A Storied Stay at The Mill Waunakee

By Katie Vaughn | Photography by Courtney Terry Photography

Back in the late 19th century, as Waunakee developed alongside the tracks of the Chicago and North Western Railroad, a new grain mill quickly became an integral part of the village center.

That nearly 150-year-old building has a storied past, from its mill days to a renovation in 1994 that made it the home of the Mill House Quilts shop. Now, its next chapter begins as The Mill, a six-room boutique hotel that mixes historic charm with modern-day style.

David Jacobson and Brett Bower opened the hotel in April 2023, following a 19-month process of purchasing the building, working with the village’s planning commission and taking on an extensive remodel.

The project was a dream realized for the pair, who became friends at St. Norbert College and hoped to find a way to put their respective degrees — Bower’s in accounting and Jacobson’s in marketing — into practice.

“We always wanted to be in business together,” says Jacobson, who also owns O’Pros Fishing.

It was actually in looking for a space for his fly fishing gear company that Jacobson discovered the old grain mill. “This building was just way too cool not to purchase,” he says.

And Bower, who works as a Madison firefighter, immediately recognized the potential for giving the building a new life.

“The history behind it is super cool,” he says. “This is the oldest standing building in the village. It made this the city center.”

Once again, the grain mill is helping to anchor downtown Waunakee, as the hotel provides new reasons for residents and visitors to explore Main Street’s restaurants and shops.

Nearby, guests can pop into downtown’s destinations, including The Lone Girl Brewing Company, Red & White Winebar, Evie & Co. Boutique, Pageberry Mercantile, the Wisconsin Candle Company, Red Barn Company Store and Ooh La La.

On The Mill’s ground floor, the latest outpost of Grace Coffee Co. offers craft coffees, house-made pastries, sand- wiches, and cocktails and tap beers in the evenings. Having a café on-site was always part of Bower and Jacobson’s vision for the hotel, who partnered with Middleton’s Sketchworks Architecture on the Grace Coffee space design.

“We were excited at the chance to work in a 150-year-old building to bring in not only elements of its history (and update it to current building codes), but also marry it with Grace Coffee Co.’s modern aesthetic,” says Nick Badura, project manager with Sketchworks Architecture.

Additional guest perks include access to a cozy living room with exposed wood beams, cognac-hued leather sofas and fireplace, as well as a sunny sitting room.

The property’s six bedrooms boast one or two queen beds or a king bed, with unique features such as wood beams, barn doors and slat-wood headboards — made from 150-year- old Douglas fir repurposed from the building — differentiating the spaces. A backdrop of light wood floors, textured rugs and pillows, black and white tile, brass accents and lots of plants create a contemporary, laid-back atmosphere. “We designed it more like a house than a hotel,” Jacobson says, adding that his wife Katie and Bower’s wife Abby took the lead on the décor.

And they included nods to the building’s past, such as books about the mill’s history in each room and old framed blueprints on the walls.

It’s all about creating a special experience for guests, adding to the growing energy in downtown Waunakee and ensuring that a historic building continues to be a part of it.

“History was a big piece for us, a huge driver,” says Jacobson. “We just wanted to add to the story.”

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