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Preston, Minn. — The rooms at this historic bed-and-breakfast feature wood fireplaces, deep tubs and fresh pastries. But the most-photographed amenity? The cell block bars.

“We’re in jail,” laughed a recent guest as the inn’s owner snapped a photo of him and three friends behind bars.

Adding to the effect: That owner, Tom Kaase, was sporting a sheriff’s uniform. White shirt, gold star, lapel pins.

It’s no costume. In July, Fillmore County Sheriff Tom Kaase and his wife, Dorle, purchased the Jailhouse Inn. Set atop a hill in this small southeastern Minnesota city, the handsome brick building, erected in 1869, once served as the area’s jailhouse, courthouse and sheriff’s residence. Today, it’s an old-fashioned B&B with a dozen guest rooms with names that make the most of their origins.

The detention room, the drunk tank. The cell block suite features two queen-sized beds and one twin bed between freshly-painted steel walls. The inn’s website boasts a “slumbering in the slammer experience,” noting that the “two-person whirlpool and step-thru shower keep you from wanting to ‘escape.’ ”

“Kids that have stayed here love it,” Dorle says. “Our 7-year-old grandson thinks that’s his bedroom when he’s here.”

But despite the playful labels, most rooms are elegant, with historic touches.

Sheriff Tom Kaase and his wife, Dorle, have longtime ties to both the area and law enforcement. The couple bought the 12-room Jailhouse Inn in August.
Sheriff Tom Kaase and his wife, Dorle, have longtime ties to both the area and law enforcement. The couple bought the 12-room Jailhouse Inn in August.

Brian Peterson

The Kaases bought the place because of their love for that history and their roots in the area. The law enforcement theme didn’t hurt. Tom grew up in this city, now pop. 1,300, in a pair of nearby houses. “One a couple blocks this way,” he says, pointing, “one a block that way.” His parents owned a bakery, and as kids, he and his brother would deliver bread and buns to the old jailhouse, which operated until 1970, when the Fillmore County Jail got new digs.

Tom remembers the offices, the sheriff’s deputies in uniform. His uncle was a police officer, and he dreamed of joining the force.

“It must run in the family, because our son is also a police officer,” Tom says, with the Duluth Police Department. The couple’s grandson, too, expresses interest in becoming a “top” one day.

Dorle’s mother was a bailiff who performed more than a few marriages in this old building and was a consummate host. Dorle loves cooking and chatting and entertaining.

Tom and Dorle met in high school and have been married for 34 years. The couple considered buying the old jail back in 1991, a few years after it began operating as a bed-and-breakfast, but they were building their own home then, and starting a family. (The same banker who financed the purchase this year suggested back then that they hold off.)

A couple of Californians, Marc and Jeanne Sather, purchased the place in 1991 and ran it for 27 years, renovating it along the way.

Last year, Tom Kaase was in town for Trout Days when he saw the for-sale sign. A two-hour tour later, the Kaases left the side door and looked at each other. “I’ll never forget it,” Dorle says. “He said, ‘Let’s try to buy it.’ ”

The historic building, which was operated as a jail until 1972, is now a 12-room inn, in Preston, Minn.
The historic building, which was operated as a jail until 1972, is now a 12-room inn, in Preston, Minn.

Brian Peterson

So they did. Since then, they’ve been investigating the building’s history and its quirks. The old dumbwaiter became the laundry chute. “So every time you throw something down, you’re thinking, 100 years ago, this brought food upstairs.”

In November, Tom Kaase lost his re-election bid to Capt. John DeGeorge, who will become sheriff in January. Kaase, 59, is a little unsure, after 34 years in law enforcement, whether the next chapter of his life will include a badge.

But he knows that it will include an old jailhouse.