Dakota Hillside Inn, a labor of love
On their small plot of land, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River, and nestled into a sandstone cliff hillside outside of Cassville, Wisconsin, the Redwings own and operate the Dakota Hillside Inn. Although their business name has the word ‘Inn’ incorporated into the name, Ron and Barb Redwing see it as more of an open home experience.
About 22 years ago, Ron Redwing had a dream of making a home where he could make some retirement money out of. In no way could the couple have imagined what this dream would develop into.
“We started out with just a trailer here, a 12x32 foot trailer. It was a property I bought when I lived in Madison, sight unseen, but I knew the area because I used to come here in the 60’s with my mother and brother to fish down here. We had a rowboat, no motor. We just rowed out onto the Mississippi and bluegill fished off of stumps. It didn’t take much to buy this from a friend that I knew. We didn’t have plumbing here, we had to put in legal plumbing. The hillside was right up to us,” Ron reminisced.
Barb stated, really to her, it was more like just a little fishing shack. “When we moved in, I thought I was falling back out. It was so unlevel and the carpets kept you from falling through the floor. It was rough, we lived rough for a while. My brother called it the love shack,” She said with a laugh.
Eventually, she grew tired of the ‘love shack’, and one day after she came home from work, unscrewed the tin steel from outside the trailer, and took a maul busting up the kitchen wall. When Ron came home, he said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’. Barb told him, ‘We aren’t living here no more.’ So, and the building began and continued in stages.
Barb, born in Beetown, Wisconsin, grew up on a farm with her 5 brothers and 3 sisters. On the other hand, Ron, a member of the Santee Sioux tribe, whose parents were from the Santee reservation in Nebraska, was born in Sioux City, Iowa and grew up in Platteville, Wisconsin. Both accredited their tenacity towards their project with growing up in humble surroundings, and noted they knew what it was like to make something out of what was available. This might explain the materials they used in building the Dakota Hillside Inn.
See, the Redwing’s have used re-purposed materials in almost all of the construction of the Inn. “I grew up poor, so we never had anything new. We always had hand-me-downs. When I got old enough to work, I bought new things, but new things didn’t last. New things really aren’t new, people try things on and return things, but new things don’t last,” Barb said on using old proven quality materials.
Anytime the Redwing’s were out driving, they would be looking for old buildings. If people were out bulldozing down buildings, they would stop to ask if they could have the materials. “It was hard, we had to make sure we got enough material to do a project and some the materials weren’t salvageable.” Ron said.
Ron also would find old barns and take them down after getting permission from the owners, who were happy to oblige as long as he hauled it all away. “It was more work to take them down, power wash the boards and sand them, but it was free. We were doing this long before people were thinking about this,” he remarked.
The Redwings front foyer was built from a barn built in 1848, and stressed that they have documented the age. “The wood used in that barn was already over 300 years old,” he said.
The big windows in the Inn, also re-purposed, come from an old mansion in Madison that was tore down.
“You’ll see that there are some rooms where we didn’t have enough type of that wood to finish it, so we learned how to mix it to where it looks good. We don’t need it all the same. We hardly throw anything away. We salvage all the way to the end. We got it done and it looks beautiful. It made it easier learning what woods look good together,” Barb said on working with salvaged materials.
While a project of this magnitude takes a huge amount of hard work as a team, Ron said as he chuckled, “She was the motivator behind this. Her nickname, well, I called her ‘The Whip’.
Ron said, “For a whole summer we lived outside basically. I dug the trailer out of there and started with the cement foundation. My biggest goal was to get it closed in before winter and get the roof on. It was a two-story building. It was challenging, but I guess we were a lot younger and crazier back then. The neighbors drove by every day to see how we progressed along.”
Ron’s warning to anyone else trying this type of project, that it’s a lot of hard work, dedication and determination. He remembered at times they were woken up in the middle of the night because it would be raining, so they would get up and have to be up sweeping the water out. “No one would believe what we went through to get to this,” he said.
“We’d work on this place until 9 or 10 o’clock at night and go to bed. We’d get up in the morning and go to our regular jobs and do the same thing all over again. Then, we worked all weekends. I never really got to go fishing, still don’t get to go much now,” Ron said.
It should be noted that during construction of the Inn, both Ron and Barb worked at the University of Wisconsin -Platteville. Ron also was a construction worker and worked for 18 years trimming trees around power-lines.
Ron stated that every place has a story. At times they knew what they did, but sometimes forgot how they did it. “Basically, our dreams kept developing as we went along. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and be like, ‘That’s how I’ll do that.’” If Ron and Barb couldn’t figure out how to go about building something during the day, it would come to them in their sleep, like a dream of sorts.
Other times that the couple would run into difficulties on how to proceed, Ron would sketch the design out on architectural paper so everything would come out in the right dimensions. “My father was the first of our tribe to be accepted into college. He was going to be an architect, but he was killed in an accident just before he went to college,” Ron said in a solemn voice.
While the Redwings are no longer building anymore, they admitted they finish work to complete.
The Inn has 2 suites, with a third near completion. Each suite, decorated in a different theme, has a sitting area, separate entrance, a table, couch, and bathroom. The Inn also has a commons area for everyone to use with a microwave and fridge, and are currently finishing a 2nd kitchen for all guests to use.
As if the amenities were not enough, the Redwings built a large hot tub venue into the cliff-side as unique as the Inn itself.
The Redwings said that for 22 years they’ve had people drive by to see the latest progress, and have heard comments from some that they would never finish it. Well, wonder what they have to say now? Ron’s reply to that, “People say now that they are amazed.”
Getting the last word in, Barb said, “When he married me, he wrote his vows, and I wrote mine. His said, ‘I will build you a house that you will be proud of.’ Now he says, ‘I never thought I’d be building it the rest of my life’.
The Dakota Hillside Inn is open for lodging from May until the end of October, with both opening and closing months dependent on the weather. Ron and Barb also give tours of their Inn, posting tour dates on their Facebook page. You can contact them at (608) 725-2099.
Editor’s note: Normally, we would have included more photos of the inside of the Inn. We feel that video is the best way to showcase this amazing experience. The second video of the property is from DakotaHillsideInn.com.