SKOWHEGAN — Mike Kresge was a bartender back in the late 1980s at the old Kennebec Valley Inn on Court Street when he met his future wife, Annette Arsenault, who was then a single, stay-at-home mother from Madison.

Now married “empty nesters,” the Kresges are back at the Kennebec Valley Inn, this time as proprietors. In a leasing agreement with building owners Dale and Eunice Thorpe, the Kresges, 59, and 54, respectively, of Skowhegan, plan to open a country and western-themed lounge and restaurant by April 15.

“The Kennebec Valley Inn was established in 1985, and it’s going to be established again in 2016,” Mike Kresge said Tuesday from inside the historic 1904 building. “I’m going to manage it; she’s going to oversee it. For us, this is going to be a livelihood. It’s not a side job, so it means a lot to us. We’re going to see if we can gel it together and make something of it.”

The tavern has a long history with periods of vacancy and times of being a popular watering hole in Skowhegan.

Marc and Janet Wheeler, of Skowhegan, leased the three-story former inn in the summer of 2013, hoping to open the Blue Moon Lounge on the ground floor. The Wheelers closed for the winter in 2013-14 and reopened briefly in the spring 2014, but then closed again and did not reopen. It has been vacant ever since.

The inn building is at the edge of the municipal parking lot 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. Janet Wheeler operated the nearby Bloomfield’s Cafe in Skowhegan for her parents, Roger and Linda Marcoux, from 2004 to 2006. Her husband, Marc, ran Jordyn’s tavern briefly in 2003 in the Kennebec Valley Inn for the Thorpes.

The inn later became a weekend dance club called Rumors. It closed finally in 2011.

Mike Kresge said he is a former over-the-road truck driver who had to give up the long haul a few years ago after an accident. He also worked in the hospitality industry and thinks he and his wife can give the old inn a try. They will operate a game room with pool tables, a dart board and touch-tune juke box, a main bar area and a large dance floor where country music will be played by live bands and by a DJ. Skowhegan selectmen approved the various operating licenses earlier this month.

The couple still is deciding what sort of bar food to offer for dining at the tavern.

Between now and opening day, they will be giving the whole place a paint job and finishing inspections and permit requirements. They saved signs from previous incarnations of the inn when it was called the Milburn Hotel and the Midtown Hotel.

Mike Kresge, who went to business school in his native New Jersey, worked for the Thorpes from 1988 to 1990, living in one of the rooms upstairs. The two upper stories will need permits and a fire suppression system if they ever are going to be used again, he said.

“I met Annette in ’88 here and we married in ’89,” he said. “We’ve known Dale and Eunice for quite a long time. We are renting the Inn, with an option to buy.”

Mike Kresge said there definitely is a market for country/western themes and music in central Maine.

“We researched it for about eight months and got very good feedback from people,” he said. “There’s a market in this area for it, so we feel strongly that we can make a success out of it.”

Kresge said the location of the inn right downtown with the municipal parking lot right next door should be a boon to business.

“It’s hard to find a storefront in Skowhegan with parking,” he said. “We’re hoping to capitalize on that.”

The site of the Kennebec Valley Inn is the original Maine Central Hotel, which was built 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 by 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. It was sold in 1972 and called the Midtown Hotel and kept that name until the Thorpes took over in 1985 and renamed it the Kennebec Valley Inn.

The Kresges plan to be open Wednesday through Saturday nights at first.

“The good Lord willing, that’s what we’re shooting for,” he said. “Then we’re going to see where it goes from there and where the clientele leads us. I worked here before, and what I’m trying to do is bring it back to where it was. The town’s big enough for four bars. Each bar or each tavern or each establishment has its clientele that they cater to.

“We’re looking for the people that came in here when it was the KVI, maybe come with their kids who have heard about the KVI. We tossed around a lot of names and we wanted to bring it back to the Kennebec Vally Inn.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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