Precarious Perch

La Grange, Ky., couple buy, renovate house on Milton hill

They are turning former Longview Inn restaurant
into B&B

MILTON, Ky. (August 2016) – Historic Longview Inn sits high on a point halfway up the Hwy. 421 hill in Milton, Ky., overlooking the Ohio River. The house, at 12047 Hwy. 421, has the best hilltop view of the city of Madison and the riverfront. But for years, the house and inn have sat empty, and scrub trees have blocked the view.
Now Bill and Starr Rason of La Grange, Ky., have an enthusiastic plan to bring new life to Longview Inn as a bed and breakfast that will open in time to see the autumn colors along the river.

Photo courtesy of Bob Cline

This house located halfway up the Milton, Ky., hill was once Longview Inn restaurant. New owners Bill and Starr Rason are turning it into a bed and breakfast.

“I drove by saw the sign for the auction,” said Bill Rason. “I thought it would be a good restaurant, but there wasn’t enough parking, so I started thinking of other opportunities. My friend, Brent Warren from The Attic Coffee Shop (in Madison), told me guest house were in strong demand here. That gave me the inspiration.”
The restaurant and house were in a serious state of disrepair, and trees had to be removed. It didn’t take long to clear enough trees to restore the view. They were all scrub trees with no value except one walnut tree, which was left standing. There was one problem.
“My wife is a tree hugger,” said Rason.
“It is going to be a lot of work, but I am excited,” said Starr Rason. “It is a work in progress to agree on some things, like the trees. I am not happy about so many trees coming out because trees keep the top soil in place. I like privacy, but I knew we had to take some down for the view. It is very pretty at night, and we enjoyed the Madison Regatta fireworks.”
The biggest obstacles were inside the buildings. Rason is working hard to gut most of the interior walls and build new ones to convert the building to a B&B.
“Our basic intent is to capture as much of the historical character as possible,” he said. “We want it to be in the style of a 1930s, ’40s or ’50s diner. But it must also be a business that people can appreciate.” 

Photo by John Sheckler

Bill Rason stands in the front room of his Longview Inn.

The inside rooms of the building are currently filled with piles of debris that have been torn from the walls as part of the renovation. In some corners sit salvaged building material, such as doors that are set aside for use in the new construction.
“We don’t want anything terribly fancy, “he added. “We want to use some of the stuff that was originally here. It is historic, but not like Madison, where everything nearly 200 years old.”
Rason is working hard to research the history of the buildings and is hoping to reach out to people who may have been customers or worked there.
He found that the restaurant was built in 1930, shortly after the Milton-Madison Bridge was built. The restaurant originally included a bar that closed when Trimble County became a dry county, but the restaurant remained open until 1965. Rason is searching to find when the bar was closed but has not found that date.
“I suspect it was sometime near 1948, when the Anderson family (which operated the restaurant) bought the property,” he said. “We want to take decorating cues from the diner heyday. The modern road was built in 1937, and the house was added 1953. Before that, the road was probably dirt.”
After the restaurant closed, the property stayed in the family. The last owners were Mary Hanlon, who still resides in Trimble County, and her brother, Larry Hanlon, who lives in Richmond, Va.

Photo by John Sheckler

Bill and Starr Rason pose in front of the building they plan to convert into Longview Inn B&B on the Milton, Ky., hill.

“They inherited the property from their grandparents, “Lute” and Mary Anderson, who bought the Longview Inn and converted it to a restaurant in 1948,” said Bill Rason. “He was a civil engineer who lived in Indianapolis. Mary Hanlon spent most of her life from childhood here. Later, she took care of her grandmother here.”
“My grandfather built the house the year I was born, so there are many, many fond memories,” said Mary Hanlon. “A lot of people don’t have memories of their grandparents, but I had both of them most of my life. My grandfather was always one of the first in line to help with projects in Milton. My grandmother was the same, she always helped anybody who needed help, and she never had a bad thing to say about anybody.”
Hanlon isn’t the only one to have memories of the house and the public telescopes that once stood on the bluff outside the restaurant.
“It was rare for me to mention the house anywhere that somebody didn’t tell me they knew the house and had been there and looked through the telescopes,” she added. “To me, the house was always all about family. As for the road, I have seen some old pictures when it was a dirt road coming up the hill, but I don’t know what year. There is one of a horse watering trough in the hillside across from the house that had to be way before 1937. My grandmother used to walk from the farm on Fisher Ridge to Cooper’s Bottom to go visit her grandparents.
Hanlon still has the telescopes that used to sit outside and is holding them for memories.
New owner Bill Rason, 60, owns several other businesses, including the Jefferson Park Apartments and the Colonel Garber House at 727-35 W. Third St. in Madison. Garber was an early pioneer in Madison. Like Anderson, Rason is also a civil engineer and drew up the plans for the remodeled Longview Inn.
“When I did the drawings, I could hear my old drafting instructor’s voice in the back of my head,” he recalls. “I want flexibility and options. I designed the space to do groups like parties or weddings and special events. We are feeling our way.”
When renovation is finished, some rooms will have eight-foot sliding glass doors. There will be five guest rooms with private baths. Rason said he hopes that when certain walls are torn out, there will be original bricks exposed. There are plans to build a large deck out the back that will be sheltered from traffic noise.
“The back of the building is very peaceful,” said Starr Rason.
“We both love Madison. The first time we came here, we traveled from Cincinnati on U.S. 56, and my first thought was that it is a really nice town, and it would be a nice place to live. It is unique.”
Starr Rason is originally from Sackett’s Harbor, N.Y., which was a fort on Lake Ontario in 1812. It was there she saw the migration of thousands of snow geese. Wildlife is a big part of the charm for her at Longview Inn. Within sight of the patio is a family of red shoulder hawks.
The view of Madison across the river is magnificent, but Rason worries the view also carries a problem because so many people stop for photos.
“Photo shoots create an issue for guest privacy,” He said. “In the days when it was just a house, people who remembered it as a restaurant would just walk in and use the bathroom.”
He plans to solve the problem by creating a small fenced area where people could shoot photos without intruding on the B&B property.
“We laugh about putting in a zip line,” He laughs. “The owners below joke about putting a tram up the hill. I hope we get it right and get people to enjoy coming here and returning. We want the opportunity to share this place with the other people who come here.”

• For more information, visit Longview Inn on Facebook.

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