The owners of a new bed and breakfast called The Newton of Ypsilanti
are highlighting the structure's unique history while also seeking to grow connections with the Ypsilanti community of today.
Chef Allison Anastasio owns The Last Bite Chef
, a personal chef and culinary education business. She wasn't planning to open a B&B when she and her partner, architect Charles "Chuck" Bultman, took a tour of the house at 220 S. Huron St. in Ypsi. She'd heard that the house was thought to have been built in 1870 but had a tavern from the 1700s installed in the basement.
"Chuck is an architect who specializes in restoring historical buildings, so I knew he would want to see it," Anastasio says. "We'd heard the story about the tavern, but didn't quite understand it."
Chef Allison Anastasio and Charles Bultman in the kitchen at The Newton of Ypsilanti.
She says they spent the tour "nerding out" on the history of the structure with no intention of buying it, because someone had already made an offer on it. Bultman says he'd mentioned to the sellers that, if he and Anastasio bought it, they planned to live in it.
"And that's often a positive for a seller. Some sellers want to know the home they loved is going to be loved again," Bultman says.
Luckily for Anastasio and Bultman, the other interested party's deal fell through.
"Ten days later, they called and asked if we wanted to make an offer, and we decided we were ready for it," Anastasio says. "In one sense, we weren't specifically looking for this house at that time, but in another sense, we were cued up and ready to go. And then it sort of just happened."
A suite at The Newton of Ypsilanti.
She says she'd been looking for a commercial kitchen space for a while that she could put the Last Bite Chef name on.
"But it never really worked out. I couldn't find precisely what I wanted," she says. "Now I know why: because this was waiting for me."
The purchase of the house was completed on Dec. 6, 2021, and the first few small private events took place in early January.
"Some of the stories may even be true"
Samuel Barnard, a vice president at the Peninsula Paper Company, is known to have owned the building as of 1870, but James Mann, local historian and volunteer with the Ypsilanti Historical Society
, says that a map from 1865 shows a structure already on the site. Mann says that means the building may be even older, or Barnard may have torn down a previous building to build on that site.
"Then Charles Newton acquired it somewhere down the line. He was a friend of Edsel Ford, and through that connection, became the real estate agent for Ford Motor Co.," Mann says. "He was responsible for buying a lot of the property that became Willow Run [Airport in Ypsilanti Township]."
Newtown probably completely gutted the original structure. He added on a porch, as well as modern electricity and plumbing.
There are at least three versions of a story about how a 17th-century tavern
was deconstructed, moved, and rebuilt in the basement of The Newton. The first is that it was a gift from Henry Ford.
Ypsilanti historian James Mann.
"That's the one I'm inclined to believe," Mann says.
Other versions of the story say that the deconstructed tavern was supposed to be delivered to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, but was delivered and installed in Ypsilanti by mistake. A third version has Newton installing it himself.
That's typical of history from that era, though, Mann says.
"There are all kinds of stories, and they get improved over the years," Mann says. "Some of them may even be true."
The tavern in the basement of The Newton.
It is well known, however, that Newton was a prolific antiques collector.
"He died in the late 1940s, and there was an auction of the antiques that went on for a few days," Mann says. "It was the biggest antique auction in the history of Ypsilanti."
The house went through many owners over the next few decades. It became The Queen's Residence, a B&B, two ownership changes before Anastasio and Bultman bought the building.
The Newton's three suites are named after prominent historical families, including Barnard and Newton as well as the Gibson family, who were prominent in Ypsilanti in the '60s, Anastasio says.
A vision for the future
Anastasio's plans for The Newton set it apart from many other B&Bs. In addition to renting the three suites, small groups can rent the dining room for a strolling dinner fundraiser or the office on the main floor for a small business meeting, with catering by The Last Bite Chef.
She also hopes to host regular pop-up and supper club events, and to install a commercial kitchen on the property sometime soon. The commercial kitchen will be a place to make meals for overnight guests, but Anastasio hopes to use it for more than that.
"It will be a teaching kitchen, which I'm excited about, because I have a whole background and history in teaching, specifically the culinary arts," she says.
Chef Allison Anastasio.
In addition to offering one-off themed classes, she hopes to host culinary boot camp weekends three or four times a year. Guests will stay the weekend and get four or five sessions of cooking lessons, culminating in a meal they make and share together.
Anastasio and Bultman both want to make sure their business fits into the neighborhood.
Bultman notes that some communities preserve historic buildings with interesting architecture by turning them into law offices or similar businesses. While that maintains those properties physically, Bultman says the buildings often feel like something is missing.
"What's missing is that the lights aren't on at night, and nobody is playing in the yard," Bultman says. "We positioned ourselves a little differently. We want to live here. We want to contribute to the street life at night and to our neighbors and [be out there] sitting on the porch."
Anastasio says she wants to respect The Newton's neighbors and the historic characteristics of the surrounding neighborhood.
"We aren't going to turn it into a big churning event center where the neighbors hate us," Anastasio says. "It's more about having a small curated space that makes sense for the community."
More information about The Newton of Ypsilanti can be found here
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
All photos by Doug Coombe.