Baker built the round room at the top of the house for high stake poker games. Professional gamblers used to ride the steam paddle wheelers from points south of St. Louis just to get into gambling games in the tower at Mont Rest. You had to be a high roller just to be invited to these high stake games. Several local farms exchanged hands late at night in the round room at the top of Bellevue's Castle. The gamblers would walk up an inside stairwell, step out onto the roof of the house and climb through a hatch to gain entrance to the gambling room. They could barricade themselves up there for days with no threat from local law enforcement officials. Gambling was illegal on the shores in those days. Mont Rest soon became infamous for its gambling.
In 1895 a doctor of questionable credentials from St. Louis, Missouri called a hand in a poker game with a $6,000 bet. Mr. Baker thought he could beat this man’s hand, and being short of cash offered the deed to his beloved Mont Rest to call the bet. The man accepted and the cards were laid down. Baker then proceeded to go downstairs and tell his wife that they had two weeks to move out. In 1895 $6,000 in cash was the buying equivalent of in excess of 1 million dollars today.
The doctor who won the hand only lived in Mont Rest for a couple of years, seeing patients intermittently and treating all sorts of illness with mild electrical shock treatments. Doc sold the house, and the house was sold again to a nationally prominent figure named Frank Weinshank who was a business partner of Henry Ford’s.
Weinshank spent his life and his fortune trying to get a telephone line established before WWI between Mont Rest and the Pope in Rome. He went as far as trying to sue Bell Telephone Systems for "persecution of religion" because they would not honor his request to lay a trans-Atlantic cable on the ocean floor starting in Bellevue and stretching to the Vatican. Weinshank imported an Italian fresco painter to paint huge Sistine Chapel like paintings on the various ceilings of Mont Rest. He had a four foot mother of pearl crucifix hand carved in the Holy Lands. He then had it shipped to Rome to be blessed by the Pope and installed it as the centerpiece to the altar in the tower where he tithed to the church. The church would send a priest to Mont Rest daily for him to receive private mass in the tower. During the 20's, and Weinshank's ownership a huge fire went right up the side of the house.
Weinshank was active politically and had some very strange ideas. After WWI Weinshank went to Washington D.C. and pontificated some of them. Among these was the idea that America was still secretly ruled by England and together America and England were conspiring to rule the world.
Weinshank was detained in Washington on a serious charge of sedition. But, a Philadelphia lawyer convinced a federal judge that if Weinshank promised to return to his home in Bellevue and not leave he would cause no more problems. The judge signed off on the charge thinking that Weinshank was going to the insane asylum in Bellevue, New York.
Weinshank came back to Bellevue and toned his political career down considerably. And after Weinshank the house went to a series of owners, including a priest, until it became owned by Mr. Gibson who bought Mont Rest in 1941
He owned it for 38 years but only lived there for 13 years. The house was rented to a local war hero for a short time but then ultimately stood unoccupied and subsequently abandoned for a quarter of a century. Mr. Gibson then abruptly sold it to Elmer and Marsha Peters of Tipton, Iowa in 1979. They were going to renovate the massive house and use it as a family retreat. They soon realized that renovation of “the Haunted Castle of Bellevue” was going to occupy more time than they had to devote to such a large undertaking. The Peters’ family sold it to a young couple who started remodeling Mont Rest. They had never gone through a renovation before and underestimated the costs and time such a gargantuan endeavor would entail. Facing financial ruin they turned the house over to the bank and filed for bankruptcy protection. At which time the present owner, Christine Zraick risked everything she owned and purchased the property on October 31, 1986 from the local bank starting the long journey to its total restoration.
She hired artisans, both locally and imported, to accurately bring the dilapidated structure back to life. Christine was repeatedly warned that the house was cursed and held certain disaster for anyone who owned it. She scoured the countryside for appropriate furnishings.
She opened up the previously neglected residence as an improved version of its former self. Mont Rest 1893 opened as Jackson Country’s first Bed and Breakfast Inn. Thousands of people came to the grand opening. There were refreshments, historical tours, old-fashioned horse and buggy rides and a barbershop quartet. The many craftsmen who helped her in the renovations were on hand to explain how they helped accomplish the massive undertaking. Christine greeted people who, some with tears in their eyes, thanked her for saving the town’s landmark from total destruction.
The Grand Opening was on April 1st 1987. She said she wanted to open on April Fool’s Day to remind her what a fool she was for taking on a project like the restoration of Mont Rest. The Country Inn soon became famous for its beautiful, peaceful views of the Mississippi River, and the fun parties the innkeeper would throw centering around murder mystery plots and gourmet food.
This was Christine’s second Inn; her first was another National register building which was Iowa’s first bed and breakfast located in her hometown of Tipton next door to the house she grew up in. Ten years after opening Mont Rest Inn, disaster struck. In 1996 on Christmas Eve, Mont Rest experienced a tremendous fire. Five fire stations with more than fifty firemen battled the blaze late into the night using over 650,000 gallons of water to battle the blaze on that bitterly cold night.
The tower crashed into the second floor and the roof was almost completely destroyed. The house moved off its foundation because of the massive infusion of water. Emotionally devastated, Christine was not sure whether Mont Rest could be rebuilt. Her decade long dream had literally gone up in smoke. However, her strong feelings of stewardship towards the property compelled her in the Spring of 1997 at least try to recreate the beautiful mansion that had been standing there for over a century. Everyone from restorative architects to structural engineers told her rebuilding would be impossible. She listened carefully and fortunately ignored their advice. As a result the Mansion rose like a phoenix from the ashes.
Today Mont Rest is back to its Victorian splendor. Everything that the fire had destroyed has been replaced with historically accurate art work, woodwork, chandeliers, and furniture. Christine literally searched the world to find each and every piece. Each piece has its own story, be sure to ask about those that interest you during your stay. Mont rest has been visited by English Royalty, a sitting Vice President, Presidential candidates, Governors, Pulitzer Prize winning authors and movie stars.
One of her greatest joys is sharing this Victorian wonder with her guests.