The Phipps mansion is 125 years old
August is an anniversary month for the owners of the Phipps Inn.
It was 125 years ago that William H. Phipps and his wife, Frances, built Hudson's grand dame of Queen Anne Victorian mansions at 1005 Third St.
And on Aug. 29, Rich and Mary Ellen Cox will begin their 10th year of operating the house as a luxurious bed and breakfast inn. They also are celebrating 40 years of marriage.
"We're close to home, yet a hundred years away," the inn's Web site, www.phippsinn.com, declares.
Phipps, one of Hudson's most influential (and wealthy) citizens of his day, spared no expense in building the ornate three-story home, complete with a ballroom on the top floor.
"(It) is without doubt one of the showplaces in Hudson and continues to be one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture to be found in the St. Croix Valley," Willis H. Miller, the late editor and publisher of the Star-Observer, wrote of the Phipps mansion in his book "Hudson Sketches."
Born in Leamington, England, in 1846, Phipps came to the United States in 1855, settling with his parents in Manitowoc.
After serving in the state treasurer's office in Madison as a young man, he was appointed land commissioner of the North Wisconsin Railroad in 1875 and moved to Hudson.
The position, as well as a later 10-year run as land commissioner of the Northern Pacific Railroad, brought him great wealth.
He also served as a director and president of First National Bank of Hudson and went into business for himself, dealing in land and lumber.
In addition, Phipps alternately was a St. Croix County Board supervisor, mayor of Hudson for three terms, and a state senator.
Miller wrote that Phipps "died in his garden at his home at the sunset hour on Saturday, July 12, 1924, surrounded by his family."
His son Stephen started the William H. Phipps Foundation, which has funded many Hudson civic projects over the years, including construction of Hudson Memorial Hospital in 1953 and The Phipps Center for the Arts in 1983.
Stephen was the only one of William and Frances' five children to survive to adulthood. He died in 1977 at the age of 99.
Today, Phipps Inn guests get a taste of living like a member of Hudson's early upper class, and then some.
Each of the six spacious guest rooms has a luxurious queen-sized bed, fireplace, double whirlpool tub and a private bath with a shower.
Two of the guest suites are on the third floor, where the ballroom used to be.
The main floor of the mansion is the closest in appearance to what it looked like when the Phipps family occupied it.
Four-course gourmet breakfasts are served in the same stately dining room where William and Frances took their meals.
The former ladies parlor is now a billiards room and another parlor, furnished with a grand piano, is the music room. The front living room - as well as much of the rest of the house - is furnished in the same Victorian style that it would have been in Phipps' day.
Six of the 11 fireplaces are original to the house. They have hand-carved mantles and imported Italian tile.
Owning and operating a bed and breakfast inn was Mary Cox's idea.
But it was Rich, a former Catholic Charities manager, who ended up being the full-time innkeeper for the Coxes' first seven years in Hudson.
Mary Ellen worked in the medical devices industry, and at Hudson Hospital for close to three years, before joining Rich as a full-time innkeeper in March 2008.
The Coxes live in the fully modern lower level of the historic mansion.
Rich is the chief chef and Mary Ellen does the baking.
They say business is good, and picking up after falling off some in the past couple of years.
On a recent Thursday, four of the six suites were occupied. They were hosting guests from Milwaukee, Madison, Ohio and Vancouver, Canada.
That was atypical, they said. On average, around 80 or 85 percent of their guests are from the Twin Cities. They're fully booked many weekends.
"I always tell people it's rewarding, and, of course, challenging," Rich replied when asked what he enjoys about operating a bed and breakfast.
The most challenging aspect of being an innkeeper, he said, is finding leisure time. They've had just one night without guests in August, following a July with only two days off.
They schedule two or three vacations for themselves each year.
"We're always pleasantly surprised at how much local business we get," Mary Ellen said, adding that they're fortunate to own a B and B in a community as beautiful and thriving as Hudson.
In celebration of the Phipps mansion's 125 years, the Coxes are offering a stay in any of the suites for $125 a night, Monday through Thursday, through the month of August. The regular weeknight prices range from $149 to $179.
You can book a room by calling (715) 386-0800. The inn's Web site offers photos and more information about the historic home.