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Romantic Calico Rock

It's Valentine's Day.

I began thinking about romantic getaways that Arkansans might not know about and kept coming back to the Calico Riverview Inn at Calico Rock, the subject of my past two newspaper columns.

Sisters and Batesville natives Cathy Beard (who lives at the inn) and Tracy Owens (who lives in Jonesboro) renovated the River View Hotel, which was built in 1923, to serve railroad passengers and crews. They worked for 567 days on the project and opened last year.

I've stayed there and can attest to the fact that it's a jewel.

The sisters were born six years apart, but it's evident that they're close. Their mother's family was from the Calico Rock area, and they spent a lot of time there as children.

Several years ago, they noticed a "for sale" sign on hotel. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We started thinking about buying this place, and the thought just wouldn't go away," Tracy says. "My husband gave me every reason he could think of not to do it, but I couldn't stop thinking about this building. The former owners had lots of old photos. I began looking at them and soon had in my mind what I wanted to do."

Renovation work began in January 2022.

"The hotel had closed at the start of the pandemic," Tracy says. "The previous owners lived in Oxford, Miss., and it just became too much for them to oversee this place from that far away. There was a great deal of work to be done. We put in all new heating and air conditioning systems. We installed tankless hot water heaters. We put a new roof on the place, knocked out walls and got eight rooms ready upstairs.

"The outside walls were fine. They're thick. This place is a bunker. But if it had been empty a couple of more years, it would have been really hard to properly restore it. I'm glad we took this on when we did."

Tracy travels to Calico Rock from her home in Jonesboro as often as possible. Cathy came out of retirement to operate the inn on a daily basis.

During the restoration process, the sisters discovered everything from a 1927 St. Louis newspaper to 1920s receipts for coffee purchases. The hotel had the first flush toilet in Izard County and the first electric lights. The first female dentist in the area once had an office there.

The calendar is packed with events for 2024 that range from a readers' retreat that was held in January to special Christmas events planned for December. There will be a wine-tasting weekend during the summer.

The inn is rented out for regular women's retreats and corporate meetings.

The Riverview is on a hill just above Calico Rock's historic Main Street. After railroad lines were laid through the area by the St. Louis & Iron Mountain in 1902, Benjamin Sanders built a two-story frame house on the hillside. He began renting rooms in his house to railroad crews and passengers.

After the home burned down, Sanders erected a fireproof building and called it the River View Hotel. The inn is rumored to be haunted. I didn't see or hear any ghosts, but I slept well and had a fine breakfast. It's nice that this Arkansas treasure has been restored.

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