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Petersons say their favorite part of owning MR Inn is getting to meet new people

Gary and Jennifer Peterson have spent 12 years restoring the old school in Maiden Rock and turning it into the Maiden Rock Inn. The refurbished building now offers not only guest rooms, but also a deli, bar, game room, sauna and massage studio, among other things.

MAIDEN ROCK -- When Gary and Jennifer Peterson bought the old Maiden Rock school building in March 1995, they never intended to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast inn.

The pair, originally from the Twin Cities, had been looking for an old building that Gary could use as his workshop for his stair building business and that Jennifer could use as her painting studio.

"We had sought out a building with room," Gary said. "We wanted a lot of (space)."

After searching the metro area and coming up short, the couple saw a newspaper ad advertising the Maiden Rock school and decided to come down for a visit.

"I saw it from the alleyway," Jennifer said. "When I saw it, that was it. I was sold."

Gary, who thought the building was too big for them, took a bit more convincing.

However, neither was put off by the school's dilapidated state. The roofs were leaking (Jennifer described it as "a waterfall"), the floors had severe damaged and rodents had infested many rooms. In addition, the building's heating, cooling and electrical systems hadn't been updated in decades.

Soon after seeing the school, Gary and Jennifer put in a bid to buy the building, and the pair set off rebuilding the space into their studios.

"I didn't see it as too much (work)," Jennifer said.

But by 2000, their plan was thrown off when they were in the process of designing one of the building's rooms. And while neither remembers exactly what question Gary asked Jennifer, both vividly remember her response.

"My answer was that I guess I'd rather cook than paint," she said.

Since then, they have been painstakingly restoring and remodeling the school into the Maiden Rock Inn. And while the Petersons admit that they're still "tweaking" parts, most of the spaces are completed.

Currently, the first-floor rooms house a commercial kitchen, a dining and lounge area with a full bar and a deli. The second story has been divided into four guestrooms, each with a bathroom.

The old high school, which is just above the gym, now boasts a sauna, a fireplace room and a massage room (the Petersons bring in massage therapists for their guests). Gary's hand-built spiral staircase leads up to the building's roof, which looks out onto Lake Pepin on one side and tree-covered bluffs to the other side.

A basement room has been turned into a game room, with a pool table and big-screen TV.

"We can do more than just rent rooms," Gary said.

"We knew we wanted to give (guests) everything we could," Jennifer agreed. "It's not just a bed. It's really a nice place to hang out."

Both Gary's woodworking and Jennifer's painting and decorating can be seen throughout the spaces. Each guest room has a unique scheme, from bright yellow and whimsical to dark green and masculine.

"Jen just has a knack for that sort of thing," Gary said of Jennifer's decorating.

And while the building has been modernized, the Petersons made sure the furnishings and décor have a more classic feel. To do so, the couple scavenged auctions for furniture and salvaged things like tin ceilings from other old buildings to furnish and decorate the inn.

The busiest time of year is the fall, when people come for leafing season. The inn has had guests from as far away as Brazil and England. However, the innkeepers also see people from cities nearby.

"This is a bona fide tourist area," Gary said, adding that the changing fall foliage often gets national coverage.

But no matter what the season, both Gary and Jennifer say their favorite part of owning an inn is getting to meet new people.

"When we have the place full, we get to take care of (guests). The place just lights up," Gary said.

"They come in and they're happy and it just fills the place," Jennifer said.