Island Acres Resort Motel in Gunnison, Colorado has managed to resist the standardization of lodging that has taken place in the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. Similar motels across the region have been demolished and replaced with new businesses or other types of housing, which was nearly the fate of Island Acres until the current owners decided to preserve the inherent Colorado history of the place.
The modern story of the mountain resort is outlined through an interview with the owners Pam and Tim Williams conducted by the Gunnison Country Times called Island Acres’ accidental innkeepers to host Business After Hours. In short the couple purchased the motel with the intention of building new housing accommodations, but the economic downturn of 2008 caused them to keep the original motel. They have since invested in maintaining the historical significance. The family owned business is now described at IslandAcresResort.com as,
A renovated American icon—a hidden gem in a quiet neighborhood. Island Acres has an amazing story to tell, character to share, and charm to enchant all of her guests.IslandAcresResort.com
The bottom line is Island Acres Resort Motel is a charming place for two reasons, its historical significance and because it is a small-town family-owned property that has resisted much of the corporate standardization of small motels across the United States.
History of Island Acres Resort Motel
Island Acres Resort Motel is full of history. Owner Pam Williams has written her own book about the historical significance of Island Acres called The Motel that Elmo Built. Elmo refers to the eccentric Elmo Bevington who was a historical figure in Colorado. In addition to Bevington, Island Acres Resort Motel is home to other extraordinary historical relevance including original Gunnison Homes built buildings and a building remaining from the Rippling River Ranch that once stood at the now-flooded Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Elmo Bevington is an interesting character in Colorado history. The title of Bevington’s biography is called The Man who Amazed Himself: The Life Story of Elmo Bevington. The most recent edition of this book was published in 1993 by Arlene Shovald.
In many ways Bevington was amazing. He has roots in Salida, Colorado where he established a love for Colorado’s native mountain goat amongst several other projects. Bevington’s love and passion for the goats led to conservation efforts. There remains an annual gathering to bring awareness to the animals and their conservation.
Elmo Bevington was also responsible for being the first to develop Monarch pass in Colorado. He was a beer and soda distributor, he served in the US military during WWII, and Bevington was an overall entrepreneur.
A smaller and less known development of Bevington’s was the Island Acres Resort Motel. The original Island Acres was to serve as farm and ranch land with lodging accommodations where travelers could rest and relax for a few days as they made their way across the great Rocky Mountains.
Gunnison Homes, named after Foster Gunnison who has no connection to the town of Gunnison, intended to mass manufacture quality homes using prefabricated buildings. You can think about the company as the Ford of housing, doing what Henry Ford did for the automobile but for the American home.
The original Island Acres Resort Motel included three Gunnison Homes buildings, two buildings of units for guests and one main residence for the innkeepers. While one of the three original buildings was lost to a fire in 1958, the other two still stand with the main residence housing the owners and the other building still welcoming guests from around the country every Summer.
Rippling River Ranch
Rippling River Ranch was once an active ranch located on the Blue Mesa. In fact, the Gunnison River provided the lifeblood for several ranches on or near the Mesa. You can see in this news clipping from The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction in 1957 an advertisement for a ranch hand. At the time the ranch was offering 140 dollars per month plus lodging.
In the late 1950s, plans to develop the Blue Mesa into a reservoir emerged and by the mid-to-late 1960s Blue Mesa Reservoir was complete. Prior to flooding the reservoir, a log cabin from Rippling River Ranch was moved 15-20 miles toward the town of Gunnison and placed on the property of Island Acres Resort Motel for groups of guests.
Visiting Island Acres Resort Today
In addition to the historical significance of the property, anyone visiting Island Acres Resort today can expect a meaningful stay. It has become common for guests to share stories of their trips to the property. Families that may be spread apart in different states unite at the mountain resort for annual reunions, some of which have occurred for nearly two decades. This is a property where the owners have taken explicit steps to allow for meaningful placemaking, which is a rarity in the hospitality industry where efficiency and profit have so often become central to operations.
Placemaking and Island Acres Resort Motel
Island Acres Resort offers seasonal lodging from late May through October with a season opening party on Memorial day weekend. This season-opening celebration is a prime example of the placemaking activities at the Motel. Local residents, artists, businesses, and press all came out to support the event at which visitors could tour select rooms, enjoy locally catered food, listen to live music, and relish in the company of friends.
After the event, we were motivated to learn more about the history of Island Acres. Fortunately, Pamela Williams’ book, The Motel that Elmo Built, shares the extensive history of the property, including multiple archival documents. One of the archival documents in the book is a image of the original advertisement for the Grand Opening of the Resort. Island Acres Resort and Motel originally opened in 1954.
There are elements of the ad that remain relevant. The motel still has easy access for hobbyists looking for fishing. Rooms remain comfortable with tons of amenities, including kitchenettes. The party even featured barbecue from a local caterer which was part of the original opening. We later learned that the details of the party were planned in an effort to allow the community an opportunity to develop a sense of place at Island Acres Resort Motel.
The amazing thing is that all guests are treated to this level of detail and placemaking when they visit Island Acres. The property still has evidence of the original buildings and each room is furnished with original 1950s furniture and kitchen appliances.
Activities for Visitors to Island Acres Resort Motel
While there may be similarities between the 1950s Island Acres Motel and the Island Acres Resort Motel of 2022, there are obvious changes. Some of the biggest changes for the property have occurred around the motel which has maintained much of its 1950s charm. Like most organizations the advancement of transportation and technology have had an impact.
Gunnison, Colorado is located in a mountain valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. These mountain passes are relatively easy to pass with a 2 wheel drive vehicle these days, but historically it was a treacherous trip to arrive in Gunnison from Denver to the East or Grand Junction from the West. Travelers visiting Gunnison needed long-term respite from their journey over the mountains and would frequently rent lodging for extended stays. For this reason motels like Island Acres were equipped with small kitchens and other light housekeeping to give guests plentiful comfort for rest and relaxation before they continued their travels.
These days travelers still receive the same comforts for an extended stay at Island Acres Resort Motel. While people may not need the respite from rigorous travels of the past, the accommodations at Island Acres Resort Motel present an incredible opportunity for individuals, couples, and families to explore all of the outdoor activities in the area. Island Acres Resort Motel’s proximity to both Gunnison Whitewater Park and Hartman Rocks Recreation Area is sure to impress visitors looking for easy access to the great outdoors. Whether it’s hiking, fishing, white water rafting, mountain biking, or a combination that you’re craving, your options will be endless in the public lands paradise that is Gunnison, CO.