I’ve always admired family-owned businesses, as it certainly takes patience, discipline and good communication to work with family members day in and day out. In Vermont, there are an overwhelming number of family-owned-and-operated businesses from dairy farms to maple syrup operations to restaurants and country stores that have been thriving for generations. The Willard Street Inn, located in the Hill District of Burlington, Vermont, down the street from Champlain College, is just one example of a successful family-owned inn with each family member contributing his and her own talents to create the perfect base for exploring the Burlington area.
The Davis Family, Innkeepers at the Willard Street Inn
Whenever we travel, innkeepers usually have a great deal to do with how special the bed and breakfast where we stay is; this is certainly the case at the Willard Street Inn. Kate and Larry Davis purchased the historic home in downtown Burlington in 2005 after staying at the inn while their daughter Carrie, now General Manager, was attending Champlain College. Neither Kate nor Larry had hospitality experience, but you would never know it after staying at the inn for a night. The superb accommodations and kindness exhibited by everyone we met would make me think they were long-time hospitality pros. But rather, they simply enjoy meeting and getting to know new people and treating guests as their friends.
Each member of the Davis family has a defined role in operating the inn: Larry oversees the property and all upgrades to the historic home, Kate is in charge of decor and bookkeeping, Carrie performs GM duties, and Jordan handles marketing, along with maintenance of the inn’s plants and vegetable garden. Together, they create the “Davis Family Management Team” and have created an idyllic destination in Burlington for locals and travelers from afar alike. Kate and Larry live in the bottom floor of the inn and have made the historic home their own through incorporating family heirlooms in the form of antiques and family portraits that give added character to the home.
The employees at the Willard Street Inn are an extension of the Davis family, and it shows. Many of their ~10 employees, including the chef and housekeeper, have worked at the Willard Street Inn for more than ten years. This longevity is a huge accomplishment and speaks volumes to the warmth and genuine hospitality the Davis family offers not only their guests but also to those working on their behalf.
The History of the Willard Street Inn
The Willard Street Inn is a 14-room inn, built in 1881 for Charles Woodhouse, a businessman and Vermont State Senator, with architectural elements from the Queen Anne and Colonial-Georgian Revival styles. The three floors of rooms encompass roughly 10,000 square feet, which might make you feel as if you’re staying in a mansion or castle rather than a Vermont B&B. Before being turned into an inn in 1996, the property was a home for elderly folks in the Burlington area. Many of the original details of the house remain, including the marble on the exterior, checkerboard floor tiles in the solarium, dentils on the coffered wooden ceiling and extensive woodwork throughout the inn.
Accommodations and Amenities at the Willard Street Inn
The inn’s beautiful architectural details coupled with modern amenities (inclusive wifi, parking and homemade treats) create a perfect blend of historic charm and the comfort you would expect to find at a high-end inn or hotel. The staff at the Willard Street Inn, along with the Davis Family, takes good care to make sure your stay is memorable through special touches, including:
- Fresh-baked cookies delivered to your nightstand daily along with cookies in the dining room, a nice assortment of teas, apple cider and a Keurig with reusable coffee cups.
- Two robes in each room for extra coziness.
- Ample pillows and comforters on the bed for curling up on a chilly Vermont night.
- A binder full of recommendations, from restaurants and nightlife to family-friendly activities, curated by the Davis family.
- Local staff members, some of whom are college students, are well-versed on the newest restaurants in town. Use them as a resource since the food scene in Burlington is constantly evolving. (We were turned onto Pho Hong, which has since become a favorite restaurant in Burlington. Bonus: it’s only a mile-walk down Willard Street to the north end if you want to experience inexpensive Vietnamese for dinner.)
- A sunny, plant-filled solarium for breakfast service, which includes a choice of a sweet or savory entrée or granola.
The Nantucket Room (#5): The Willard Street Inn
We stayed in the Nantucket Room ($245-$265), located on the second floor of the inn. The elegant wooden staircase in the center of the home leads up to the second floor and the Nantucket Room. Just down the hall is another staircase, leading directly to the kitchen. The Nantucket Room is one of the largest at the Willard Street Inn and sleeps three, with a king-sized bed and a twin daybed. We loved the blue decor, worn original floors, high ceilings and gas fireplace, which was comforting after walking around Burlington on a chilly fall evening. The bedding complemented the blue and white wallpaper, and the room was lit by antique wall sconces and large windows looking out toward Willard Street.
Each room has a unique feel and varied furnishings. If you have more modern tastes, I would suggest Cobblestones ($165-$185) or the Woodhouse Suite ($245-$265), both located on the second floor. If you enjoy more traditional bed and breakfast accommodations (think flowered wallpaper and antique furnishings), you might like he Rose Garden on the third floor ($190-$210). If you are looking for a convenient location, quiet night’s sleep and a plentiful breakfast to start your day, along with the thought of staying in a Victorian historic home, the Willard Street Inn is a perfect lodging choice for you in Burlington. For us, it was a treat to stay somewhere so special historically and architecturally, without sacrificing any comfort or luxury.
A Local’s Tips for Visiting the Willard Street Inn:
- When you arrive at the front door after parking in front of the inn, you need to ring a bell and someone from the staff will greet you, welcome you and show you around. In our case, we had to ring the bell a few times before someone arrived; likely we didn’t push it hard enough to be heard inside, so give it a good tap!
- Every day, there are three breakfast options: a sweet, a savory and a granola that’s a vegan option. All three are served with seasonal fruit and a first course, typically muffins or breads. Although not extraordinary, the breakfast was tasty and filling and sent us on our way for the day.
- The inn is typically booked from May through October but in the off-season you might catch some of their packages and promotions for a reduced-price stay. Make sure to look at the promotions page on their site before booking!
- There is no elevator in the Willard Street Inn but they do have one room, “The Conservatory” on the first floor should mobility be an issue. If not, I would highly recommend staying on the second or third floors, where you’ll have more privacy and a quieter stay.
- Don’t skip out before trying their coffee! Perhaps the best part of our breakfast at the Willard Street Inn was their own blend of coffee from Capital Grounds. The whole family partook in coffee taste-testings to determine the perfect blend for the inn and their guests.
- In the summer months, enjoy the very large (for Burlington) back yard in an Adirondack chair and enjoy views of the garden or admire the architectural details of the facade of the building. It’s really remarkable and worth some admiring.
- Consider asking for a room with a view of Lake Champlain and the gardens. The rooms on the west side of the house are quieter and also boast tremendous views.
*Disclaimer: We received a complimentary night’s stay at the Willard Street Inn in order to review the inn.