WAVERLY — One of Waverly’s most historic landmarks is gone.
The Emmitt House, built as a hotel by Waverly’s preeminent entrepreneur James Emmitt in 1861 along what was then the Ohio and Erie Canal, was lost in a fire Monday evening.
According to Waverly Fire Chief Randy Armbruster, the Waverly Fire Department was joined by fire departments from Piketon, Stockdale, Pebble Township, Jackson Township, and Huntington Township in Ross County.
A total of 60 personnel were on the scene for eight hours battling the blaze in some of the coldest temperatures the area has seen in a number of years. Armbruster said he is proud of the members of his department and the members of the mutual aid departments that worked so hard.
Of major concern to the fire fighters was the plight of the many buildings surrounding the Emmitt House.
“We had a lot of embers blowing across the street,” Armbruster said. “It was actually in our favor that the metal roofs across the street (Market Street) also had some snow and ice covering on them, so that helped.”
The fire appears to have started in the back area of the structure around the kitchen or bakery, which were in close proximity to each other, according to Armbruster.
The News Watchman heard some reports of a possible explosion, but Armbruster said he is unaware of any explosion. He said that a wall collapsed on the Market Street side of the building, and the upper floors collapsed, as well, which could have caused a loud sound.
“We’re not aware of any type of explosion,” he said.
Armbruster explained that the Division of State Fire Marshal always investigates fires at commercial businesses with a high-dollar loss. According to Michael Duchesne, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of State Fire Marshal, the cause of the fire is undetermined at this time, and the Division is currently interviewing Emmitt House employees and other witnesses of the fire and reviewing video from surrounding businesses.
The investigation is being conducted in cooperation with the Waverly Police and Fire departments and the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, Duchesne added.
As of press time on Tuesday, the remaining walls of the structure were being torn down, Duchesne said, due to safety issues. The unofficial damages for the building are more than $1 million.
According to Armbruster, there were two minor injuries during the fire, including a fire fighter who had smoke inhalation and a Sheriff’s deputy who received a minor injury to his hand caused by a falling brick.
“They’re both back at work today and doing fine,” Armbruster said.
The call came in to the fire department at 8:28 p.m. on Monday. On Tuesday morning, Armbruster said that there were still some hot spots in the structure. As for surrounding buildings, the fire did get into the upstairs ceiling area of Oakbridge Financial Services, which is located next door to the Emmitt House on Market Street, Armbruster said.
“I’d say there is major damage to the upstairs,” he said of the Oakbridge building.
He said that it is not known yet whether there will be smoke damage to buildings in the downtown area, and he is unaware of damage to any other buildings around the Emmitt House.
While looking at the ruins of her business on Tuesday morning, Pam Ison, owner and operator of the Emmitt House, said that “there are no words that can even explain this.”
When the fire began, Ison and her employees were working, customers were eating in the restaurant, the bar was full of patrons, and the BCS National Championship game was on the television. Ison said she was talking to a customer when one of her employees came out of the kitchen and asked her to come back there.
“I went back to the kitchen, and it was just a terrible smell,” she said. “I was like, ‘What is it?’ And one my broiler guys said, ‘Something’s on fire. Something’s hot’ ... He went back to the bakery door – we share a bakery door that goes into a cooler area — smoke was starting to come out of the wall back there, and the area was just smoke covered.”
Ison ran and told the bartender to call 911, and all customers and employees made it safely out of the building. Ison said the fire started in the bakery area, which is along the Market Street side of the structure. Ison indicated that she does not know yet what the future will hold.
“The Emmitt House was a special thing to me ... It’s just an empty, hollow feeling,” she said of her loss.
The Emmitt House reopened during the summer of 2013 under Ison’s ownership and featured a restaurant and bar. The building also housed a bakery managed by Rob Hurless and a boutique and aerobics studio run by Cindy Brushart.
Armbruster said that a number of restaurants and other businesses in town provided hot beverages for those battling the fire, and the Pike County Commissioners opened up the Pike County Courthouse as a relief station for the workers, as well. The American Red Cross also offered assistance.
Armbruster expressed his appreciation to all those who helped during the fire, including the mutual aid fire departments, the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, Waverly Police Department, Pike County EMS, Pike EMA, the Waverly Water Department, Waverly Street Department, ODOT, and others.
Piketon resident Teresa Galloway said on Tuesday that she and her family helped bring hot drinks to the personnel battling the fire after seeing the cold conditions in which they were working.
“Like many other Pike County residents, my daughter Julie Galloway, her son Connor, and I went to watch the Emmitt House tragedy,” Teresa Galloway explained. “Last night, we lost one of our oldest and dearest historical landmarks. And as the crane was brought in to demolish portions of the burning structure, my 12-year-old grandson, Connor, wanted to video it.
“When he returned to our truck, he said, ‘Ma, a fireman walked past me, and his suit is covered in ice!’ We all knew we had to do something to help. They had already been out in those horrible elements for more than three hours. We told our friend, Jennifer Pendleton, that we had to get some hot drinks for them.”
Galloway said they all went in search of donations of coffee and hot chocolate.
“It didn’t take long to find someone willing to help us,” she added.
Galloway’s group stopped at the Super Quik store in the southern end of town and explained their mission to an employee and an assistant manager. The assistant manager reportedly put in a call at midnight to his manager in Kentucky to ask if the store could help.
“Needless to say, we carried out boxes of hot coffee and hot chocolate,” Galloway said. “So on behalf of all those firefighters, rescue personnel and any others who may have tried to help and save our beloved Emmitt House, we want to say ‘thank you’ to Kelly and Mike at Super Quik. We may live in a small-town environment, but Pike County is big at heart.”
According to Armbruster, streets in the area immediately surrounding the Emmitt House (corner of U.S. Route 23 and Market Street) would be closed at least through the end of the day on Tuesday.