saturday, September 8 

OCTOBER

Friday, October 5
Saturday, October 6
Monday, October 8

Restaurant & General Store

Monday through Thursday — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday and Saturday — 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday — Closed

Bakery

Monday through Friday — 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday — 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday — Closed

*At this time, The Merc is not able to book reservations for the dine-in restaurant Wait times can vary, but tend to be shorter in the early morning and in the late afternoon! We have recently expanded our seating to decrease wait times.

Parties of 15 or more can reserve The Dinner Experience on Monday-Thursday evenings. Email events@themercantile.com to schedule your party!

Blue Spring Heritage Center - A Gem of Nature, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

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Finding Blue Spring

Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, you will find a hidden gem of nature in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. 

At Blue Spring, you can experience the serene beauty of nature. On closer inspection, you will find a site rich in history, where you can learn about our country's Native American origins.  This spring serves as a permanent reminder of our roots- and these lands hold history firmly in their gentle embrace. 

You can still clearly see the bluffs where many took refuge centuries ago, and envision countless peoples' journeys through this land, stopping to drink at the spring and finding safety in nature's refuge.  Here you can pay homage to our Native American history, and really envision its role in the significance of not just the United States, but the world. 

The drive to Blue Springs is beautiful- you are surrounded by an overlook of canyons and bluffs.  Here you will find this incredible opportunity to see a spring - a thing of life and joy for weary travelers over the centuries - that still holds meaning today.  

The water of the spring is usually a deep cobalt blue - my photographs were taken after a rain storm, when the lagoon turns a greenish-brown due to the increased water flow.  Other times the lagoon is green. Either way, the different seasons highlight different aspects of the cycle of nature.  The spring is more than 500 feet deep, one of the deepest in Arkansas. 

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History

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As far back as the Archaic period (8000 BC), Indigenous people, known as "Bluff Dwellers," lived here and revered these lands as sacred ground. It is a place recognized in the oral tradition of Native American elders, as the bluffs were also used for sacred rituals (Blue Spring Heritage Center).  Archaeological research performed by the University of Arkansas uncovered animals bones, shellfish, and fauna dating back to 8,000 B.C., as well as pottery from later periods.  (Blue Spring Heritage Center). Oral histories of Tsalagi (Cherokee), Osage, and Quapaw cite journeys to Blue Spring for tens of thousands of years (Blue Spring Heritage Center).  Due to its historical significance in ancient history, Blue Spring was recently added to the National Registrar of Historic Places.

Touring the Grounds 

Blue Spring is a welcoming place. The guide gave us a detailed map of the grounds and explained that you can feed the trout in the lagoon and walk along the banks of the entire lagoon, which the kids loved.  The tour is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs (stairs are optional).  As we entered, we saw a couple touring the grounds, perhaps planning for one of the many wedding ceremonies that take place here. 

My children ran along the nature trail - and found a spot to sit on the edge where the spring rushes into the lagoon (see video above).  Here you can sit and put your feet in the water and feel the rush of water as it pours into the lagoon.  The water feels cold, and you can feel the power of nature as you watch the water flowing.

Blue Spring is tranquil. Water flows consistently - 38 million gallons in fact - from the Spring into a serene lagoon filled with trout, which is connected to the White River.  The water itself is symbolic of the healing connection to nature - which Native Americans celebrate and revere here to this day.

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Blue Spring is a very special place. Here, the Osage Indians, nicknamed "Strongboat Indians," used their boats on trade routes carrying fur, bear oil, and beeswax on the White River on the way to New Orleans (Blue Spring Hertiage Center). The White River being as accessible as it is to view, allows one to envision the land's use as a trading post and the stairs constructed along the banks allow you to see the River from above.

Another thing you come to appreciate here is the sense of strength and resolve that Native Americans displayed in the face of adversity & strife. Once you enter the quiet beauty of Blue Spring, and feel its inviting embrace, you see that there is a reminder of survival through history's tragic turns. In the 1830's Blue Spring was a stop on the Cherokee Trail of Tears which ran from Echota Georgia to Parkhill, Oklahoma.  You will find a sign commemorating this history - noting that of the 13,000 that took this treacherous journey only 7,000 made it to the final stop.  

