High atop South Hill in Stillwater sits one of many historic mansions found there, but the Ann Bean Mansion is distinctive in that the public is welcome to not just tour but spend the night. Built circa 1880 by the lumber baron father of Ann Bean, Ann along with husband Albert reared two generations of the family before a granddaughter converted the space to apartments in the 1960s, then sold it as an inn in the 1990s. When current owners Jeremy and Erin Drews found it back in 2004, it had seen better days. Still, with Jeremy’s background in construction and home building, it was a large space, a blank canvas in many ways for the restorative project and charming Victorian lifestyle Erin admired. “We knew we weren’t going to have to shoehorn closets into bathrooms with this space,” she says with a laugh. The couple married in the front yard (“one day short of 103 years after Ann Bean married in the Drawing Room .. and was gifted the house by her father,” Erin says), and hosted guests the night they signed the closing papers; they haven’t looked back since, tackling one room or repair at a time
Authenticity has been a key to restoration: Everything here has been a custom job. “Preservation has been as much about keeping the mansion relevant as it is maintaining its historic integrity,” Erin says. “This is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a museum (I’m always the museum visitor who wants to sit in the chair with the ‘do not touch’ sign or wander into spaces cordoned off!). Adding modern comforts where they won’t visually offend the character of 130-year-old details has been a super fun challenge for Jeremy.”
When it comes to the details, almost everything is done by Jeremy, with the exception of the upholstery (all of the larger pieces of furniture, vintage or otherwise, are reupholstered by local Diana Lakes of Lakes Upholstery). “Body jets in showers are totally a Victorian invention, but ours are definitely from this century (and lend a far more luxurious experience than their Victorian counterparts),” Erin quips. “Heated marble flooring is a total treat for cold feet and certainly something Victorians enjoyed (even if this home didn’t have them originally), and Jeremy tackles mosaic tiling here the way artisans would have done it historically: create to the space.”
In 10 years, through the many renovations including fixing more than 40 panes of broken glass, the Drews have decreased their energy bill to 1/3 of what it was. “In a nutshell, it has been an adventure restoring this place to bring it into this century while preserving the beautiful, authentic bits—and it has been a joy to offer guests peace, comfort and space to celebrate,” Erin says. “Guests get to push the 'pause' button on their daily routine while they're here, and we all need that.”
Enter the space at 319 Pine St. W., and you’ll likely be welcomed immediately by Jeremy and Erin into the Parlor or Drawing Room. “Sometimes social happens,” Erin says of the space adjacent the dining room where guests can mingle if they so choose, which is why they’ve amassed a nice collection of first- and second-edition board games. Tea, Up Coffee (organic, fair-trade roasters in Minneapolis) and cookies are available through the evening.
“I love finding amenities that bring a little more luxury to the guest experience—fine linens, yummy bath treats, chocolates—these have always been hallmarks of hospitality,” Erin says. “And guests in a mansion should feel like their hosts have thought of everything, whether celebrating an occasion or getting some much needed rest.”
Upstairs in the house’s original master, the Ann and Albert Room, an original mural still adorns the center of the ceiling. Albert, like many Victorian Germans, did gymnastics in his spare time, and his parallel bars and hanging rings have been repurposed by the couple within the home.
In the Cynthia Room, named for Ann’s mother who lived with them until her death, is Erin’s “favorite thing: a 12-foot ceiling in the bathroom that follows the original lines of the house, “because when we first purchased it there was a low, false ceiling aligning flat with the top of the window, and I know how dramatic the change is,” for the better, she explains.
The Tower Room is unique for its “second story,” a vaulted loft right up into the front turret or tower. It’s windowed on all four sides, and Erin says the best time to visit is during a light snowfall, “because with all of the twinkling lights of the town all around, and the swirling snow on four sides, you feel like you’re in a snow globe.”
Also on the third floor is the Solarium Suite, what was historically a four-room servants’ quarters. The highlight of this space might well be the copper soaking tub, which fills from a small spout in the ceiling.
Coffee is on every morning by 7:02, as Jeremy and Erin live in the rooms at the backside of the house (an awful commute, Erin says with a smile). Community breakfast is on at 9 a.m., with room deliveries around 9:30 a.m. “Both Jeremy and I love to be in the kitchen, and we make our favorite dishes in rotation based on daily guest-preferences or menu-restrictions.”
Indeed, breakfast at the Ann Bean Mansion is an event: menus are created with fresh, local ingredients and hand-crafted desserts (you’re lucky if you’re in town when Erin makes her favorite French pastries called chouquettes). Thanks to an illumination diet to identify food allergies that Erin embarked on personally a few years ago, she’s got a knack for specialty meals.
Winter sees many Valley residents in stay-cation mode, while summer gets guests from as far as Australia. A new trend in guests seems to be singles and even businessmen, Jeremy notes, each looking for a safe place to get away for the night or weekend.
“I personally love people’s stories, and we get all kinds of people with all kinds of experiences,” Jeremy says. “For me, the story really is the guests. Giving people an experience as if they owned their own mansion.”