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By VINCE LUECKE
TELL CITY – A building that towered over Tell City’s downtown for more than a century was gutted early Monday by a fire that left its future as uncertain as its blackened brick walls.
Capers restaurant, located at Main and Mozart streets, was destroyed by the blaze, which was fought for about six hours by firefighters from four departments. No one was injured but the three-story building, constructed in 1894 by the city’s Odd Fellows lodge and for many years a mens clothing store, was gutted. The restaurant in the lower level saw the worst damage.
The fire was reported at 1:31 a.m. by a night watchman for Mulzer Crushed Stone, who stopped by the police station across the street from Capers to report smoke coming from the building.
Heat from the fire later erupted through the roof and much of its rubber surface burned.
Tell City Fire Chief Greg Linne said a determination of the fire’s cause had yet to be made but speculated the fire simmered for some time before it was noticed.
He said investigators hoped to enter the basement Thursday. While not certain, he said the basement is a possible point of origin.
Firefighters worked to contain the blaze and fought the fire in the restaurant’s basement before they were ordered out. It filled with water while the fire was being fought.
Along with firefighters from Tell City, members of Cannelton’s and Anderson Township’s fire departments responded with personnel and equipment.
Tell City’s two ladder trucks delivered water through windows and on the roof and Carter Fire District responded from Dale with its ladder truck.
Firefighters successfully worked to prevent the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings in the 700 block of Main Street.
The intersection of Main and Mozart streets remained closed as a safety precaution Wednesday as the building’s owner, Chris Watts, and city officials awaited news about the integrity of the building’s tall exterior.
Reached Wednesday, Tell City Mayor Barbara Ewing said she was awaiting details before deciding to reopen the intersection. She predicted the closure would last “at least a couple more days.”
Linne said the first floor was heavily damaged, with portions of the floor collapsing into the basement. However, he said the second and third floors were more or less intact.
The upper floors were used for storage. The third floor was formerly used by the lodge for meetings.
Watts issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, thanking firefighters for their work and for the outpouring of public goodwill and encouragement since the fire.
“We express deeply heartfelt gratitude to our community for the love and compassionate support communicated to the Capers family during this difficult time,” Watts said. “Many years ago our family committed to establish a restaurant which embraced the spirit of fun-loving fellowship and hospitality in our beloved small-town community. We have received many expressions of encouragement, strength and goodwill. These have included stories and loving memories from individuals and families from everywhere in the country about ways in which Capers and our team members have touched and enriched their lives within a broader community.”
Watts, who started Pony Express Pizza three decades ago, opened the doors to Capers in August 1993. He said it was too early to speculate on the future of the building.
Watts said he greatly appreciated the work of firefighters and first responders.
“We also sincerely appreciate the services of all community service providers and Mayor Barbara Ewing. Our emergency and first responders risked their lives during this tragic fire event, just as they always have whenever called upon by those in need. The brave action of members from the Tell City, Cannelton, Anderson Township and Carter Fire District fire departments truly illustrates the courage and dedication of these public servants,” Watts said.
Odd Fellows members dedicated the building in 1894 and it remained one of the city’s most recognizable structures over the decades.