Address: 900 Third St., Galena, Ill.
GALENA, Ill. — Robert Mahan once began thinking about how he would feel about closing the Galena bed-and-breakfast he owns with his husband, Douglas, while cleaning a toilet.
“I got sad thinking about never cleaning another toilet again,” he said. “Never once in eight years have I woken up and thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do this today.’ That’s how you know you love what you do.”
Aldrich Guest House, 900 Third St., won the TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice 2022 “Best of the Best” award earlier this year, with the bed-and-breakfast ranked No. 1 in Illinois and No. 11 in the United States based on guest reviews.
“Our goal is always to do our best,” Robert said of the award. “If that makes us No. 1, great. If that makes us number last, that’s fine, too. But it was an affirmation of how much work that we do.”
In October, Robert and Douglas will have been the innkeepers at the historic Aldrich Guest House for eight years. The Mahans have 55 years of hospitality experience between them.
The house was built in three portions, the first of which was constructed in 1845 by Cyrus Aldrich, a former U.S. congressman, Douglas said. The final portion was built in the 1860s.
“It’s kind of cool to say the new part of the house is 160 years old,” Douglas said with a laugh.
He noted that the house has a long history of entertaining guests, including as a country club in the 1900s. Former U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant spent time there.
“It’s amazing how much history is right where you’re standing,” Douglas said, gesturing around the house’s parlor.
The property has been a bed-and-breakfast since 1984 and was one of the first Galena homes to be converted into a bed-and-breakfast.
The Mahans, who are the sixth owners of Aldrich Guest House, were previously working in Chicago when they came up with a plan to open a bed-and-breakfast.
“I sat down and wrote a business plan, and it ended up being 65 pages,” Douglas said. “But we didn’t find the right place yet until we came to Galena.”
The couple noted that Galena also boasts year-round tourism, so the house stays booked.
“It stays really busy from Valentine’s Day to New Year’s,” Robert said. “It quiets down a little bit in the beginning of the year, but it still stays busy. In the winter, people still are coming to get away.”
Robert said he and Douglas have worked on cultivating a laid-back and genuine atmosphere for their guests.
“When people think about B&Bs, they think about ‘mandatory fun,’” he said. “Or now there’s the opposite with Airbnbs, where there’s an absent host. The balance between being there when you need us and not when you don’t sets us apart.”
Douglas said he and Robert redid Aldrich Guest House themselves, taking out the wallpaper, flowers and lace to create a cleaner look. Design elements such as antique furniture and tin ceiling tiles also highlight the house’s history.
The house boasts a parlor, dining room and five guests rooms with room for 10 guests. Each guest room has a heating and cooling system, so guests can set their room at their preferred temperature.
There is a library space, complete with a book collection and reading chairs, and a screened-in porch where guests can enjoy breakfast outdoors.
“People ask us if we have a favorite room, but we don’t have a favorite room,” Robert said. “We’ve worked so hard on all of them.”
The couple run the bed-and-breakfast by themselves, taking care of cleaning, cooking and booking guests.
The Mahans have added several other amenities throughout the years. Douglas said the business has a liquor license and they enjoy making seasonal cocktails for guests to enjoy together. They also built a “potting shed,” where guests can consume cannabis, after recreational use of cannabis was legalized in Illinois.
Robert said they have been working on transforming their yard into more of a park with more trees.
“The only problem with turning your yard into a park is, sometimes people cut through it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the day when I look outside and someone has set up a picnic blanket in our yard.”
The Mahans noted that Galena is home to many great bed-and-breakfasts, and guests have plenty of options when planning a stay.
“But I think one of the things that put us a step ahead was that we were one of the first ones to take the wallpaper off the walls,” Robert said. “We were one of the first ones who updated their website for people. Then other people started doing it. … It’s great if the industry is raised up as a whole.”
The Mahans said they also began to do a lot of Facebook videos during the nine weeks they shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, giving people cooking and cocktail demonstrations.
They said they have the best guests in Galena, and the shutdown highlighted that even more.
“For those nine weeks without guests, you realize how much you love what you do when you’re not allowed to do it,” Robert said.