The story of this Oregon hotel and town is a makeover tale with a twist—and a heart
August 18, 2016
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Wallowa County, Oregon, possesses all the elements of a good makeover story—complete with the requisite Instagram-ready place to stay. Yet the forces at work make this narrative more of a revival: of a hotel, a river, a town, and your soul.
Behind it are generations of homesteaders, as well as the requisite big-city transplant and an entrepreneur-artist-dreamer with a DIY sensibility, who seek to amplify the town’s traditions to the outside world. Its catalyst is not a luxury resort but a rough-hewn restoration of a 106-year-old former flophouse. Its characters are epic: the cowboy hat–wearing matriarch, the contractor who hunts with a bow and arrow. And woven through the storyline is the iconography of the frontier—the rodeo queens, the prairie, the rich tribal history of the Nez Perce Indians who first settled the Wallowa region thousands of years ago.
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Meet the Jennings Hotel
The red-brick exterior of the Jennings was built in 1910. Built by local Edith Hall Jennings in memory of her husband, the two-story structure once housed a restaurant, a barber shop, and the Gold Room, a western saloon presided over by—who else?—a fiery redhead. Now, the new owner is focused on giving it a second life.
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The wooden room
There are five guests rooms so far in the Jennings, along with a communal kitchen/library. Many of the individual spaces were designed and built by members of Hennes’s ad hoc creative team. Room 8 is clad in wood, salvaged by local sawyer Jim Zacharias; the quilt is by artist Zena Verda Pesta, and the sconces are from Rejuvenation.
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A peek inside
Greg Hennes, the new Jennings proprietor, sits in the hotel’s landing, below a hand-stitched sign by Lindsey Smith of Makers Workshop. He funded the renovation through a Kickstarter campaign, raising over a hundred grand, and reconstructed it with his own two hands. “Most of what I’m doing is getting the building closer to its original construction,” says Hennes.
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A peaceful sanctuary
The Jenning’s Room 3B combines a mirror by designer Brendon Farrell with a chair from Rejuvenation’s Salvage Department. Rooms 3A and 3B are the work of Phloem Studio’s Ben Klebba and Wood & Faulk’s Matt Pierce.
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It’s not easy to get the northeastern Oregon town where the Jennings resides, but its surrounding county has so much to offer in views, local spots, and family roots that are experiencing their own revival. Check out our full guide to visiting Wallowa County here.
A steep ride up the Wallowa Lake Tramway brings you to a lookout point on Mt. Howard with views of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness. The mountain is a newly designated National Natural Landmark.
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The general store
M. Crow & Co. has been Wallowa County’s continuously operating general store for 109 years. It was purchased in 2013 by Joseph native Tyler Hays, founder of Philadelphia design firm BDDW. The high-end furniture label has made Hays a revered name among rarefied East Coast circles, but much of his heart remains in Wallowa County, as evidenced by his desire to keep the general store in business
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In M. Crow & Co.’s backyard, a tipi made of unbleached canvas is set up for the public to enjoy.
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At 6 Ranch in Enterprise, fourth-generation owner Liza Jane McAlister nuzzles with 10-month-old miniature horse Cheese, who will eventually serve as a pack animal during the ranch’s hunting camps. McAlister raises grass-fed cattle and runs a self-service roadside stand selling eggs, honey, and some of the best cuts of beef in Oregon. “The ranch was owned by three generations of my family before me,” says McAlister, a cowboy hat shading her face from the sun. “It’s in my blood. It’s all I ever wanted to do.”
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The rancher's daughter
McAlister’s daughter, Adele Nash, brings her seven-year-old quarter horse to graze by a historic barn. She and her brother James each left Wallowa County as young adults but returned to bring a new aspect to the operation.
For Adele, an expert horsewoman who studied culinary arts in Austin, it’s an emphasis on growing produce. She and her mother got the idea for the roadside farmstand after attending a Slow Food festival in Italy five years ago.
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The nature reserve
Zumwalt Prairie is Oregon’s biggest private nature preserve, providing diverse habitat for species that range from golden eagles to Rocky Mountain elk. The 240,000-acre expanse with a 4,400-acre parcel was also recently awarded Natural Landmark status, and can be reached from Joseph.