Those who travel know this truth: there a few spots on earth that one comes across during his or her journey, that are their own—a vortex, if you will, to a better mindset, an inner peace, a higher existence. And then there are spots that encompass all of the aforementioned, but are not just unique to the individual; they indeed do exist for us all. I felt this feeling as my car traveled down the road toward the Iron Gate Inn, first as I entered the small town of Winfield and then as I pulled up to the front of Iron Gate.
The beautiful lawn, the billowing old trees, the towering columns and that incredible wrap around porch, were more than a hint of the magic, which lay just beyond the door. And indeed, the moment I entered the grand, old house, the feeling was magical. A spirit of transcendence immediately engulfed I and I felt as though I myself lived in a better time—a synthesis of the best of the past, present and the future. I felt like I had entered the world of J.P. Baden, a world where anything was possible—even greatness.
Of course Iron Gate was built by the legendary businessman J.P. Baden more than a 125-years-ago. Mr. Baden had immigrated to America at the age of 15 and moved to Winfield ten years later to build his fortune. It began as a mercantile venture to bring an abundance of fair priced goods to the town and then quickly evolved into a packinghouse that would supply eggs, butter, milk and flour to the entire country. To put Mr. Baden’s business into a contemporary perspective, the Baden packinghouse was three football fields wide by one football field deep and on any given day it shipped 14,000 pounds of butter among its many other products.
Known for his dynamic personality and phenomenal business acumen, J.P. Baden was also known for not being particularly interested in the accumulation of wealth. Rather, he preferred to reinvest his money in his ever-expanding empire to create jobs and economic growth and he never met a worthy philanthropic endeavor he did not like. Arts, science, the church and his beloved St. John’s College, which he founded, he supported them all to a degree in which he is almost credited with having built the town of Winfield.
However important being a businessman of worldwide respect and a philanthropist without equal among his peers might have been, J. P. Baden was first and foremost a man devoted to God and family. And to this end he built his most important structure meant to house his family—Iron Gate. When I was a young lad my father taught me to seek out things, which had “good histories” because he knew that all things were invested with the spirit of their creator and those who had used them previously. Who would not want to sleep in Lincoln’s bedroom, write at Edgar Allen Poe’s desk, pray at the Western Wall—I myself stood in the home of Robert Frost and listened to an old recording of the legendary poet reading “The Road Less Traveled” before I traveled to the Grand Hotel to write my own poem “Grand Again”. And so of greater importance than the physical beauty of The Iron Gate Inn is its good history—a living history I urge all to become part of…
For many years subsequent to my first stay at the Iron Gate Inn I shared its lore throughout my travels. At home in Los Angeles, California I spoke of it so often, one might have thought I myself hailed from Winfield—nothing could be further from the truth, as my own family came to the City of Angels more than a hundred years ago, but Iron Gate and Winfield did feel like home. On the coast we often refer to the Midwest as the Heartland and Winfield is at the very center of our great country, so in a sense it is the heart of the heartland and there is a time in every life that it is important to live close to the heart. In fact I would describe a stay at the Iron Gate Inn as whatever it is, that a guest needs it to be. The Iron Gate Inn is romantic and inspiring, peaceful and healing, and most of all filled with pure goodness—the goodness of friends, food and family. It’s the goodness of the America that was once called the shining city on a hill.
So in a country where anything is possible, I have come to be the steward of Iron Gate. I wish I could say that I have conducted my life with the same wisdom of J.P. Baden, I haven’t, but I can say that I believe, as he did, in God, family and America. And I believe that the best days of Iron Gate, Winfield and America are still to come. However, it is at sometime incumbent on all of us to take a step back into the past in order to regain the footing of those who worked so hard to build our collective future. And with that in mind I invite all who desire this to come sit on the porch, eat a hearty meal and even stay the night—I think it’ll do you some good.
Chef Stan Of Iron Gate