By John Lauritsen

PRESTON, Minn. (WCCO) — Spending a night in jail isn’t anything any of us aspire to do.

But after a visit to one Minnesota town, you may change your mind. In this week’s Finding Minnesota, we take you to the JailHouse Inn in Preston, where a good night’s sleep is just a cell block away.

“We’ve met lots of lovely people too since we’ve been here. Not just prisoners,” Marc Sather said.

You could say Marc and his wife Jeanne are serving a life sentence after buying the old Fillmore county jail, 25 years ago.

“We stopped here to say hello. And unbeknownst to us we learned that this property was going to be sold,” said Marc.

So the Sather’s bought it and moved from California to Preston on New Year’s Eve, 1991. It’s a busy bed and breakfast today – with up to 10,000 people visiting each year.

“We get a lot of traffic from people all over the world. But once upon a time it served a different purpose,” said Marc.

The jail was built during the Civil War in 1864. Throughout the years, sheriff’s and their families lived here while prisoners spent the night upstairs in a cell block.

“We get kind of a love-hate appreciation for this room,” said Marc.

The cell block remains intact, but bunks have been replaced with beds.

“Lots of people love it and want to stay in here because of the uniqueness. Being able to sleep behind bars without having some kind of citation from the county or state,” said Marc.

There are 12 guest rooms in all, and each is named after a sheriff  who likely lived and worked here until the jail closed in 1971. One of the rooms is named the “Courtroom,” where judges, jailers, attorneys and prisoners did their business.

Rock was removed and replaced to turn the downstairs into the breakfast part of the bed and breakfast. This area was the site of a prisoner escape, where two inmates used spoons to dig out the grout between the rocks. They were later caught.

And the old cistern has been turned into a wine cellar.

“The guests like this room, not so much for the history but for the wine. Everybody wines up here late in the evening,” said Jeanne.

And that’s kind of ironic, because back in the day it was quite often a little too much wine or whiskey that got someone locked up here. And just like today’s guests, those inmates likely went home the very next day.

“Some sheriffs ran things like Mayberry USA where they allowed prisoners to be placed in a drunk tank. And when they sobered up they allowed them to go home,” said Marc.

The JailHouse Inn is on the National Historic Registry, and there are actually a couple others like it in Arizona and Rhode Island.


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