In the early 1900s, Ephraim boasted 12 “grand hotels.” Today, just one of them — the Hillside Inn — remains. And what a magnificent grand dame she is. For good reason, Ephraim is often called the “jewel” of Door County, and the view of the inn, bookended by two historic little churches, is one of the most photographed.
The inn’s beginnings were humble — a four-room log cabin built by Ephraim’s founder, the Rev. Andreas (Andrew) Iverson, and purchased in 1866 by Morton and Maria Olson, recent arrivals from Norway. Generations of Olsons added to what became the Hillside Hotel until, when the family sold it 103 years later, its 13 bedrooms and two bathrooms accommodated 40 guests.
By 2002, its age was showing. A two-year renovation by then-owners Jim and Claire Webb reduced the upper level from 13 small rooms to five large and elegant suites, each with its own upscale Kohler bath. The Webbs closed the inn in 2008 but continued to use it as their personal home until 2010. Then for five years it sat forlornly empty.
Diane Taillon, a real estate broker with an office just down the street, had tried to sell the inn since opening Arbor Crowne Properties in 2014, after working as the Door County representative for Sotheby’s International Realty. When she was named Door County’s top realtor in 2015, it soon became evident that she needed a larger office. Taillon loves Ephraim, which she “discovered” in 1981, and she hated to see the beautiful old inn deserted. She accomplished two goals just before Christmas, when she bought the Hillside and turned what was once the second parlor into her spacious office.
The ground floor also includes a welcoming entry, a business center, a large sitting room, an elegant dining room, a commercial kitchen and the owner’s four-room suite. The Webbs’ remodeling paid close attention to the original integrity of the inn’s exterior. The 110-foot, wrap-around front porch, believed to be the longest in the county, provides a lovely spot for sharing a breakfast tray, reading or enjoying the sunset over the harbor. The property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The interior retains its historical feel, with all the luxurious amenities of a boutique hotel. Each of the five upstairs suites has a fireplace, a comfortable area to relax, a tall four-poster bed with steps, a beautiful Kohler bath and a balcony — three of them overlooking the harbor and the others, the back garden. Rates range from $250 to $300 per night. The inn is adults-only, but children are welcome in the two historic cottages original to the property, each of which sleeps six and rents for $335 to $365.
Penny Souther is the breakfast chef. Fresh fruit is teamed with specialty pastries from Colleen’s Heritage Bakery in Ellison Bay — Icelandic almond rolls, cardamom loaf and cherry walnut limpa bread. Guests may share the meal in the dining room or take trays to the front porch or their rooms.
The inn will be open year round. Taillon envisions inviting local chefs to offer cooking classes in the spacious kitchen and featuring special activities such as dog sled weekends and girlfriends’ weekends. Since purchasing the inn, she has focused on creating a garden on the south lawn, a perfect spot for weddings.
Carrie Counihan, Taillon’s assistant in her real estate office, also handles inn reservations. Carol Schalla staged the inn for its re-opening last winter, assists with special events and provides a unique touch — choosing paintings by local artists to hang throughout the inn. They are changed monthly and can be purchased.
Taillon wants people to know the Hillside Inn will function as part of the community. She invites visitors to stop by for a tour, and she welcomes nonprofit groups to schedule meetings and events there. Midsummer’s Music Festival and the Ephraim Historical Foundation have already made use of the lovely facility.
Taillon also makes it clear that real estate will continue to be her full-time job.
“I have hired responsible people to run the inn,” she says. “I will continue to give my full attention to Arbor Crowne Properties.”