March 16, 2017
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— The founder of Sojourn Heritage Accommodations, a brand of bed and breakfast boutique hotels capitalizing on the fast-growing heritage tourism market, will visit Illinois Wesleyan University March 29-30.
Sojourn’s founder, Kristin Kitchen, is also the owner of Six Acres Bed and Breakfast, a Cincinnati, Ohio historic site that was once a part of the Underground Railroad. Because of its location across the Ohio River from the slaveholding state of Kentucky, Ohio evolved into a major route on the Underground Railroad. Built in the 1850s by noted abolitionist Zebulon Strong, Six Acres was a safe house along the railroad’s route.
Kitchen was first introduced to the history of the house during a high school graduation party. Holding onto that story throughout her life, Kitchen decided to rebuild the house when the owners passed away and the house began to fall to ruins.
The tagline for Six Acres is “Let’s Share Life Over Breakfast.” Most mornings, “I get the chance to sit with my guests and learn from their stories by asking questions and encouraging them to share their lives,” said Kitchen. “As a historian, I get a chance to teach about the African American experience in America and allow our guests to share and ask questions that they may otherwise never get the chance to pose. At the breakfast table, we learn that we are more alike than different and that most people want the same things for themselves and their families.”
With 13 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Kitchen began to ask herself and others if she could expand the experience of the “breakfast table” into an actual brand that encouraged people from various races, genders and cultures to come together and share their lives with one another.
“Could we, through deliberate dialogue, create transformational experiences for our guests that could, perhaps, last a lifetime?” she asked.
The Sojourn Heritage group blends heritage and community tourism with the bed and breakfast experience. With the goal of opening 10 Sojourn Heritage hotels over the next five years, the group hopes the slow growth ensures each site has the kind of community and social impact they are hoping to achieve. Each sojourn will have a hotel, gift shop and bookstore, wine shop and restaurant, all focused on African American history and culture. The first Sojourn Heritage is slated to open in Miami this summer in the community of Overtown, once a preeminent and historic center for commerce in Miami’s black community. A second Sojourn Heritage project is underway in Atlanta in the area of Techwood Homes, the first public housing project in the United States.
Kitchen will speak about her experiences as the owner of a successful bed and breakfast in a former Underground Railroad property, her vision for the Sojourn Heritage brand, and her dream of sharing history and community with all those who sojourn at her sites. Her presentation at 7 p.m. March 29 in the Center for Natural Sciences, Room 102 (201 Beecher St., Bloomington) on the Illinois Wesleyan campus is free and open to the public. Her trip to Illinois Wesleyan will also include meetings with student groups and classroom visits.
In an interview with professor and journalist Sybril Brown, Kitchen said she feels as if she is able to bring the same comfort and peace to people that the house once brought to many fugitive slaves on their escape to freedom. “It’s magic. It’s the most peaceful, amazing home,” noted Kitchen. “To have the opportunity to work in a place that was actually used as a safe house for people on their weary journeys and to be able to bring that use back to life... I feel like the house has actually made its purpose, and I’m able to help fulfill its destiny.”
By Vi Kakares ’20