December 11, 2003


Morgan House purchased by local resident

Susanne Oldham purchased the Morgan House from Antioch on Monday. She and her partner, John Semmlow, not pictured, plan to reopen the renovated bed and breakfast next April.

After six months on the market the Morgan House has been sold and is about to get a facelift almost as bright as the smile local resident Susanne Oldham had when she closed the deal on Monday morning.

Oldham, a flutist and professional arts administrator, and her partner, John Semmlow, purchased the 80-year-old building from Antioch University and plan to breathe musical life into the bed and breakfast next spring.

“ I thought it’d be cool and fun to do, and I wanted to come back to Yellow Springs because I love Yellow Springs,” she said. “John’s fabulous, and it’s going to be a big adventure for us.”

Oldham had been eyeing the B&B on Limestone Street for several months after a series of life changes took her away from her world of music managing the Folger Consort, a well-known early music ensemble in Washington, D.C. Oldham, who grew up in Yellow Springs, had worked for 25 years with respected figures such as conductor Leonard Bernstein, and was starting to realize there may be more important ways to make a contribution to the world, she said.

So she quit her job and joined the Peace Corps to do AIDS work in Zimbabwe and then Lesotho. She stayed two years in Africa, returning to be with her family in Yellow Springs in 2002 when her mother, Gerda Oldham, died, and then again at the end of her Peace Corps service to be near her 94-year-old father, Jim Oldham.

When she returned for good in September, she noticed the sale sign was still up in front of the Morgan House, and within a week she had the realtor on the phone to discuss the terms of purchase. She wasted no time in having professionals evaluate the property and investigate the renovations necessary to make the B&B business work. That was one of the reasons Antioch sold the building to Oldham at considerably less than the asking price of $325,000, university vice chancellor Glenn Watts said Tuesday.

“ We have found someone we think will do a splendid job, and she’s got some great ideas,” he said. “We’re pretty excited for her and for the village.”

Oldham and Watts both declined to give the final sales price.

The Morgan House received “considerable interest” from prospective buyers since Marianne Britton, the innkeeper for 18 years, left her lease in June, Watts said. At one point this fall, the sale sign came down when a serious buyer nearly signed a purchase agreement but then decided against it, he said.

According to Watts, the original sale price was determined loosely from the estimated value of the property and the B&B business, for which no formal records were ever located.

“ We set the price high so as not to undercut ourselves, but we were prepared to make adjustments,” he said. “We went a little further than we would have because we thought Susanne would do a good job for the village.”

Oldham was happy with the deal she got, although she said the addition of four new bathrooms and a heating and cooling system for each of the six guest rooms, as well as other minor repairs and upgrades she plans to do in the next few months, will likely run as high as the purchase price.

Oldham plans to live in the Morgan House with her black dog Latte, while Semmlow will visit periodically from his home in New Jersey. Semmlow is Oldham’s “silent partner,” she said, but he did request pedestal sinks.

Her sister, Kathy Beverly, also recently moved back to town with her husband, Dan, who has helped identify necessary repairs, including the original oak flooring that former Antioch College President Arthur Morgan and his wife, Lucy, installed when they built the house as a residence in 1921.

Oldham said that she wants to retain as much of the original simplicity and character of the house while eventually turning the operation into an environmentally friendly B&B, using organic local produce to cook full breakfasts and using post-consumer recycled toilet paper as soon as it becomes affordable. Her training as a performance flutist made music her first love, and she also intends to invite local ensembles and choral groups to make the house a community place.

The same zest and intensity that took Oldham to Africa also spurred her to get involved in the Yellow Springs music community by joining both the Chamber Music Yellow Springs board of trustees and the Yellow Springs Community Chorus. And perhaps soon she will join the Glen Helen Association, because she loves birds.

“ If I had it to do over again, I would be a naturalist,” she said.

But she is doing it over again, in a way, and she can hardly wait until tax day, April 15, the target date for the opening of the Morgan House Inn.

“ I want to have an opening party and invite the entire village,” she said.

Keep up on the inn’s progress at

— Lauren Heaton