By Kathy Montgomery | Photograph by Steven Meckler
A rooster’s staccato proclamation punctuates the murmur of white-winged doves as the Simpson Hotel rouses itself to a new day. Morning here feels a little like Old MacDonald’s Farm meets the Island of Misfit Toys. Located in the small agricultural community of Duncan, the hotel is home to aged roosters (two) and goats (three), plus eight rescued cats that have a house to themselves.
Beyond a shady courtyard, a shrine to San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers, guards the vegetable garden, housed in a structure built to resemble the ruins of a Spanish chapel. A porch swing hangs near a bed of roses, an apple tree and a hand-dug pond planted with papyrus and water irises, its tranquil beauty unfussy and slightly unkempt.
“We tried to create here what we like to find when we travel,” says owner Deborah Mendelsohn as she serves, back in the dining room, a breakfast as healthful as it is delicious. Mendelsohn uses fresh local eggs for her signature frittata. This morning, it’s loaded with kale, golden peppers and herbs. Multigrain corncakes, made from stone-ground cornmeal, taste heavenly with organic blue agave syrup; chicken sausage; and fresh kiwi, papaya, pineapple and mint.
Feeling “crazy and worn-out” by a career in media development and broadcasting, Mendelsohn fled California in search of a different lifestyle. In this Southeastern Arizona community, she found interesting and creative people living along the banks of the Gila River, and a flood-damaged brick hotel that reminded Mendelsohn of her childhood home in Boston.
First opened in 1914, the Simpson Hotel housed an electric co-op after Interstate 10 bypassed the town. The building was abandoned after a devastating flood in 1978, and subsequent owners failed to revive it. Mendelsohn gutted the place in 2006 and reopened it the following year.
The hotel’s six restored guest rooms feel lived-in and comfortable, with sturdy oak furniture, area rugs and timeworn mirrors. Named for Cormac McCarthy, the Cormac Room floods with early-morning light. With pale walls, painted floors and white bed linens, it’s as cheerful as the author’s novels are gloomy. The Old Library Room feels contrastingly cozy, with exposed brick, stained concrete floors and burgundy curtains. The bathrooms look old but aren’t, Mendelsohn says. And every room, bathroom and hallway is filled with original works of art.
Duncan is mostly associated with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who grew up on a nearby ranch, and the late artist Hal Empie, who ran a pharmacy in town. But it’s also popular with birders, who come to see the sandhill cranes and golden eagles that winter there and hundreds of other avian species documented on the nearby river trail. What you won’t find on the list are roosters. To see them, you’ll need to book a room at the Simpson.
The Simpson Hotel is located at 116 Main Street in Duncan. For more information, call 928-359-3590 or visit www.simpsonhotel.com.