Thornton House not your typical B&B

Thornton House not your typical B&B

Parlin, Geri

LANSING, Iowa – Diane Walleser grew up in Lansing, Iowa, and she didn’t move far from home. Just a short trip up the Mississippi River, and she landed in La Crosse.

But Lansing is the home of her heart. It’s where mom, Dolores Walleser, and sister, Carol Bottorff, live. So Diane spends a lot of time in Lansing.

She spends a lot more time there since buying The Thornton house with her mom, sister, and brother Bob Walleser, who lives in Milwaukee.

“We all grew up here,” Diane said, so when The Thornton House went on the market, they were curious what the old doctor’s house and office looked like. Their grandparents had lived below The Thornton House when the Wallesers were young, and they wondered if the house looked the same now.

“Just for a giggle, let’s walk through,” Bob said to Diane.

Diane should have known then that Bob had a plan up his sleeve. “We came up and fell in love with it,” Diane said.

Let’s buy the house, Bob said, and let’s ask Carol and Mom to join us in partnership.

The Carol and Mom part were really important, Diane said, because they live in town. They’d be responsible for greeting the guests, taking care of problems and booking the house.

When Carol and Dolores agreed to the partnership, the four rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

“We didn’t really need a house,” Diane said, because they all had their own homes and jobs. “But we fell in love with it.”

From the beginning, they agreed it wouldn’t be a typical bed and breakfast. No one was prepared to fix breakfast or any other meals, so they made sure the house was equipped with everything a guest could need if they decided to fix their own food. They stocked it with plenty of dishes, glassware and flatware and decided they would rent it out as a house, not room by room.

“I have seven brothers and sisters, and we love to travel together,” Diane said. This is just the kind of setup they would love to find, she said.

The Wallesers have met there for some family celebrations, Carol said, but the house usually is booked at holidays, which means they can’t use it then,

Carol works for a furniture store, so she was able to furnish much of the house at a discount. But there also were garage sales and the raiding of family attics and basements for furniture not in use.

Bob is the chief financial. officers of this little group, and he runs a tight ship. ‘We were sheepishly taking our invoices to brother Bob,” Diane said, and that often included receipts from rummage sales where they scored some of their bargains for a dollar or two. “He pays all our bills. And he’s the maintenance man, too,” Diane said with a laugh.

They all helped prep the house. That was the fun part, Carol said.

Dolores was the key to opening the house to guests, Diane said, because she has a personal history with the house.

“Mom is really important because of that connection to the past,” Diane said. “It’s not just another hotel.”

“I can still remember my dad lifting me into the chair in the doctor’s office,” Dolores said. “It was important to tie into the local history,” Diane -said.

That history dates back to 1873, when The Thornton House was built during Lansing’s economic boom. The. railroad had just come to town, the lumber business was booming, and fancy houses like The Thornton House were being built.

This Italianate Victorian style house speaks of the wealth of that day. Standing below the city’s Mount Hosmer, the home is positioned on a triangular shaped hillside lot that gives it a good view of Lansing and the Mississippi River.

The house served as home and office to doctors John H. and his son John W. Thornton. Blanche Thornton, wife of John W., was the mother of seven and was a nurse who assisted her husband in his practice.

While the mechanicals and the structure were in good shape when the Wallesers bought the house, it still needed a lot of attention. But the good stuff, like the tin ceilings, still was intact so they had a good base from which to work, Diane said.

“Nine of the 13 rooms have the original tin ceilings.”

Carol and her family are the ones who usually end up changing beds, cleaning bathrooms and shoveling the sidewalks. But Diane often comes down on weekends to help. And it is Bob who does most of the heavy duty repair and maintenance, such as painting the tin ceilings in the house. “It’s therapy for him,” Diane said.

“It’s been a really nice family project,” Diane said. “We’re good about knowing what’s fair and equal. We’ve all found what we can tolerate doing,” she said with a laugh.

And, as it turns out, they could tolerate doing more.

“We’re considering buying another property,” Diane said. “We’re looking for a two bedroom.”

Copyright La Crosse Tribune Sep 21, 2003

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