COLUMBIA — In 1911, the land at the corner of West Boulevard and Ash Street was filled with oak trees.
A man named Arch McCard owned the lot, and he decided to cut down the trees to build a two-room cabin.
It stayed that way until the second owners added two bedrooms, a kitchen and bath to the cabin in 1935. By then, it had become the small stone cottage that remains a historic landmark in Columbia.
Since January, the home at 121 West Blvd. N. has been a fairy-tale-like getaway for vacationers called Creekstone Cottage. For the first time in its 100-year history, the little house is open to the public.
Owners Kristin Bourgeois and her husband, Adam Kaiser, purchased the property in December and now rent it year-round. Bourgeois said the cottage is available for weekends, the week and even longer. It has been booked nearly solid for the past nine months.
“Everybody knows about it,” she said of the building, named a notable property by the Historic Preservation Commission in 2004.
“It’s nice to share it with everyone.”
The cottage seems tiny in comparison to the surrounding ranch homes. The cottage has three bedrooms that can accommodate six people, and one bath, a kitchen, dining room and living room.
Its low, slanted ceilings, old floorboards and pleasant woodsy smell seem to have popped straight out of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
The red door, bright blue shutters and warm sand-colored stone have helped turn it into one of the most recognizable buildings in the city. The owners say it is often referred to as "The Gingerbread House" or "The Hansel and Gretel House."
Although Bourgeois, who grew up in Texas, visited her grandmother frequently in Columbia, she said she first noticed the cottage when she was a member of the Historic Preservation Commission in 2009.
Her family has a background of working with houses, she said. Her mother was in real estate; her father worked as a general contractor. Her own fascination with history and architecture started when she was a teenager.
“It’s in the family,” Bourgeois said. “It’s what we do.”
After she got her driver's license, Bourgeois said she would often poke around neighborhoods in Houston looking for interesting houses. She owned two properties there before moving to Columbia in 2007.
Bourgeois and Kaiser now own 13 houses in Columbia, St. Louis and Texas; two of them are vacation rentals and the rest are residential properties. Both vacation rentals are in Columbia — Creekstone Cottage and Bluff-top Retreat, a three-bedroom inn in Rocheport with a view of the Missouri River.
Jim Brown is the son of the third set of owners of the cottage, who bought it in 1957 and lived there for more than 50 years. He said his parents finished a number of projects in the house, including plumbing and air conditioning.
Throughout the house they tried to maintain its character, he said, and often were praised for keeping it close to the original. Many visitors would tell them about their children, who would make up stories about Little Bo Peep, the three bears or other fairytale characters living there.
After he and his wife stayed at the cottage this fall, Brown said he was satisfied with the level of care Bourgeois brought to the house.
“I think Kristin has done a good job,” Brown said. “She’s repurposed it very well. A lot of people are going to be able to visit its charms.”
Bourgeois said she and her husband plan to schedule free showings of the cottage on Wednesday nights. Many people have told her they are interested in seeing the inside, and she thought this would be a good way of doing that.
Bourgeois and Kaiser have also artwork hanging on the walls in Creekstone Cottage that is available for purchase. Bourgeois represents select local artists through her business Christopherson Art in Columbia.
Brown said his mother would have been pleased that the present owners used the cottage to support the arts.
“The house will have a cultural aspect it might otherwise not have,” he said.
Bourgeois said she hopes guests feel as if they stepped into the past.
“This is a hard place to forget," she said. "I like that they’ve taken a little of history with them."