Ask Susan and Mike Stensland how they came to operate a bed-and-breakfast in a historic Muscatine home and you'll get an unusual answer.
The Colorado couple were visiting their daughter in Muscatine during the Thanksgiving 2011 weekend when Mike suffered a heart attack. His recovery kept the couple in Iowa longer than expected, and as part of his rehab they took walks in their daughter's neighborhood.
In time, they walked past a lovingly restored old home, sitting vacant and for sale, and almost instantly realized it could be the fulfillment of Susan's long-held dream.
They sold their Colorado home and, shortly after they moved to Iowa in March 2012, opened the Mississippi Pearl Bed & Breakfast.
You can see for yourself the home that so caught their fancy on Saturday, May 30, when it will be one of five residences open for tours sponsored by the Muscatine Historic Preservation Commission and the Friends of Muscatine Historic Preservation.
According to a history prepared by the commission, the original house on the property was built between 1854 and 1858. Major additions, including the wrap-around front porch, were constructed in the early 1900s.
In the mid-1900s, the home was turned into a nine-room boarding house for people working in Muscatine's button industry that used mussel shells from the Mississippi River as its raw material, Susan said.
In time, the home deteriorated and looked like it might be heading for demolition when preservationists Michael and Shelly Maharry of Muscatine bought it and undertook an extensive restoration.
The home is located in Muscatine's West Hill Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. It is a roughly 20-square-block area that rises west from the current downtown to the top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
It was on this bluff that pioneers built their homes beginning in the mid-1830s and during the later heydays of the lumber and pearl button industries.
Guests of the Stenslands' bed-and-breakfast have access to one side of the home's downstairs, including a parlor/sitting room, a dining room and kitchen, and the entire second floor.
The master suite features a sleigh bed, a gas fireplace with an antique wood mantel installed by the Stenslands and a bath. Between the bath and bedroom is a niche with a microwave and a mini-fridge.
The Stenslands call the room Col. Welker's Suite, after one of the home's owners, a Civil War veteran. Frederick Welker was an artillery officer who served in battles at Fort Donelson and Shiloh, both in Tennessee; Corinth, Tupelo and Vicksburg in Mississippi, and the Atlanta "March to the Sea" in Georgia.
The other suite features two adjoining bedrooms, and a masterfully decorated bath is crisp white and royal blue. "I'm a 'Design on a Dime' queen," Susan said, referring to the HGTV show.
One of the bedrooms in this suite is named for Pearl McGill, a button worker and labor activist.
The room names are part of the Stenslands' incorporation of local history into the home's decor.
Hanging on several walls are framed historic photos, including the former "High Bridge" over the Mississippi and crates of melons ready for loading onto a train. A mussel shell on the dining room table contains pieces of stamped shells that Susan has found in the yard as she has gardened.
Information about Mark Twain, who once worked for the Muscatine Journal newspaper, lies on a parlor coffee table.
All of the antique furniture was a start-from-scratch endeavor since the couple's previous home was contemporary, with complementary furniture.
They have tried to buy from within the area, or at least around Iowa. Several pieces came from Walnut, an antiquing haven about 40 miles east of Omaha, Neb. Susan also shops online.
People staying at the inn include Mississippi River Road leisure tourists, corporate travelers and extended-stay guests in town on business with Bandag Inc. or Stanley Consultants, she said.
In addition to operating the bed-and-breakfast — breakfast bread puddings and homemade Hollandaise sauce are her specialties — Susan works from her home office for Marriott International, based in Bethesda, Md.
Mike is the senior building inspector for the city of Muscatine.