In the century-plus that the Bank Building has stood at the corner of Sixth and Main Streets in downtown Cottage Grove, it has served as a vessel for human life in its community.
Since the building’s construction, countless parades have marched past. Businesses have begun, grown, changed and ceased to exist, their influence transforming Main Street. Its namesake bank helped finance the town’s early growth, though sadly it did not survive the devastation of the Great Depression.
Generations of locals and visitors have gathered downtown to share many of the most important experiences of their lives. Humankind has journeyed into outer space, reinventing itself time and again. Through it all, downtown’s historic buildings have patiently looked on, watching Cottage Grove grow, change and evolve throughout the decades.
Like many of the buildings that make up downtown Cottage Grove, the Bank Building stands today as a testament to its town’s history. Recently, owners Len and Deb Blackstone have committed to the building’s complete renovation, preparing to welcome a new group of commercial tenants downstairs and apartments upstairs, and to write a new chapter in the history of this community.
In fact, Len Blackstone says that the crews committed to restoring the Bank Building frequently encounter its history in many of the objects left behind over the years.
“We’ve discovered all kinds of things,” he says. “Shoes, four different years of newspapers and magazines, letters. The letters were a crack-up.”
Blackstone said that, when workers removed the building’s old siding on the wall facing Sixth Street, they were welcomed by a surprise.
“They discovered a whole storefront there that we weren’t expecting,” he said. “There was a door to another entrance, and these sliding windows that were clearly part of a business.”
While uncovering the old storefront, Blackstone said a woman walked by and confirmed their hunch, stating that she had ordered ice cream from that very store window.
While focused on the building’s future, Blackstone says it’s also fascinating to read the stories of its past, and to discover them himself. Recently, he was working in the attic along with Site Manager Randy Kissell, when the pair discovered an old washing machine.
“We thought that was really odd,” he said. “We thought somebody had just stored this hand-wringing washing machine up there and forgotten about it.”
The washing machine now stands in the Bank Building’s makeshift office, and a recent visitor during a downtown Art Walk offered a little more history.
“There was a woman who told me that she used to rent the front apartment in the building,” he said. “She had little kids, and she said that there used to be an attic. What she would do was go up there and do the kids’ diapers and hang the diapers in the attic to dry. I thought that was fascinating. I said to her, ‘I think we have your washing machine.’
Now that’s some pretty cool history.”