SKOWHEGAN — It took less than three hours Tuesday morning to tear down the century-old Kennebec Valley Inn in the middle of downtown Skowhegan.

A demolition crew with big excavators saw to that.

Memories, some said.

Glad to see it go, said others.

“This is amazing,” Betsy Hall said from her home on Court Street, directly across from the inn, where she has lived for all of her 87 years. “It’s time — it’s time. I’ll be glad to see it gone, because it was a fire hazard. I’ve always seen it here. It was just part of the town, and it does have a lot of history.”

Hall, whose late husband, Ronald “Pop” Hall, operated a barber shop and bail bondsman office at one end of the house, said the old place used to be nice. Owners tried to keep it up, she said, but it finally lapsed into disrepair.

Hall said she went inside the place only a couple of times. It had a reputation.

“I don’t have a lot of memories from that place, because we weren’t allowed to go in there,” she said with a laugh. “It was a bar, so we could never go near that place. It was really, at times, quite loud, quite rowdy, quite a few fights, so we just didn’t go in.”

The Skowhegan Economic Development Corp. bought the three-story building in March for $73,000, with plans to tear it down and use the open lot to draw interest in commercial space.

Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development and the corporation’s part-time secretary, said it hopes to put a multi-use building on the site once it is cleared.

Hewett said inquiries to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in 2015 revealed that the building was not eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The site is not considered sensitive for archaeological resources,” the commission’s Robin Reed wrote to Hewett in July 2015.

Hewett said the facts that the hotel is not in its original location and that a third floor was added later make it ineligible for historic designation.

Tom McCarthy, of Skowhegan, whose company had the job of demolishing Skowhegan’s “eyesore” — the old Wallace Radio Shop and two other buildings that wrapped around it at the corner of Madison Avenue and Commercial Street, in October 2011 — was hired to do the work Tuesday taking down the old inn.

With a subcontracted heavy-equipment crew from B.R. Obert and Sons, of Norridgewock, the demolition of the inn building was tackled in surgical moves from the outside, allowing the roof to collapse into the middle, McCarthy said.

“It came down right the way it was supposed to,” McCarthy said at the site. “The (Wallace Radio building) was three buildings hooked together and very close to another business owner that wasn’t coming down. It was one foot away from the other, so we had to use a lot of care.

“With this one, we had to undermine it and drop it so the top would collapse down. That’s what we did. We undermined this whole end, and it collapsed down; undermine some more, and the top collapsed down. Any bearing walls were taken out so the top would drop.”

By 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, the old place was just a pile of timber, wallboard and insulation.

Hewett said the building’s third floor had been added on over the years, first making the structure ineligible for historic designation, and also making the demolition a little more difficult. He said all of the debris, including asbestos that was found on the building, will be taken to different sections of the Waste Management Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock.

“It is amazing how it did come down the way they thought it was going to come down,” Hewett said. “It was an amazing sight. I’m very impressed with how good they did this project.”

The site of the Kennebec Valley Inn is the former location of 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.”

Betsy Hall, 87, shows a picture of the old Kennebec Valley Inn as it is being demolished Tuesday in downtown Skowhegan. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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 Dale and Eunice Thorpe took over in 1984 and renamed it the Kennebec Valley Inn. The inn later became a weekend dance club called Rumors. It closed in 2011.

Marc and Janet Wheeler, of Skowhegan, moved in during the summer of 2013, opening the Blue Moon Lounge on the ground floor. They had a full bar, a large dance floor with live and DJ music Thursday through Sunday, tables and homemade food cooked by Janet Wheeler. 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 remained vacant until Mike Kresge and his wife, Annette, opened a country-and-western-themed lounge and restaurant at the site in 2016. They renamed the place the Kennebec Valley Inn.

The lounge and restaurant were turned into a sandwich shop last year and finally closed in September.

The inn building was at the edge of the municipal parking lot next to the working Somerset Grist Mill in the 1897 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.

Amber Lambke, whose purchase of the former Somerset County Jail with a business partner in 2009 resulted in the establishment of the Somerset Grist Mill, Millers Table restaurant, a commercial-free radio station and other businesses, said in March that she was happy the inn was coming down.

“The gradual decay of the building has contributed to the blighted appearance of downtown Skowhegan for many years, and yet for private investors and developers, the cost of the purchase and removal of the building has been a financial disincentive to development,” Lambke, president and CEO of Maine Grains Inc., said.

Pam Butler, 63, who, like her mother, Betsy Hall, has lived at the house on Court Street opposite the inn off and on all of her life, said seeing the old place go inspires mixed emotions.

“I’m glad, but it’s sad, too,” she said from the porch of the house, watching the demolition take place. “It is about time. It’s an eyesore.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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