SKOWHEGAN — The vacant Kennebec Valley Inn will be the newest link this summer connecting the restoration of historic buildings with economic growth in downtown Skowhegan.
Situated at the edge of the municipal parking lot, the old hotel is next to the working Somerset Grist Mill in the former county jail and opposite the restored 1929 Strand movie theater. Nearby is the circa 1894 Grange hall, which is being renovated for future use, possibly as a grain-based business.
Marc and Janet Wheeler, of Skowhegan, who know the history of the area and have experience running a dining and dancing establishment, have bought the three-story former inn and plan to open the Blue Moon Lounge on Aug. 1 on the ground floor.
There will be a full bar, a large dance floor with live and DJ music Thursday through Sunday, tables and homemade food cooked by Janet Wheeler.
“We love this place; we love the history here,” Janet Wheeler said. “We both felt the connection here, although we never talked about it. I brought it to his attention one night and said, ‘This is what I have for an idea,’ and he said, ‘I’ve been thinking about the same thing.'”
Janet Wheeler, 41, operated Bloomfield’s Cafe in Skowhegan for her parents, Roger and Linda Marcoux, from 2004 to 2006. Her husband, Marc, 44, ran Jordyn’s tavern briefly in 2003 in the former Kennebec Valley Inn for owners Dale and Eunice Thorpe, from whom the Wheelers are buying the building.
The inn later became a weekend dance club called Rumors. It closed finally in 2011.
The Wheelers said they will use produce and meat from the Farmers’ Market next door and the grain from the grist mill, the former county jail built in 1895, to make bread.
“I’m going to utilize them right away,” Janet Wheeler said of the market with its 20 local food vendors. “I’ll use the fresh vegetables for what I am making that week and fresh fruits for pies and deserts.”
The Wheelers said the building has a rich history, some of which was stored in the basement. They said they found seltzer bottles from the 1930s, antique glass light shades, brass fittings, old menus and signs.
The original Maine Central Hotel was erected on the site in 1904,, consisting of a renovated wing of the Heselton House hotel on Water Street, where the Municipal Building now stands, according to material from the Skowhegan History House.
The wing had been moved on logs with oxen to its current location in 1901. The train station and freight yard for Maine Central Railroad was at the rear of the building.
“This site made it convenient for railroad travelers, and it was also near the courthouse and the business streets, so it received good patronage,” Louise Coburn wrote in her 1941 book “Skowhegan on the Kennebec.”
In 1930 the hotel was remodeled as an annex to the New Skowhegan House hotel, which was located where the Chamber of Commerce building is.
The annex was called the Milburn Hotel. A third floor was added at some point after that.
It was sold in 1972 and called the Midtown Hotel and kept that name until the Thorpes took over in 1986 and renamed it the Kennebec Valley Inn, Marc Wheeler said.
Janet Wheeler, who works full time in accounts receivable at H.P. Fairfield equipment company, in Skowhegan, said the new name, Blue Moon Lounge, comes from the title of her favorite album, “Blue Moon,” by Toby Keith.
There will not be a cover charge to get in, but there will be a dress code, they said.
The second floor of the former hotel, which had several overnight rooms, each with its own bathroom, will be remodeled.
“When the time comes, on the second floor, we’d like to put in a conference center, banquet hall and full kitchen,” said Marc Wheeler, who is the yard foreman at Ware-Butler lumber yard in Madison. “At that point, we will take the back half of the downstairs and turn it into a cafe to serve the downtown area.”
The third floor was gutted over the years and will remain vacant for now, they said.
They said they are paying $125,000 for the building and plan to invest another $25,000 in repairs, cleaning and renovations before the Aug. 1 opening.
The Wheelers, who have three young children, can be found on Facebook under the name Blue Moon Lounge.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367