I still fondly remember a spontaneous family trip one weekend, an “adventure” as my father called it, to Mena AR to see Queen Wilhelmina State Park. I couldn’t tell you what time of year it was, but I suspect it was fall because I can remember the winding roads going up Rich Mountain (the second highest peak in Arkansas), and marveling at the fog that stayed ‘just ahead’ of our view.
I never really knew who Queen Wilhelmina was, only that she must have been pretty popular to have this lodge in this beautiful area named for her.
As an aside, I have always been under the impression that the town of Mena was also named for the Queen, but apparently I was mistaken! In the late 1800’s, there was a huge drive to build railroads to the West (and that’s another blogpost in and of itself!). The founder of Mena, Arthur Stilwell, a railroad executive, named the town for the wife of Jan De Goeijen, his friend and financier. Her name was Folmina Margaretha Janssen-De Goeijen, but her nickname was Mena. (Ya learn something every day!)
But back to Queen Wilhelmina State Park. During the railroad expansion, the Dutch investors wanted to encourage leisure travel as well as commercial use, so when they came upon this beautiful flat mountaintop, they knew it would be the perfect place to build an inn and attract visitors. The inn that was built was opulent and grand, full of amenities that rivaled those of any five star hotel of that day. It was named for the new – and very popular – young Dutch queen at that time, Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria, “Wilhelmina of the Netherlands,” and opened in June 1898. Unfortunately, its success was short lived.
Within a few years, the railroad began to experience financial woes, and was bought out by what is now Kansas City Southern Railroad. Of course, the new owners didn’t care to keep up the building and by 1910 it was in ruins. There was a glimmer of hope thirty years later when Earnest Rolston, a music professor from Centenary College in Shreveport, wanted to restore part of the structure to house a summer music program, but that never happened because World War II started, and this project was obviously not a priority for anyone.
Ironically, it was the war that also brought about its eventual restoration. After the war ended, returning soldiers who had seen the world were bitten by the travel bug, and taking trips and vacations suddenly became a popular past time. Travel and tourism was born! Of course, Arkansas wanted a piece of the action, too, so, among other in 1957 a resolution was passed to create a state park on the site of the old inn, and soon a new lodge was under construction there.
In June 1963, the lodge opened, and although it wasn’t quite as splendid as the original, it used some of the original stonework and was modernized.
Tragedy struck again in November 1973. A fire started in the kitchen which burned the entire building down. Plans and renovations started immediately, and two years and $3 million later, Queen Wilhelmina Lodge reopened for business.
As of this writing (November 2013), the lodge is closed for another upgrade, and is scheduled to be open again in about a year from now. Stay tuned! But the other features of the state park are still up and running – the cabins and campground, amphitheater, hiking trails, etc. The view is a year-round treat! Definitely worth a weekend’s visit.
So who was Queen Wilhelmina? I did a little research and was surprised to find out that she was quite an amazing and effective monarch, not just a figurehead, and I’m sorry I didn’t learn about her life and contributions until now.
Wilhelmina was born in 1880, the only child of the ruling monarch King William III of the Netherlands and his second wife Emma. King William was 63 years old when she was born, so it wasn’t a surprise that he passed away when Wilhelmina was only 10. She would have inherited the throne at his death, but since she was not of age, her mother acted as regent until she was eighteen. (Actually, there is more to the succession, but it’s too convoluted to explain. Read the Wikipedia entry for all the details!)
My knowledge of the political dynamics surrounding the World Wars is sadly lacking, but I highly encourage you to read about Queen Wilhelmina, at least the condensed version in Wikipedia, to learn about the life of this obscure, yet powerful, queen. Even thought she was only eighteen when she took the throne, apparently she was well groomed and quite prepared for her reign. The queen will be remembered as a strong leader who stood by her principles, a champion of her people (leading them through two world wars and the economic crisis in 1933), as well as a shrewd businesswoman, becoming the world’s first woman billionaire, and on top of that, she was greatly loved by her people and was a genuinely nice and kind person. Can you top that?? Sounds like someone Princess Diana modeled herself after!
Below is a video about Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, with photos of her life and reign. One thing I did notice about her is that she seems to smile more in official photographs than your typical monarch of that era. She was truly a one-of-a-kind, amazing woman.
Queen Wilhelmina died on November 28, 1962, so I thought it might be fitting to write this post about her this month, and about the magnificent lodge and state park in the beautiful Arkansas Ouachita Mountains that bears her name. Enjoy!