Small Business Spotlight: The Willis-James

Being a small business owner is a tough job! That’s why we feature a different small business in our Small Business Spotlight every month. Today we learn about an exciting renovation happening in historic Chillicothe.

The phrase “if walls could talk” may sound cliché but that’s the focus of a big renovation happening now at a historic home in Chillicothe. The early nineteenth century era home is being transformed into a boutique bed and breakfast named for two prominent former residents. Now known as The Willis-James, the 6,000 square foot home is expected to provide guests with an experience that fuses old traditions with sophisticated hospitality.

Owners Drew Musser and Steph Moore have an extensive plan and a vision to honor the heritage of the home while giving their guests an exceptional, memorable stay.

What’s so special about this house?

Everything.

From the pocket doors to the eleven fireplaces to the history of the people who lived there, the Federal/Greek Revival house and its story could fill a book.  That story begins with Nathaniel Willis who was an apprentice in Benjamin Franklin’s printing office in Boston. He started his own newspaper, participated in the Boston Tea Party and was a veteran of the Revolutionary War all before journeying to the Northwest Territory and this new town called Chillicothe. When Willis arrived in 1797, the town had been laid out only the year before.

Here, he started the first newspaper in the Northwest Territory, securing his status in the area as a contemporary and friend of prominent men in Ohio history including Ohio’s sixth governor Thomas Worthington. The Scioto Gazette would go on to operate for 110 years, becoming the oldest continuously operating newspaper in Ohio.

Willis built the original house in 1805. The home changed hands over the centuries with each new owner expanding the home, improving and leaving their own mark. One such owner was Thomas James who is known as the “Father of the Western Iron Industry” for the work he did in constructing iron forges throughout southern Ohio and Missouri. The city of St. James, Missouri is named in his honor.

The house also was held by Eleanor Tiffin and Matthew Cook. She was the daughter of Ohio’s first governor Edward Tiffin. The home remained with Tiffin descendants for more than a century.

Drew can weave together the entire narrative of the people who called this place home and the influences they had on the house. As they have worked on the home for nearly two years, they have found where it has been added on to and uncovered interesting details like a large painted archway first thought to be wood that’s actually stone.

Long forgotten artifacts help to tell the stories of former inhabitants including Wesley Claypool whose labeled vest was found beneath attic floor boards.

While they are honoring the integrity of this home’s history, they intend to blend in 21st century amenities aimed at appealing to the modern guest. Each room will have its own thermostat, a king or queen bed fitted with high quality linens, slippers and robes. Each room will have a luxurious new bathroom fit for royalty complete with a walk-in shower and a comfortable tub for a long soak.

In all, the house has five guest rooms including one ADA accessible guest room on the main level and a two-room suite upstairs.

Guests will find nooks and crannies in common areas throughout the house where they might linger to relax and unwind. For example, just beyond the breakfast room, a greenhouse or orangery as it was once called will be at the ready for anyone wishing to sit with a book and a glass of wine. “There will be lots of spaces to relax and to make you just want to hang for a while,” Steph explained. “We want people to feel welcome to make this house their home during their stay,” she said.

Yet, they also want guests to explore the best that Chillicothe and the surrounding area have to offer. They are focused on helping guests discover the experiences that will make their stay special. Whether it be an in-room massage or help locating the best hiking trail, the hope is to create an authentic experience that allows guests to feel like they are the first to discover the amazing qualities that make the area special.

They intend to bring in local products such as Rost Coffee, local produce and Amish baked goods to provide guests with a taste of the area as well.

The property boasts a carriage house that will provide space for public rental. The board room table for twelve can be removed for small social gatherings and events. An ADA accessible restroom and kitchenette will be available for comfort and convenience. The upstairs of the carriage house will be Steph and Drew’s new home. As primary caretakers, the couple will provide top notch daily housekeeping services and home cooked breakfasts.

The couple do know a thing or two about hospitality. They are avid travelers who love the bed and breakfast experience. They have lived and worked in resort communities like Vail, Colorado and Santa Barbara California throughout their married life. She has been in the luxury boutique hospitality business for the last 28 years and has specialized in operations, finance and business development.

“It’s one thing to work hard for someone else’s dreams but it’s so meaningful to get to work on your own dreams and visions,” Steph said.

Drew is a Chillicothe native and Chillicothe High School graduate. The Ohio State University graduate has been an elementary school educator for the last several years. His local roots run deep and he has family in the area. “We love to travel and always go to bed and breakfasts but we also love to be home and to cook, to be surrounded by people,” Drew said.  “There’s always room for one more! The more the merrier” Steph exclaimed!

“We want to give the traveler somewhere nice, somewhere special to stay and we want to give Chillicothe something to be proud of,” Drew said. “We want to honor the history and the integrity of the house and the town, but still give guests the comforts they appreciate. We want to be a part of the town’s story.”

These images show parts of the Willis-James in various stages of restoration and construction.

While The Willis-James is still under construction, they will be ready to host guests during the Christmas Tour of Historic Homes on December 11-12.

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