|By Carla McCann, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Sep. 21, 2004 - MILTON, Wis. -- Toni and Brad Anderson saw the potential for a new life under the many layers of wallpaper, carpet and decades of neglect that shrouded the upstairs at 50 Merchant Row.
The Milton couple also felt a need to preserve the historic Milwaukee cream brick building that has stood sentinel on the street since the late 1800s. And they've done that.
After nearly a year of renovation, the stately building now houses The Milton Inn Extended Stay Suites. The two large upstairs suites offer "home away from home" comfort.
"We did as good of a job as we could," Brad said. "We took our time and did it right."
Each suite has a large bathroom and fully furnished kitchen, bedroom and living room complete with cable television. The top floor also has a sun porch.
It's been years since the city included a motel/hotel in its business directory, according to Milton Historical Society records. The building's renovation helped reclaim its former charm and fulfilled a longtime need for temporary lodging.
For the Andersons, the venture was a leap of faith. The building was placed on the market in 2002 after being repossessed by a local bank. Toni, 36, and Brad, 41, are years from retirement. He works at General Motors in Janesville. She is a dental hygienist and has an orthodontic laboratory in her basement.
Still, they were looking ahead and searching for retirement investments when they viewed the building.
And they weren't the only ones interested in buying it. Six or seven other people had also placed bids on the property, Toni said. It was the Andersons, however, who won the bid. When the Andersons took ownership of the building it housed two businesses and one vacant storefront on the ground floor. One of the businesses left a month later, but was replaced by the Blue Moon Internet Cafe.
Today, the ground floor also houses Jillybeans Styling Studio and Permanent Images photography studio, which filled the formerly vacant storefront. Although Toni knew the building needed renovation, she wasn't fully prepared for the extent of the work that needed to be done, she said. Along with a new roof, the building also needed to be rewired and insulated. The windows also had to be replaced.
Wall furnaces in each suite were the only source of heat. A furnace and central air conditioning now serve the suites. Much of the building's history appears lost in time. Documents show it was built between 1870 and 1880, but the exact date is unknown, Brad said. What is known is the diversity that the building has brought to the city. During its life, the building has been home to a variety of businesses, including a hardware store, a liquor store, an antique shop, a barbershop and the Hull Grocery store.
Coincidentally, Toni's maiden name was Hull. After taking possession and fronting their own money, the Andersons went to work on the renovation.
From September 2002 until July 2003, the couple spent every spare minute working to make the top floor livable. The job became a family affair, with their 9-year-old son, Brett, and 7-year-old daughter, Bonnie, helping with such tasks as painting, sweeping and fetching. During the project, Toni discovered that the walls were insulated with crumpled newspapers from the 1930s, she said. About a month into the project, Brad decided the top floor would make a nice inn. The original plan was to renovate the floor into nice apartments. The city didn't have a Victorian bed and breakfast as is common in other communities, Brad said.
"I thought we could rent it out and do halfway decent," Brad said. "If it didn't work, we could go back to renting it out for apartments." But he still needed to convince Toni that the plan would work.
"I thought he was nuts," Toni said.
After researching the idea, however, she changed her mind. The business has been fashioned after European boarding houses. The suites offer nightly, weekly or monthly lodging to vacationers, travelers, businesspeople away from home and temporary housing for people without a home.
Visitors need only bring a toothbrush and clothing. The suites even have a washer and dryer in a common area.
"We just decided to go ahead and do it," Toni said. "How would you know if it would work if you didn't try?"
Since opening in 2003, the Milton Inn has been full 90 percent of the time, Toni said.
The first boarders were a family in the process of building a home. They stayed about seven weeks, Toni said.
In finding a new life as an inn, the building continues to serve the community and offer a glimpse of the city's historic past.
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