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Imagining this long, forced journey, and seeing this stop on the Trail of Tears, enabled my children to fully understand its place in history.

Once you continue the nature walk through the grounds, you will find a medicine wheel, reminding us of the incredible power of healing that Native American culture preserves and upholds in its teachings.  This medicine wheel is a circle divided into 4 sections representing  the endless cycle of nature and its connection to all things.  In this quiet garden, you can sit and contemplate the cycle of life, and how the earth heals all things.  After taking time to appreciate this garden, you can continue wrapping around and view the bluffs which provided a shelter.

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Our last stop on the tour was the indoor visitor's center.  It features a video about the history of the area and artifacts found on the land.  Among these items, in the display cases is a poem about the Trail of Tears. By passing on these teachings to my children I realized I was honoring Native Americans' deep cultural respect for their ancestors.  The place holds much wisdom. It is a beautiful reminder of the great teachings found at Blue Spring - there are many things to be learned here. 

 Poem on display at Blue Spring Heritage Center in Exhibit display cases.

Poem on display at Blue Spring Heritage Center in Exhibit display cases.

 
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More Info: 

Blue Spring Heritage Center is 5 ½ miles west of Eureka Springs, Arkansas (10 minutes) off Scenic Highway 62. We are 45 minutes from Rogers, Arkansas, one hour and fifteen minutes from Fayetteville, Arkansas and one hour from Branson, Missouri.

Phone Numbers

Blue Spring Heritage Center
1537 Co Rd 210, Eureka Springs, AR 72632

The tour is handicap accessible

To plan a visit see:

http://www.bluespringheritage.com

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Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, Florida

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The Flagler mansion was the winter home of Henry Flagler, a partner in Standard Oil, one of the most profitable companies in history (Flagler Museum brochure, 2015).  The museum is on Coconut Row, and as your drive towards it, you pass a beautiful street with rows of Palm Trees and go over a drawbridge. 

Henry Flagler hired the same firm that built his Ponce De Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), to design the home (NHL Nomination, National Park Service). The home deemed "Whitehall", was designed in the neoclassical revival, Beaux Arts style by the renowned Carrère and Hastings architectural firm, who also designed the New York Public Library in the same time period (NHL Nomination, National Park Service). The home is significant in preserving the cultural landscape and architectural style of the Gilded Age. 

The term the "Gilded Age," was coined by Mark Twain's in his books, and captures elite society's focus on wealth, extravagance, and ostentatious lifestyle. The mansion has a great deal to see-with 100,000 square feet of interior, an outdoor exhibit featuring Flagler's train car, and beautiful grounds.  

 The Entrance to White Hall

The Entrance to White Hall

 Coconut Row

Coconut Row

Walking up to the mansion, you feel you are entering an exclusive resort or hotel, more than a summer home and this was the idea. The home hosted many guests in its time within over 75 rooms.  A building erected behind it, actually served as a hotel for some time after Flagler's death, before being torn down.

 An interior courtyard within the mansion.

An interior courtyard within the mansion.

Whitehall was built as a wedding gift for Mary Lily Kenan, Henry Flagler's third wife. Perhaps the most interesting room is the Organ room, where a permanent organist was employed to play music for guests.  During the time period, the organist kept scrapbooks about his stay at the house.  These journals allowed retrieval of information for historic analysis and provided many important details for historians to recreate the house (Flagler museum, audio tour 2016).

 Entrance room of the Flagler Mansion

Entrance room of the Flagler Mansion

Flagler was a hard worker from humble beginnings, as the museum notes in the gallery dedicated to his life.  The work he did in Florida was the beginning of a second career, and allowed the establishment of a connected system of transportation, known as the Florida East Coast Railway.  Flagler's idea was to allow transportation to be connected in all parts of the state, and landowners petitioned him to extend the railroad south. After a freeze destroyed crops in the more northern areas, private landowners donated land to further extend the railroad south into the Florida Keys (Flagler Museum, Florida East Coast Railway, http://www.flaglermuseum.us/history/florida-east-coast-railway).

The railroad's growth lead to the development of two million acres of land and this expansion of the railroad put Florida on the map and help spur the economic growth of its tourism stronghold that it is today.

