Fuhs Vision

Fuhs to put own touches on Hillside Inn

By Don Ward

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 Inn.

Jerry Fuhs

Photo by Don Ward

Jerry 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 restaurant.
“We’re just estactic by this turnout and it’s 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, they’ve 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. That’s the reason we love Madison,” Fuhs said. “And this spot sitting up here on the hill looked really inviting.”
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 it’s just a matter of putting something together that we can all enjoy.”
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 lobby.
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 haven’t yet decided on the type of restaurant, Fuhs quipped, “It won’t be hamburgers and hot dogs.”
The Fuhs aren’t sure what else they’ll 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 facility.
Local residents said they were impressed with the Fuhs’s determination and felt confident they had the money to complete the ambitious project.
“I’m excited; this place has so much potential,” said Tami Hagemier of Lanthier Winery.
“The fact he’s 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 they’re 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 grand place.”
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 said.

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