Written by Kathy Weiss
Photos by Reggie Morrow
In her former life as a human resources VP, Barbara van der Woude
routinely recruited out of town personnel and arranged their lodging. Now as innkeeper of the Bostick Guest House & Historic Inns of Iowa City, she serves a more direct role, personally welcoming travelers and thoughtfully catering to their needs.
Ideally situated on the north edge of downtown, the inn that the New York Times calls “a favorite with writers” is anchor to a collection of beautifully restored historic homes Barbara oversees at the corner of Jefferson and Gilbert streets. They include a fully furnished cottage, two-room suites, studios and apartments that serve as a home away from home for visiting professors, poets, novelists, scholars and business travelers, as well as in-laws and relatives of local residents on mostly an “extended stay” basis.
“They typically come with their laptop and books,” Barbara says of her clientele. “Some stay for an entire semester.
“On the phone, I try to explore what’s important to them,” the innkeeper shared recently. “If they’re coming from South America in the winter, I would put them up in the warmest place I have.” Creature comforts like teapots, fresh flowers and down comforters are provided, and she is sensitive to guest preferences, especially those who suffer from allergies. “They like our hardwood floors,”
With the close-in location adjacent to the University of Iowa campus, a block from downtown and just steps away from John’s Grocery, Mercy Hospital and unique dining and shopping destinations, guests typically arrive by car and then park it and walk during their stay. They appreciate the free on-site parking, Barbara says, along with such amenities as private baths, wireless Internet and laundry facilities.
Each property has its own distinct flavor and in some cases, an illustrious history. The Bostick Guest House, with its circa 1851 Greek Revival architecture, served as the original City Hall and later a recruiting station for the Union army during the Civil War. After that, it was a home for the nuns of nearby St. Mary’s church and then a rooming house. In 1994, the property was purchased by Joan Hart who began historic research and restoration. In 1996, Barbara and her husband, Steve, purchased the property and completed its restoration. Later that year, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated an Iowa City Historic Landmark. The couple acquired the adjacent properties as they came on the market and expanded their accommodations.
Unlike a bed and breakfast where the innkeeper prepares a morning meal and remains on the premises, “this is an un-hosted guest house,” Barbara says, commonly called a “service flat” in Europe. “You come and you’ve rented the space,” she explains, noting that she still makes herself available to guests if they have questions.
With her calm, soothing voice and accommodating nature, it appears as though Barbara has found the perfect vocation. “This is so much less stressful than HR,” she acknowledges with a smile. “All they need is maybe an extra blanket or recommendations for a good restaurant.”