 Photo of the Grand Ballroom in its heyday.  Photo credit: Flagler Museum, exhibited in the Grand Ballroom

Photo of the Grand Ballroom in its heyday.  Photo credit: Flagler Museum, exhibited in the Grand Ballroom

 View outside the mansion

View outside the mansion

According to the Flagler museum,

". . . Flagler dredged a channel, built streets, instituted the first water and power systems, and financed the town's first newspaper, the Metropolis. When the town incorporated in 1896, its citizens wanted to honor the man responsible for the city's development by naming it, "Flagler." He declined the honor, persuading them to use instead the Native American name for the river running through the settlement, "Miama" or “Miami.” "(Flagler Museum, 2016).

The railroad's growth lead to the development of two million acres of land and this expansion of the railroad put Florida on the map and help spur the economic growth of its tourism stronghold that it is today.

If you go outside you will find a pavilion that holds Railcar number 91, Flagler's private railroad car.  The girls got to walk inside it and get to see the inner workings, which included a small kitchen.  This was the actual Railcar that Flagler himself road into the Keys for the first time after the seven year project was complete.

In this pavilion, you will also find an indoor cafe, which serves an era-inspired tea.  It is a fun thing to do if you have some extra time at the museum and includes an English-style tea with sandwiches, scones, and assorted pastries created by a chef.

Flagler's vision was to create an overseas railroad, dubbed "Flagler's Folly", as the weather and location of the project posed significant challenges in extending the railroad into the Florida keys. The Keys held special importance during the time, as they served as Florida's largest city and natural port, as well as were in close proximity to Cuba and Flagler understood the significance of extending the railroad to the port (Hambright, historian at the Monroe County Public Library in Key West).  

During the centennial of the overseas railway, Monroe library uploaded a multitude of historic photos documenting the construction and opening of the railway.  Countless, nameless workers built the railroad and many lost their lives to the perils, such as heat, hurricanes, tides, and mosquitoes, as many islets needed to be connected to make the railway possible.  The completed project was called, "the Eight Wonder of the World" and survived until 1935 when it was destroyed by a hurricane.  Despite this, the remaining structure would later serve as the foundation for US Route 1 to Key West.

Below are some photos from this exhibit which you can find here.

Flagler was a key figure in establishing a vision of modern day Florida, as a tourist haven.  As I look at the many lavish artifacts left behind, I begin to have a revelation that what Flagler is most remembered for is not his wealth, but the good he did for the state of Florida, particularly of using his wealth to connect Florida to the rest of the US, and in realizing his dream of expanding the railroad while building hospitals, schools, systems of electricity, water, and transportation.  You can stop to view some of these extravagant artifacts, like a solid gold tea set and you come away with a sense of thinking about what is important and what is left to the waste side looking back.

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Flagler died in 1912, after falling down the marble steps of Whitehall to in his old age. Mary Lily is said to have died addicted to opiates, and is rumored to have been seen alone looking out the second story windows of Whitehall (Mciver 1989).  The home is a reminder of this world etched with gold, and stands as a testament to the Gilded age lifestyle.  

Today, the mansion is almost a reminder of the excess and extremity that wealth can bring, reminding us that perhaps what one does in life is more important than what one accumulates - as Flagler is most remembered for his contributions to the State of Florida.

A visit to the Flagler museum will provide a good window into history and give you a great deal to think about.  As Mark Twain said in critique of this time in American history,  “What is the chief end of man?–to get rich. In what way?–dishonestly if we can; honestly if we must.”

— Mark Twain

Links: 

Flagler Museum website, http://www.flaglermuseum.us/ Accessed April 27, 2016

Hambright, S. quoted in `Flagler's Folly': An `Overseas' Railroad To Key West, Chicago Tribute.  March 08, 1998|By Luann Grosscup. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-03-08/travel/9803080050_1_flagler-s-folly-henry-morrison-flagler-florida-keys  Accessed April 27, 2016

Mciver, S.  July 2, 1989.  The Tragic Mistress of Whitehall.  http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1989-07-02/features/8902190293_1_robert-worth-bingham-coffin-henry-morrison-flagler  Accessed April 27, 2016.

National Historic Landmark Nomination, Whitehall, National Park Service https://www.nps.gov/nhl/find/statelists/fl/Flagler.pdf  Accessed April 27, 2016.

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