Because she grew up in the strange and distant land of South Dakota, Sandy Meyer wasn’t familiar with the history of the 19th century Colonel Hankinson Mansion in Hankinson, ND when she first saw it. Rather, what she saw was something she wanted dearly. She said as much to her husband, career dairy and cattle feed farmer Marshall Meyer, who with the pragmatism characteristic of his profession explained that owning such an old home was out of the question.
One day Sandy saw that the beautiful thing was up for sale, and averred once again that she wanted it — only to be advised once again that owning it was quite outside the realm of possibility. To her credit Sandy kept pining, kept wanting that home, and kept telling Marshall that she’d very much like to own it. Finally, when it went up for sale again, Marshall admitted that he would very much like to own it, too. They bought the mansion shortly thereafter.
“Do you know how when you get a new baby, and you’re all excited, and then it sets in just how much work you’ll have to do? That’s what it was like when we got the place,” Sandy reminisced. In its over one hundred years standing, the mansion had fallen into an exceptionally advanced state of disrepair — windows had broken, ceilings were caving in, and the carpets weren’t appropriate for even the most disreputable hovel. Ripping up said carpets encouragingly revealed ornate hardwood floors, but ones which had been driven through with so many nails to keep their boards from squeaking that they demanded comparison to a voodoo doll. The red brick barn with its gable roof, while still impressive as the largest of its kind in the state, had become a place of extensive rodential congress, and lost shingles with every gust of prairie wind despite having been given four layers of them.
A Herculean task was laid before the Meyers, but we all know that’s the kind of task in which Midwesterners shine best. In order to fund their massive project they decided to offer the mansion as a bed and breakfast upon its completion, fittingly named the Lady on the Lake given its close proximity to water. With only six months to go until the grand opening, the Meyers set right to work landscaping, painting, sanding, roofing, installing plumbing, and doing whatever else was necessary to resurrect the old homestead back to its former glory.
The Lady on the Lake is now a splendid place, restored and redecorated through and through without having lost a shred of its turn of the century charm. The mansion’s original floor plan remains intact, as does its original woodwork including its hand carved staircase from Germany. It does boast some modern amenities as well — Colonel Hankinson might never have imagined that his home would one day sport a hot tub, but now guests soak in one in the wintertime, observing the frozen lake and taking satisfaction that they’re not soaking in it instead.
When the lake has thawed, guests may launch complimentary canoes from the dock to thin out the local perch and walleye populations. Don’t count on Sandy’s advice when it comes to fishing, however. In her own words: “I’m no expert on fishing, no expert in that field, sir!” The ones who compete in the lake’s biannual fishing derbies would be better to consult on piscine matters.
Sandy has got considerable expertise when it comes to breakfast, an arguably more important facet of life. In her quarters’ commercial kitchen she prepares her signature glazed bacon, fluffy scones, lemon pancakes, pumpkin pancakes — “all kinds of pancakes, you name it! Breakfast at the Lady is like a five course meal, with everything freshly made that morning. Even if you’re gluten-free, we’ll take good care of you.”
The barn has been spared nothing by way of renovation either, and it now makes Lady on the Lake a picturesque wedding venue. The enormous old building is completely finished and features a kitchen for caterers, a wheelchair ramp, washrooms, and even hayloft seating to accommodate additional guests. The bed and breakfast’s four bedrooms, each named after one of the mansion’s former residents, are among the finest places you could shore up in after celebrating matrimony all night long.
“Even though we didn’t originally plan on opening a bed and breakfast, Marshall and I couldn’t be happier inviting people over,” said Sandy. “The Lady on the Lake is one of the most beautiful spots in North Dakota.” To learn more about the Lady, please visit ladyonthelakebb.net.
By David Scheller