A New Hudson B & B, The Croff House, Opens This Weekend
Exactly 137 years ago this Friday, on April 10, 1872, the ribbon was cut on the first private gated community in the United States. When, precisely, Willard Place in Hudson shed its gate is open to speculation but it is known that the street itself officially became city property sometime in the 1950s, right around the time numbers 1 and 2 Willard were torn down to make room for St. Mary’s School. Originally Willard, a dead-end block that runs perpendicular to Allan Street, had been lined with eight Second Empire-style houses, the Frenchified painted ladies favored by the burgeoning upper middle class of the 1870s. Of those, six remain and the one that concerns us is #5, which was built in 1875 for a well-to-do lawyer, Hermann Esselstyn. Alas, even back then, money talked, and in Esselstyn’s case, it was soon to say, “Good-bye.” By 1878, he was bankrupt, and the grand house that must have contributed to his undoing passed into other hands.
This Friday, on the anniversary of the founding of Willard Place, Croff House Bed and Breakfast, as #5 has been redubbed, officially opens for business. Named for G. B. Croff, the prominent 19th-century architect who designed it, the b & b is the joint venture of Russ Gibson, who formerly worked in retailing HR, and his partner Duncan Calhoun, who has owned the house next door, #4 Willard Place, since 1992, and who still works for Disney Publishing.
“When we first started down the b & b road, we did a seminar,” says Russ. Nearly all prospective b & b owners take some sort of class to learn the ins and outs of the business. But Gibson and his partner took their research further than most: “We also did an inn search,” says Duncan. “We must have stayed in at least 30 b & b’s.”
They learned what they liked and didn’t like, what worked and what didn’t. Their first conclusion: their b & b would not be furnished with antiques. “We understand the practicalities of living with antiques,” says Duncan. “In a private residence, you are going to exercise great caution and show the respect that antiques require. But it’s unfair to expect paying guests to walk on eggs.”
Among their other discoveries: a large bedroom is not as important as access to plenty of common space; an innkeeper must be neither stand-offish (some they encountered seemed to have had it up-to-here with the constant company) nor intrusive; the entire property must be immaculately maintained (“nothing threadbare or fraying”); and the breakfast must be plentiful and well-prepared. The one thing they most emphatically did not want: a communal dining table.
At Croff House, each of the five fully-wired rooms (flat-panel TV, Wi-Fi, i-Pod docking station) with en suite bath is named for an original owner on Willard Place; there’s even one in honor of their own ill-fated Esselstyn. Breakfasts are hearty, starting with seasonal fruit (balsamic strawberries over honey-vanilla yogurt); followed by an entree (poached eggs on toasted brioche with pistou, pan-roasted potatoes, and thick-cut bacon). In the afternoon, there are refreshments, including a self-service espresso machine in the dining room, which, not incidentally, is filled with tables for two.
The Croff House Bed & Breakfast
5 Willard Place, Hudson; 518.828.1688