In 2017 Jane McDowell opened up a bed and breakfast from her childhood home. The McDowell-Nearing House has four uniquely decorated rooms and she offers meals and snacks. Kaiti Sullivan, DN
Muncie Origins: Muncie resident turns childhood home into bed-and-breakfast
Looking back 10 years ago, bed and breakfast innkeeper Jane McDowell said the community around her has changed drastically.
When McDowell, along with her parents and two siblings, moved to Muncie in 1960 WalMart did not even exist.
“Tillotson Avenue stopped at Bethel. It was two lanes, not four. Instead of the football stadium there was a horse farm. McGalliard stopped at Wheeling so the rest was all farmland,” she said.
Location: 2205 N. Tillotson Ave.
Hours: Always Open
Contact: (765) 282-7912
Rules: No children under 12 years old
Having grown up in Delaware County, McDowell has always felt a connection to the community. Even when her siblings left area, she stayed and worked as an allergist for nearly 30 years in Muncie.
McDowell was content with in her job, until 2005 when her parents were ready to go into assisted living, leaving the house she grew up in behind.
With the help of her two brothers, McDowell took it upon herself to give her childhood home a small makeover and put it on the market to sell.
After almost a year, no offer was made on the house.
“The only two things I could think of were tear it down or turn it into college student rentals and I really didn’t want to be a landlord,” McDowell said. “Then one day in the 11th month of the contract of selling, I was driving from my house down the street, looking at the for-sale sign and I said, ‘You know, this could be a really cool bed and breakfast.’”
The process to turn her parents home into a bed and breakfast wasn’t easy. The first thing McDowell had to do was get special permission from the board of zoning to allow the transformation. The first time she reached out, she was denied.
By law, when the zoning courts say no to a petition, their decision is final except in special circumstances.
McDowell, however, didn’t give up. She went back a second time, wrote a letter to the mayor and finally got a yes.
The problems didn’t stop there, though. McDowell had hired an architect to make sure the house followed all the necessary rules.
“A few months in she looked at me and said, ‘We have a problem,’” McDowell said. “She said the ceilings were two inches too short and the stairway was four inches too narrow, so we couldn’t do it anymore. That’s when I broke down into tears.”
Despite facing many obstacles and a large amount of money spent on renovations, McDowell pushed on and finally in 2007, the McDowell-Nearing House Bed and Breakfast opened.
“My very first guests were three men who worked with Jim Davis on the animation of the Garfield movie, and the Garfield cartoons,” McDowell said. “Instead of having just three regular people, I had these three very important people and they knew they were my first guests. They were very friendly and nice and they come back about once a year.”
The McDowell-Nearing House has four uniquely decorated rooms that all include private bathrooms for guests. The house also offers free Wi-Fi, cable TV and access to a printer and computer.
Dave and Mary Goller have what McDowell calls “frequent flyer” status and stay with her every time they come visit their grandchild who attends Ball State.
“Shortly after opening we seldom stay anywhere else in Muncie unless it is unavailable,” Dave Goller said. “The breakfasts are to die for with farm fresh eggs and much better than any motel with hot breakfast. Occasionally she will join us with a cup of coffee and chat just like family, which we almost are.”
McDowell also offers home-cooked meals, snacks and refreshments available in the kitchen.
“One guy in particular was so funny because you could tell his wife dragged him here,” McDowell said. “They stayed the weekend and the second day at breakfast he looked up at me and said ‘Can I take you home with me?’ which I thought was great.”
Now that she is older, McDowell said she doesn’t advertise as much as she used to as “the stairs seem to get steeper every year”
Despite such circumstances, she said she still gets regular customers and has something remarkable happen almost every day on the job.
“There are motel people and there are bed and breakfast people,” McDowell said. “It's funny because motel people, when they come for the first time there always a little surprised and a little worried there will be too many rules. But that’s not the case for us innkeepers. We have enough going on in our lives that were not going to hover.”
McDowell has had many people pass through her doors, including Leo Tolstoy’s great grandson. Tolstoy is a Russian writer who has been regarded as one of the greatest authors of all times, writing works such as “Anna Karenina and War and Peace.”
McDowell also has people from Ball State University stay at the bed and breakfast, as they are referred to by Lois Largent, administrative coordinator for the finance department.
"We had candidates coming to campus for interviews and we wanted to find a place for them to stay that was welcoming with a touch of home in order to make them feel comfortable,” Largent said. “We found that with Jane.”
McDowell said being an innkeeper has enriched her life in more ways than she could have imagined. Recently, she found that her great grandmother ran a boarding house during the Great Depression and she thinks that may have something to do with her passion for the business.
“Everybody has got a story,” McDowell said. “I’ve really been touched by so many people and have had experiences I could never get if I would have just sat here and watched cars go by.”
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