June 19 2013 12:00 AM

English Inn's Croquet Cottages


The owners of The English Inn, 677 S. Michigan Road, Eaton Rapids, broke ground last Thursday on an expansion that will nearly double the overnight capacity for the historic restaurant/pub/bed and breakfast. The four Croquet Cottages, as they’ll be called (they overlook the 15.9-acre estate’s tournament-sized croquet court), will increase the number of rooms from 10 to 18.

“There was certainly room for expansion,” said owner Gary Nelson, as he surveyed the south lawn where the cottages are being built. “But it was important that when we did so that we preserved the building’s history. We took every precaution necessary to make sure we maintained the look of the inn and the integrity of the grounds.”

The cottages’ architecture will match the Tudor Revival style of the 86-year-old inn and will have a “whimsical English croquet theme,” Nelson said. They will be about 900 square feet and divided into two guest rooms each, which will have king-sized beds, a Jacuzzi and a fireplace.

Managing partner Erik Nelson, Gary’s son, said the new cottages will make the establishment more appealing to large groups, including wedding parties and business outings.

“We have 100 percent occupancy every weekend, so this will allow us to accommodate more people,” he said. “I hate having to turn people away.”

Nelson said the $500,000 project should be completed by October. This is the second expansion the inn has seen since his parents bought the estate in 1996. In 2002, the Meadovue Ballroom was built to the northeast of the main building. The property was renovated and converted to an inn, restaurant and conference center in 1989, and was added to the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites in 1991.

Nelson pointed out the pine trees that were planted to hide the construction process from the rest of the grounds.

“We really wanted to make the work process as smooth as possible for the rest of our guests,” he said. “We have weddings every weekend throughout the spring, summer and fall, and no one wants to see a construction project in the distance. The greenscaping will not only hide the work, but will give you more of a nestled-in-the-woods feeling.”

The trees are only temporary, and will be removed at the end of construction. Nelson said that every aspect of the project will utilize mid-Michigan products and labor, including the trees, which come from Discount Tree Sales in Mason, and the handcrafted mattresses and box springs, made by Capital Bedding Co. in Lansing Township. Additionally, builders Larry Schaefer and Bert Koenigsknecht of Larry T. Schaefer Builders in DeWitt will oversee the project.

“We even used Dart Bank to make sure every component was kept as close to mid-Michigan as possible,” Nelson said. “Every dollar that’s being spent is staying right here in the area, and helps us cut down on our carbon footprint.”

The English Inn was built in 1927 for auto baron Irving Reuter, general manager and president of the Oldsmobile Corp., and his wife, Janet. The 19-room, 10,000-square-foot mansion was furnished with an abundance of upper-class charms. Over the years, it was also the home of Archbishop Joseph Albers of the Roman Catholic Diocese and was a Cold War-era school for gifted children. After that, restaurateur Dusty Rhodes transformed it into Dusty’s English Inn before leaving to open Dusty’s Cellar in Okemos.

“This place has a lot of history,” Gary Nelson said. “And we’re pretty proud that these cottages will be a part of that now too.”