Mont Rest was built in 1893 for $6,000 by Seth Luellyn Baker. He was a wealthy land developer who owned hotels, gold mines and paddle boats on the Mississippi. Baker was a true entrepreneur. He developed the town of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and he loved to gamble. Seth Baker was originally from Bellevue and came back to buy what was known as the north bluff of Bellevue. And as so many newly rich Victorians did he erected a monument to his stature in life. He named the property Mont Rest. The locals almost immediately started calling Mont Rest "The Castle" because of its unusual architecture and its towering presence over the town.
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 a man who employed 200 people in a factory located in Bellevue and lived in Mont Rest like a king. However, the man became very upset about a rumor that was going around the gossip mills in town and shut the house up as a punishment to the town.
He refused to sell it anyone for a quarter of a century. The forest behind Mont Rest encroached the property. Animals began living in Mont Rest and teenagers broke the windows. The house became known as the Haunted Castle of Bellevue. In 1979 The Des Moines register ran an article about the Haunted Castle of Bellevue and how it stood brooding over the north bluff of Bellevue.
In the early 80's, finally, the gentlemen who had held onto the house for a quarter of a century sold it to another gentlemen who was going to renovate the house and live there in his retirement. He soon realized that maintenance of a mansion was going to occupy more time than he desired, so he sold it to a young couple who started a remodeling job. They however, faced financial ruin and gave the house back to the bank. At which time the present owner, Christine Zraick purchased the property from the local bank and started the long trek to its total restoration.
She opened up the residence as a Country Inn and it soon became very famous for its beautiful, peaceful views of the Mississippi River, and the fun parties the innkeeper would throw centering around murder mystery plots. Christine opened up Iowa’s first bed and breakfast inn, and Mont Rest was her second endeavor having acquired it in 1986.
In 1996 on Christmas Eve, Mont Rest was almost totally destroyed in a tremendous fire. They called in five fire stations in which an excess of fifty firemen battled the blaze all night, dumping over 200,000 gallons of water on the structure. Emotionally devastated, Christine was not sure whether Mont Rest could be rebuilt. Her ten year dream had gone up in smoke, but due to the overwhelming response from the people of Bellevue and her own feelings of stewardship towards the property, she decided in the spring of 1997 at least to try to recreate what had been standing there for over a century.
Today Mont Rest is back in all its Victorian splendor. Everything that the fire had destroyed has been replaced with vintage woodwork and chandeliers and furniture that Christine literally searched the world to find. One of her biggest joys is sharing this Victorian wonder with her guests.