to put own touches on Hillside Inn
MADISON, Ind. With much fanfare and an elaborate spread of food
and wine, Jerry and Carolyn Fuhs in mid-January introduced themselves
to Madison in a style that many hope will become the norm at the Hillside
by Don Ward
Fuhs answers questions
from the audience at their welcoming
reception Jan. 12 at the Hillside Inn.
And from all accounts, the Fuhs sounded determined to
accomplish their mission of turning the 34-year-old building into the
jewel it once was when it opened in 1924. That was before the 1964 fire
that destroyed the original building, forcing its subsequent reconstruction.
The current structure opened in 1966.
The Fuhs bought the property on Nov. 4 at a bankruptcy auction with
the high bid of $480,000. Just hours after closing on the 11-acre property
on Jan. 12, the new owners opened the hotel for tours. They then spoke
briefly to the more than 125 people who gathered in the glass-windowed
Were just estactic by this turnout and its an indication
of what we hoped was an interest in this great property. And we hope
to turn it back into a great property, Jerry Fuhs said prior to
introducing his wife.
Visitors were asked to complete a questionnaire about what they would
like to see done with the hotel. Questions ranged from restaurant fare
to room decor.
But from listening to the Fuhs discuss their plans, it sounded as if
they already knew what had to be done to return the property to its
original glory. After all, theyve got the experienced and a proven
track record in operating resort properties.
Fuhs Properties operates Baymont Inn in Dale City, Ind., and Beechwood
Inn in French Lick, Ind., where the couple resides in a historic home
they restored. They also own Wilstem Guest Ranch near French Lick.
We love restoration. Thats the reason we love Madison,
Fuhs said. And this spot sitting up here on the hill looked really
Carolyn, a former Realtor by profession, said the couple has worked
well together in their restoration projects, joking, except for
picking out colors.
Visibly excited about the venture, she added, We have the location,
now its just a matter of putting something together that we can
The Fuhs plan to totally renovate the 29-room hotel from
top to bottom. To do it, they will close down and re-open in about
six months, then begin on the restaurant. When fully up and running,
they expect to employ 30 people.
They also plan extensive upgrades to the exterior of the building and
the add new landscaping to the grounds. The old furniture will be hauled
out and sold, and the carpets and tapestries will come out to make room
for the new look, which Carolyn will oversee. Jacuzzis and fireplaces
will be added to some rooms and upscale suites will be created for guests
on a larger budget. The couple also wants to open a boutique in the
Re-opening the restaurant will take longer. But the Fuhs are determined
to establish an upper scale eatery there and run it themselves
until they find the right person to take it over. Though they havent
yet decided on the type of restaurant, Fuhs quipped, It wont
be hamburgers and hot dogs.
The Fuhs arent sure what else theyll do but are toying with
the idea of adding a pool. They put the idea to an informal vote among
the crowd, which vetoed the idea.
Fuhs said that if a pool is installed, it would be a garden-type
pool with fountains, not a kiddie pool. The crowd applauded.
The private residence next door also will get a much-needed facelift,
Fuhs said. They plan to renovate it as well for use as a separate lodging
Local residents said they were impressed with the Fuhss determination
and felt confident they had the money to complete the ambitious project.
Im excited; this place has so much potential, said
Tami Hagemier of Lanthier Winery.
The fact hes got such a large turnout says a lot about the
potential of this place, added Linda Lytle, executive director
of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
We get a lot of calls from people coming to Madison who want to
stay in a unique place downtown. Once restored, this place will be perfect.
Photographer Michael Heitz recalled eating many Sunday dinners with
his family at the Hillside Inn while growing up. Back then, it
had so much splendor, and it was such an imposing structure for a 7-year-old.
Tonight, I see all the possibilities for it to be reincarnated.
Realtor Jim Pruett added, I think theyre going to do what
needs to be done, and it will be a real shot in the arm for Madison.
Insurance agent Dave Dionne said, This property deserves to be
more than it is, and people around here expect that.
Madison Mayor Al Huntington recalled reading about the fire that destroyed
the first hotel while he was attending college in Indianapolis. I
remember the picture in the Indianapolis Star and how hard it was to
believe that a structure like that could have burned. It was such a
Huntington said he hopes the hotel can once again become a crown
jewel in our town.
Fuhs, of Jasper, Ind., formed his National Energy Control Services company
17 years ago and still operates out of Jasper. But his second love is
the hospitality business.
With so much work to be done before the tourist season approaches, the
Fuhs said they felt overwhelmed with the mission ahead and were anxious
to get started.
Our first goal will be to get the dumpster rolling, Fuhs
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