By Katy Savage
WOODSTOCK—James Steward sees the hospitality industry as a work of art—a theater with no script.
“I love the interplay, the way the guests are constantly changing,” he said. “It’s refreshing itself all the time.”
Steward, the director of the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey, purchased the 11-room Jackson House Inn in Woodstock Aug. 3 for $1.5 million.
He plans to model the inn after 21c Museum Hotels, a small hotel chain that combines hotels with museums.
“I’m a relentless borrower of other people’s good ideas,” Steward said.
Steward’s own artwork and artwork from his family’s collections hang on the wall. He hopes to have weekend poetry festivals and he’s talked with other local artists about featuring their artwork.
He is currently featuring the work of Cristina Salusti, a ceramic artist who has owned the Fossil/Glass art gallery in Woodstock for 19 years.
“I just love her work. I think she’s an incredibly talented artist,” Steward said.
Steward walked in one day and introduced himself.
“The fact that I am a museum director helps,” he said. “I’m fearless in meeting makers of different kinds.”
Steward purchased the inn with the help of a Vermont Economic Development Authority loan. He was one of about 10 recipients of VEDA loans, totaling $7.1 million this year to help Vermont manufacturing, agricultural, small business and energy development projects move forward.
Steward will use the loan to restore three rooms in the historic inn that haven’t been used. He also plans to open a 45-seat restaurant to the public.
Innkeepers Mathew Hesley and Chris Rule, who have about 20 years of hospitality experience, are operating the inn while while Steward and his family live and work in Princeton, New Jersey. Steward eventually hopes to move to Woodstock to work at the inn.
“I’ve always been social and I’’ve always enjoyed entertaining,” he said.
Jordana Jusidman, a chef at Cloudland Farm, is working as a consulting chef for Steward to help develop the menu.
“Breakfast at the Jackson House Inn has been one of the features for a while,” Steward said. “We want to sustain that even when we transition the style.”
Steward considered several properties in Woodstock before purchasing the Jackson House Inn but the Jackson House felt right.
The inn is the only one in Vermont and New Hampshire to be named a Top 10 inn in the country on TripAdvisor in 2018.
“It’s a great foundation to build on,” Steward said.
He bought the property from Rick and Kathy Terwelp, who owned the inn since 2010.
“It was an opportunity we felt we could not ignore,” said Kathy Terwelp. She said she and her husband were looking for the right time to sell the property. They are staying in the Woodstock area, looking to determine their next career move.
“The new owner is an extremely talented, inspired person,” said Terwelp.
Steward became interested in the hospitality industry when he was a child. He was a Foreign Service brat, who lived in India, Thailand and Japan.
“I’m a lifelong traveler,” he said. “I’ve always had the gift of feeling at home quickly and I want to make other people feel at home.”