“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” John Ruskin
If you know anything about innkeeping, you know that the road followed by young, starry-eyed couples, who trade in corporate lifestyles to buy creaking, oversized mansions with an idea of crafting a luxury inn, is littered with the smoking wrecks of spectacular failures. Yet, this is the road Ruth and Dan McLaughlin followed when they chucked it all and decided to take up innkeeping, now 19 years ago. And, against considerable odds, they ended up with astonishing results.
Ruth and Dan considered themselves innkeepers-in-waiting for the first 10 years of their married life. They both worked for years in the financial software industry – and lived in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. They went from daydreamers to serious shoppers after their children were born (Jack in 1991 and Lily in 1992). “We weren’t passionate about our careers,” says Ruth. And, tiptoeing in after a late business trip and peering at them while they were asleep in their cribs wasn't the right life's choice for them.
“We realized we had to do it, and not just dream,” Dan explains. “We didn’t want to look back at our life and think why didn’t we give that a shot?” So they began their search for the right property – a place where they could craft an image from scratch rather than merely acquire an existing one.
Then one spring day they spotted an ad in Preservation magazine, published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for an estate in Greenville, Maine. Dan flew out in May 1997 to take a look. Soon after he drove up the long driveway he knew he could stop looking. “This was it,” he declares. “There was nothing comparable.” Within a month they had signed a contract to buy it.
After resigning from their corporate careers, they loaded up the moving trucks, and on November 15, 1997 along with their two young children headed across Canada and into Greenville, Maine. Undaunted by the massive restoration project before them, Dan broke out his tools and took it one room at a time, one wall at a time, one porch at a time, aided by intrepid local carpenter, Larry Lewis. With this space as a raw canvas coupled with the incredible ‘bones’ of the mansion, they carved out eight luxurious guest rooms. They were certain travelers would love, the bright, spacious and tasteful inn crafted with love and passion.
Seemingly, unaffected by fears normally associated with trying things never ventured before, the couple went on to open a high-end restaurant in an area where the market for such fair might be thin. Their previous experience with restaurants? “Well, I ate in a lot of them,” says Dan.
The result here is as pleasantly surprising as the inn itself. In addition to having the finest accommodations in the North Woods, the Blair Hill Inn has earned a reputation for its dining room. It offers the same dramatic views that distinguish each of the guest rooms and serves up fare that has garnered its designation as a “TOP TEN” restaurant of Maine.
“If we’ve learned anything,” says Ruth “we’ve learned that staying true to yourself in everything you do makes the difference more than anything else.” She goes on to say, “People underestimate the impact of the innkeepers on their stay. Guests can be more concerned with a feature than the underlying experience of the property and will end up ultimately disappointed and not understand why. We love what we do and believe it shows in everything we do. I think our peace and joy is contagious.”