Marilyn and Lee Lewis, owners of Orth House, a bed and breakfast in Jacksonville, are selling the historic home. Jim Craven 5/30/2007 - Jim Craven

Moving on: Couple will sell historic bed and breakfast

JACKSONVILLE — A decade of innkeeping was enough for Lee and Marilyn Lewis.

For good measure, they are still on the job for the 11th summer playing host to weary travelers, adventurers and folks just wanting to combine peace and quiet with entertainment at the Britt Festivals.

Their Historic Orth House on West Main Street is available for $965,000, discounted from the $995,000 asking price a year ago.

"We still like what we're doing, but this gives us a chance to move on before we're too old," says Marilyn Lewis. "We had a lot of lookers, but I think a lot of people are just scared of running a bed and breakfast. There were some people we thought would make an offer — and one is still out there — but it's a big decision."

And one that always comes with a hefty to-do list for its owners.

The telephone book lists nearly four dozen bed and breakfasts in Jackson County, including seven in Jacksonville.

The Lewises bought the five-bedroom, five-bath, 3,560-square-foot brick home for $379,000 in October 1996. During the past decade they've changed the décor, refinished the floors, altered the landscaping and added a gazebo and restrooms to accommodate weddings with 50 guests in the backyard. They also housed the White House communications staff during President Bush's 2004 visit.

Lee Lewis, a retired Ventura County, Calif., general contractor, has virtually overhauled the entire residence since the couple acquired the inn from Walter Jaskiewicz. From landscaping and building a bathroom for backyard guest activities to electrical, plumbing work and a kitchen remodel, Lewis has left his mark on the property. That's in addition to the daily housekeeping chores, such as he did Wednesday morning, pruning roses and mowing the lawn.

"I figured it out the other day ... I have put in an average of 30 hours a week on maintenance," Lewis says. "If I paid myself $40 an hour, which is less than a general contractor would be paid, it came to $675,000."

Perhaps the operation was more than the couple bargained for when they moved to town, but they're not complaining. They entertain eight to 10 visitors on a given night, with the majority of the 500 or so annual clients arriving between spring and early fall.

"People ask 'Are you 100 percent or 80 percent occupied,' but that's a fallacy in most instances in Southern Oregon," he says. "We don't have winter like they do in Vail, Colo., or Tahoe; they have a summer and winter season. People don't come here so they can go skiing on Mount Ashland, They go to Bachelor or Shasta. Wintertime is slow and you have to take that into consideration, but you have a place to live, too."

Marilyn Lewis, 73, says some prospective buyers have thought about returning John Orth's 1880 Italianate Villa into a private residence. Lee Lewis, 69, will begin his next career this summer, operating a limousine and wine tour business. In the beginning it will be run out of the Orth House.

If the next owner elects to capitalize on the two-story building's historical reputation, Marilyn Lewis will have a few words of wisdom to pass along.

"Enjoy it and relax if you can," she says. "You're taking on this big house and business. Try not to get upset if you don't have reservations coming in. Try to be organized when you do breakfast and do everything you can the night before."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or at

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