ITHACA, N.Y. — For two decades, it’s been a staple of Downtown Ithaca. The lively glow of a fireplace, the delectable scent of baked goods, a steaming cup of coffee, and fresh sheets awaiting guests from places near and far, each visitor on their own unique path that brings them to the city of gorges.
The William Henry Miller Inn has welcomed tens of thousands of guests into its tidy brick and wood-trimmed walls over the years, and now the time has come to pass the torch to the next person.
Lynnette Scofield, the owner and proprietor of the nine-bedroom inn, has decided the time has come to rest on her laurels and ease into a well-earned retirement.
“The average length of an innkeeper’s life is seven years, and we’ve done it for 20 years. My feet hurt,” Scofield says with a laugh. “I am hitting a milestone birthday. We work seven days a week. I love being downtown, but the feet hurt. You can ask anybody who knows me how much I love shoes, nice shoes, but I’m now wearing old lady shoes.”
The feet that fill those shoes first stepped through the doors of the Stowell-Osborn house in 1998. The house at 303 North Aurora Street has long been a part of Ithaca’s fabric. Built in 1878 for a prominent local grocer and his family, the Osborns purchased the building in 1914, and called it home for over eighty years. Agda Osborn, a Cornell pre-med student-turned-permanent resident, would become a prominent community organizer and a keystone of local philanthropic efforts. However, Osborn wasn’t a fan of every community effort – the county wanted to buy her house and tear it down to build the then-new county library in the 1960s, but was promptly rebuffed.
After four months of renovations, the William Henry Miller Inn opened on March 4, 1999. With her husband initially, and later with business partners Dave Bier and Katie Arthur, Scofield’s inn has garnered hundreds of enthusiastic reviews from travelers near and far. The attentive service, home-like warmth, and sumptuous accommodations have earned the inn many accolades over the years – Scofield was named 2013’s “Innkeeper of the Year” by Select Registry, the international association for independent hotels, lodges and B&Bs.
Scofield is proud of the impression she and her inn staff have left on guests. “We’ve had several guests make us quilts, one of the inn itself. A guest made a total replica of the house in a glass case, it’s just been a remarkable way to earn a living.”
But alas, Scofield and her partners have decided the time has come for a new owner. Earlier this week, the inn was listed for sale, with an asking price of $1.499 million. The listing implies a strong preference towards those who wish to become innkeepers themselves – it would come with all the furnishings, future bookings, and of course, the nine-bedroom inn with accessory unit for the innkeeeper’s residence.
“I’m going to miss it terribly. Our staff is like family. Katie (Arthur)’s been with us for 19 years, one of our housekeepers has been here 12 years and never taken a sick day, I can’t wrap my head around not being here with everybody and the guests,” said Scofield.
“We can’t quite conceive her not being involved every day,” added Arthur.
For those who are wondering if it’s time to bid their farewells to Scofield as she sets out for other towns, don’t worry, she’ll still be around, and still an active part of the community. “I’m president of the United Way board, a part of Foodnet…I love this city, there’s no way I’d leave.”
As for the inn, don’t expect any sudden closures. Scofield and Arthur seemed a bit offended by the very suggestion. “We have guest reservations for next July. We would never shut down like that. Inns will often take two years to sell, it’s a big commitment.”
For those who might like to slip their own shoes into an innkeeper’s role, Scofield has some advice on what characters qualities will serve them best.
“One, a sense of humor. Two, knowledge of where you live, because you’re asked questions every day. Three, a curiosity, because you’ll meet people from all over the world, what they do, and where they come from. And also compassion, we never know why people are here, and compassion is a big part of this.” Scofield pauses for a moment. “And good shoes, you gotta have good shoes.”
For those intrigued and aspiring to take the storied establishment into its next chapter, local real estate agency Howard Hanna is fielding inquiries. In the meanwhile, Scofield, Arthur and their staff will continue to provide the high-class inn experience they’re known for.
“It’s just been our pleasure to say ‘how can we help you’, and our door is always open. We meet all sorts of people, governors, sports players, actors, really good looking actors…it has been a wonderful once in a lifetime experience.”