Former Knickerbocker building to live again, this time as Cottage Grove’s ‘Bohemia Inn’
COTTAGE GROVE – The resurgence of main streets in small towns has dug its heels in deep on East Main Street in downtown Cottage Grove.
At 610 E. Main St., property owner and Downtown Cottage Grove board member Ryan Thomas, who is also the owner of Ryan Thomas Construction, is restoring the Knickerbocker building into the Bohemia Inn: a two-story building with a restaurant, retailer, and ADA bedroom on the first floor with the remaining nine bedrooms on the second floor.
“My focus is: I love history; I love architecture; and I am passionate about these downtowns. My focus is restoration. I want things to be historically accurate. I want to bring them back to what they were at one time,” said Thomas, who is also working on historic preservation and restoration in another downtown – 448 Main St. in Springfield, owned by Masaka Properties.
The Bohemia Inn’s architect, Jenna L. Fribley, and Thomas are collaborating on that downtown Springfield project, too.
“We’re still very much at an investigative stage with this project in Cottage Grove,” Fribley said. “We’re pulling down less historic components on the facade, just to see what we’re starting with, just to see what’s actually there.”
Dating back to 1902, architects like Fribley are heightened to details from the past, like tack marks on the upstairs floor made from logging shoes when the space used to be office space for a lumber company, or spaces on the wall in the alleyway where old window frames have been filled in.
“We’re going to recapture those – reopen those holes and build new wood windows to fit them that match the originals,” she said.
The building where Bohemia Inn will soon be up and running from has a rich history in Cottage Grove, according to Debra Monsive, who is a local and family historian and also the president of the Cottage Grove Genealogical Society.
According to Monsive’s records, the building has been through a fire back in 1908 and also held facilities, including:
• Dreamland Theater (May 1909)
• Dr. H.A. Foster, Chiropractor and Natural Healer (upstairs)
• Arcade Theater (consolidated with Dreamland and equipment moved to Dreamland Theater – October 1909)
• Simeral & VanDenburg Furniture
• Service Garage
• Daugherty Lumber Company
• In-Between (liquidation store)
• Self Selecto
• A restaurant, perhaps “Bordello”
• Pandora’s Quilt Shop
Thomas said the Cottage Grove project is in its first phase: restoring the first floor through blending the original building with new facets in a way that will revert the building to look as similar to 1902 as possible.
“One of the things that people started to try to do was make alterations to buildings to make them look more modern, but they didn’t (look modern). They made them look weird. Something they did that was really common was covering up existing transom windows, which were a part of the upper windows,” Thomas said. “One of the great things about that is, behind a lot of these cover-ups, the windows are still intact. A key point of our project was to expose those again and restore that storefront.”
This whole project is self-funded by Thomas, and he wasn’t shy to joke about how inconvenient the rise in interest rates has been. Because of the financial constraints that come with self-funding the project, he hopes to have the whole building finalized in about five to six years.
In his ideal world, Thomas would renovate the entire downstairs in about a year-and-a-half to two years to have the restaurant, retail space, and downstairs guest room up and running. This would bring in some income for Thomas while his team continues working upstairs, with the assistance of grants.
The town’s dedication to developing downtown can also be seen through Len Blackstone’s Bank Building. It was renovated from 2019-2020 and features a similar facet to the Bohemia Inn: It brought housing downtown while utilizing the bottom floor as a commercial space.
“We’ve got some wonderful businesses downtown, businesses that have been there for decades … but we also have businesses come in and fail because there’s not enough people downtown,” Blackstone said. “So how do you get people down there? You either get people living there permanently, which is like apartments, or get them living there temporarily, which is what Ryan Thomas’ idea is. What he’s doing is fantastic.”
Blackstone continued, stating that Thomas’ concept of transient housing – not permanent housing – is a way to introduce Cottage Grove to new people, which he said is just what the town needs.
“The key for downtown is: The only way it’ll survive is if people are downtown,” Blackstone said.
Mayor Candace Solesbee said she thinks Cottage Grove will have some “growing pains” through the revitalization of downtown, but she said “it’s going to be a nice shot in the arm for the economy.”
“I think it’ll attract more business to Main Street, which is important because Main Street is the heart of any city – and I think that’ll put a little pride from the citizens back into Cottage Grove,” she said. “Can you imagine being able to have your friends or family from other areas be able to come here and stay downtown and walk and shop in the stores and eat in the restaurants? It’s small town, U.S.A., and I love it.”
Jim Gilroy, former mayor and board member of Downtown Cottage Grove, commended both Thomas and Blackstone for being entrepreneurs who took different approaches to get people downtown. When Gilroy was mayor in 1986, he said the City did a study which showed Cottage Grove had a very attractive historic district, which just needed to be cleaned up.
“We’re getting there, and one of the reasons organizations like Hollywood studios look at our downtown is because it is more reminiscent of how so many American small cities have been in our lifetime and before,” Gilroy said.