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By DONALD STEEN
TELL CITY – A fire at the historic Capers restaurant continues to weigh heavily on the residents and officials of Tell City and would seem to have marked the end of the restaurant’s long history.
While Main Street reopened for a time, a section of Mozart Street near the three-story building remains closed as investigators and structural engineers seek to determine the cause of the fire and assess the stability of the structure. In the course of stabilization efforts on Tuesday, the wall facing Mozart collapsed, prompting another closure of Main Street for safety reasons.
First reported by a night watchman for Mulzer Crushed Stone at 1:31 a.m. Oct. 14, the fire spread throughout the structure and reached the roof. While the second and third floors emerged relatively intact, Tell City Fire Chief Gregg Linne reported the first floor sustained heavy damage, with parts of the floor collapsing into the basement below.
Linne reported that upon his last review, about a foot and a half of water remained in the basement of the building, which had been heavily flooded in the course of the early morning struggle to contain the blaze. Investigators and structural engineers arrived Tuesday to begin the task of ascertaining the cause of the fire and determining the long-term fate of the ravaged landmark.
While the building’s rich history has earned it a considerable level of goodwill, the unfortunate development Tuesday strains any hope of saving the structure.
Tell City Mayor Barbara Ewing said many factors would be taken under advisement during the final determination of the building’s future, not the least of which is the building’s significant historical importance.
Originally constructed by the Tell City Order of Odd Fellows in 1894 to serve as their meeting lodge, the structure has since served many roles and served as a fixture for Tell City’s citizens and skyline. It stands proudly on the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places, demonstrating the cultural and historical value the federal government believes the restaurant represents.
However, the collapse of a wall during stabilization makes a demolition a far more likely outcome considering the apparent weakness of the building.
Ewing had much praise for those dealing with the tragedy. She reported the owners of the building have been “excellent in communicating and cooperating with the city.” She also commended the efforts of all of the fire departments involved in battling the blaze. Fire departments from Tell City, Cannelton and Anderson and Carter Townships all came together to respond to the fire. “We had an excellent response from all our firefighters,” she said.
In other business, the Tell City Board of Public Works raised concerns about a Tell City High School Zombie Run planned to take place after dark Saturday. Board member Gerald Yackle pointed out that visibility would have been hampered not only by the fading light of dusk, but costumes and masks that attendees would wear.
Tell City Police Chief Gregg Hendershot concurred, calling the situation a “potential disaster waiting to happen.” The board required the students to move their time forward from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m. and provide adult volunteers to assist police with security.
According to Ewing, the student organizers have accepted the terms and the event is set to go ahead.
A letter from a concerned resident was sent to the board requesting a stop sign be placed on a section of 12th Street between Winkelreid and Watts streets, citing high-speed traffic along that route. Tell City Street Department Superintendent Jeff Everly said the stretch of road does see some fast traffic. “They can come through pretty fast,” he said. The board agreed to have Hendershot study the area.
The board approved a bid of $1,348 from K and K Dirtworks of Evanston to remove three trees and stumps from Greenwood cemetery. The bid was the lowest of three presented. Ewing remarked that these are “very large trees in difficult areas” and concerns have been raised about the potential for damage to monuments should they be hit by falling limbs.
Tell City Water Department Superintendent Dale Poole offered a report to the Tell City Water Board on the state of the city’s water infrastructure.
He reported no major issues were evident in the city’s groundwater wells. While some pump issues that may need attention long-term, he believes the wells are in good condition and said he has “no worries for this year.”