We have been for the past two nights at the Inn at Castle Rock in Bisbee, Arizona. This morning I sat by the fireplace in the entryway as Chris, the owner, built a fire. It snowed last night, and cool air holds to the stone tiles of the entry floor. As Chris worked on the fire, I asked him about the Inn, which is built over a spring that became a well that started the copper mining boom of Bisbee.
The Inn, now the oldest wooden structure in Bisbee, was built in 1895. It survived a 1908 fire that burned most of the rest of the town. One has a sense that the Inn was quickly constructed during the mining boom. The rooms of the inn have the feel of efficiency apartments—bedroom and kitchen combinations in an era of outhouses. The former kitchens have been converted to be bathrooms, with old kitchen sinks, although not original to the late 19th century, still in many of the baths.
The Inn is funky. Chris tells me the funkiness doesn’t come from him. He’s a trim New Zealander in a black stocking cap, blue work shirt (tail out and protruding below his brown work coat) and blue jeans. He has a thick blond mustache. The funkiness he says came from Jim Babcock, a former owner. Babcock created the themed rooms that still give the Inn much of its character. When we had first stayed here two years ago, we stayed in an Asian themed room. On this visit we are in Return to Paradise, which has a photographic image of a tropical scene covering one wall, a copy of a Gauguin painting above the bed, palm tree table lamps, and palm tree embroidery on curtains. There’s also a Pioneer room with a Coca Cola theme, the White Eagle room with a map theme, and Sultan’s Harem, which has voluminous drapery and images of a scantily clad harem, among several rooms and themes others. Chris bought the Inn in 2009 from Jim Babcock’s daughter after Jim had died, and he kept Jim’s room themes and decorations intact.
Jim Babcock was an amateur painter, and many of his paintings are on the walls. There’s a Van Gogh self-portrait in the entryway and another on the third floor. Van Gogh was probably a Babcock favorite—there are other partially painted copies of Van Gogh’s paintings of street scenes in Arles. The copy of Gauguin’s melancholic woman in a crimson frock, which is hung above our bed, is a painting I saw in its original Gauguin state only a few months ago. Babcock’s version has closely cropped the left hand side of the original, and he has darkened it—his floor is more umber than Gauguin’s lighter brown, and the woman’s frock a more intense crimson than Gauguin’s more pinkish one. Babcock captures Gauguin well—he has Gauguin’s short, vertical brushstrokes—but he had a little trouble with the woman’s ear, although Gauguin might also have had trouble with the ear.
Chris says that he bought the Inn as a real estate investment. He was divorced and had been planning to travel the world, when a corporation offered to hire him to travel the world to represent their mechanical interests. He continues to travel the world from the Inn, which he uses as his home base. His resident inn-keeper, James manages the Inn in Chris’s absence. Chris says that he would like to spend more time in the Inn to interact with the guests. He’s had about 6000 guests since buying the place, and, he says, only five of them have been displeased with their visits. “Those five would be unhappy about anything.” When he is at the Inn Chris says he focuses on keeping the place repaired and functional. He’s an engineer—his expertise is the world’s largest mining trucks—and is adept at plumbing and carpentry—skills needed, he says, at the Inn at Castle Rock.