Without any sort of business sign, it’s easy to mistake the stately, Victorian house situated on the corner of South Manning Street as just another one of Hillsdale’s many historic homes. The house, however, is one of Hillsdale’s best kept secrets — the Rose Corner Inn.
Michigan natives Donald and Catherine Hernandez established the Rose Corner Inn, a charming 11 bedroom bed and breakfast, in 2007 when they bought the house from the Strakers, a local family.
Originally, Catherine wanted to use the house as a weekend retreat for her and her friends to scrapbook. According to Donald, however, she was teaching in Detroit at the time and was quickly burnt out making the nearly two hour long journey to Hillsdale each weekend. Eventually, Donald, who has spent nearly 20 years working in the hospitality industry, took over the house’s upkeeping and turned it into a full time bed and breakfast.
Despite its proximity to the college, only about 30% of the inn’s guests are affiliated with the school, says Donald. The rest are business people, interns, and families visiting relatives in town.
According to senior Alexis Daniels, a housekeeper at the Rose Corner Inn, guests visiting the college come in waves.
“There are definitely Hillsdale College people seasons — parents weekend, CCA weeks, and sometimes the holidays when parents pick up their kids and stay overnight”
According to Donald, the house was built in 1863 for a local pastor and his family. Since then, it has served as the home of “a possible mob family” and was briefly turned into a restaurant, the Thomas Inn, from 1945 to 1957.
Although the plumbing and electrical have had to be updated, the couple has tried their best to maintain the house’s character.
Remaining from the house’s historic past is the original trim, hand-carved plaster apparatus, stained glass windows, victorian columns, and fireplaces. Family photos of the house’s previous owners hang on the walls. Stepping into the dining room especially feels like stepping back in time. A perpetually set table sits in the middle of the room surrounded by a bevy of beveled windows and dark wooden beams running parallel across the ceiling. A reminder of 19th century social hierarchies, scullery windows disguised as decorative mirrors still connect the kitchen to the dining room.
Fittingly, Donald still refers to each room in the house — such as the library and the parlor — by their proper Victorian names.
“The house is bigger than anything that I can do,” said Donald. “I can’t compete with it, so I’m not going to try; I’m not going to win that fight. I leave it be but keep it working.”
Since none of the home’s original furniture has survived, the inn is furnished with a hodgepodge of different styles and hundreds of nick nacks that form a sharp juxtaposition to the house’s architectural history. The couple have also added some of their own quirks to the house, including a three-foot tall doll named Lady Langtry who lives in a glass case in the parlor and a 1950s rotary ironer situated in the library, which housekeeping still uses to press sheets and curtains.
From Donald’s abundant stories about memorable guests, it’s clear that the house also acquires much of its character from it’s inhabitants.
“Guests stay from one night to nine years. We have this one guy who has rode his motorcycle three times across the country and he always stays here.”
If a guest stays long enough, Donald says he’ll refer to the room they stayed in by their name even after they have left.
Daniels fondly remembers one Hillsdale College parent who stayed at the bed and breakfast for two months.
“We were on very friendly terms. I was actually kind of sad when she left. She turned out to be from the same state as I was, and she told me that if I ever wanted to catch a ride with her daughter back home, I’d be more than welcome to do so.”
This emphasis on community is indicative of the environment Donald has fostered in his inn.
“He’s so sweet,” said freshman Bessie Benham who stayed at the inn while visiting the college last year. “He had tea and cake ready for us when we arrived and when he made breakfast for us the next day, he came and ate with us. My dad still stays there when he comes to visit.”
The heartbeat of the inn, Donald’s care for his guests is apparent. In addition to preparing a cold continental breakfast for his guests each morning, he’ll travel as far as Chigcao to buy spices and other specialty ingredients for the inn. When guests leave, he makes it a habit to offer to take a family photograph for them.
“He’s a very engaging person to talk to and I like to think we have a kind of friendship dynamic,” said Daniels. “I like to learn the culture of the town from him and what issues are going on out there.”