ELMDALE — The old house sits on a bluff high above Gould Creek in western Chase County.
Down the long driveway, past a pasture filled with Watusi and longhorn cattle, traffic whizzes past the ranch on U.S. Highway 50 in southeast Kansas.
Built of native limestone in the late 1860s by a young visionary from Virginia named Jacob Ramer Blackshere, the big house at Clover Cliff Ranch survives as a testimony to the three families who have owned it.
On a sultry Kansas morning, six people, strangers to one another, sat eating breakfast in the enclosed veranda of the old mansion on the hill.
The diners were guests of the Clover Cliff Ranch Bed & Breakfast, owned by Joan and Jim Donahue.
In 1980, Donahue heard that the old Clover Cliff Ranch might be for sale.
"It was just before the ag business went ...," he said, as he gestured downward motion.
Donahue didn't buy the ranch then, but by 1987, the couple found themselves closing on the property.
"We bought it to do ranching," Joan Donahue said. "We didn't have any intention of doing a bed and breakfast."
"We bought this place in 1987," Jim Donahue said. "There's only been three owners since the start of the ranch, Jacob Blackshere, (Homer Lee) Prather and us."
The couple, who met while juniors at Durham High School, are the owners of the Donahue Corp., a business they began in 1962.
"In the 1960s, we started buying some land," Jim said. "Our sons run our ranching operation for us. We have 4,500 acres here and some land around Elmdale and north of here."
After purchasing the property, the Donahues first began renovating the three smaller houses.
"The one we call 'The Gables' now hadn't been lived in for 25 years," Joan said.
Slowly, steadily the three remaining houses began to regain their dignity.
"You didn't even know those other houses were here," Jim said. "There was so much brush around them. I got so sick and tired of people asking what we were going to do with the place."
But, after the brush was cleared and houses appeared on the cliff, " ... they'd go by and there were these houses," he said. One day, near the completion of the big house, Jim had a brainstorm.
"He said, 'Why don't we make this place a bed and breakfast out of this,'" Joan said.
The renovations had taken the couple nearly two years.
They enjoy their guests.
"We're not booked every day," Jim said. "Weekends are the busiest. We've met people from around the world, and we've only had one bad experience."
Many of their guests are "city people," many of whom are experiencing country life for the first time.
"Sometimes when they call, they ask what kind of activities we provide," Joan said. "And I tell them we don't, they provide their own."
Bu, "I've never had anyone tell me there were bored here," Jim said. "If a person can't find something to be happy with here, I'd be surprised."