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Friday, May 6, 2016

Hotel building, and its history, come down

Friday, July 27, 2012

The old hotel building was peeled apart one layer at a time on Wednesday, kicking up dust and filling 13 dumpsters.
As the dust kicked up through the dry air on Wednesday, the residents of Russellville could taste a century's worth of history.

The old hotel building (quizzically named as it was never much of a hotel) -- decaying, abandoned and filled with trash -- was torn to the ground by a backhoe.

The rubble was ripped apart, then meticulously stuffed into 13 large dumpsters by Duane Boller of Boller Excavating.

"I'll be glad to see it gone," neighbor Sandra Goss said.

Goss moved into the house next door to the property last winter, but her extended family has lived in or near the building for years.

The old hotel had been an apartment building during its second act.

From 1963 until sometime in the middle 1990s when it was abandoned, the four-unit building was home to many young and growing families.

A fire in 1978 ruined one of the apartments, but it was renovated and combined with another. That unit became the home for Lisa Curtis and her new husband, Todd, in 1987.

Because of the nearby house, a second machine was positioned to hold the building in place and make sure it fell in the proper direction.
"When I was there it was a home to everyone," Curtis said. "We took care of each other."

The couple rented the place for about eight years.

They paid $115 each month for the right to live there and it became the place Curtis remembers when she wants to smile about her youth.

"It was in a lot better shape then, but the floors weren't level," she said. "I've even had dreams sometimes that I've moved back in there."

Bonnie Ford, Curtis' mother, grew up in Russellville then moved back to town in 1980.

"At certain times when they were knocking it down I was seeing tears in her eyes," Ford said of Curtis. "The floors were slanted but that didn't keep them from liking it."

Building it up

The town of Russellville was once centered a little north of where it is now.

When the train track was built on the south side of town, commerce began to shift in that direction to accommodate.

The railroad helped to -- if not grow -- sustain the town.

It might not have been thriving, but Russellville had what anyone in town would need: a doctor's office, a hardware story, a grocery store and a blacksmith.

It also had a building full of sleeping rooms only a few blocks north of the railroad depot.

At the time, legend has it, traveling salesmen would hop off the train in Russellville, get their day's work done, then hop back on a train heading in the opposite direction at night.

This was in the pre-war days when not everyone had an automobile.

It wasn't the door-to-door salesmen that made this common, although there were surely some of them, too.

Men came to Russellville to take inventory for the grocery and the hardware and the other shops in town, seeing what needed to be replenished and introducing new products.

Most of the time, as was the plan, they got back on the train that night.

When they couldn't, they found a place to stay.

The salesmen rented a sleeping room, crashed for the night, then hopped on a train the next morning.

The old hotel was built to house a handful of these travelers, and it served that purpose for many years.

Then everyone started owning a car, and phones started to work better, and this practice began to die down.

There are rumors in town that the old hotel was also once a girls dormitory, but that was never the case.

The building was converted to apartments: three on the main floor, one upstairs, and then one extra sleeping room just in case.

Five units in all.

Apartments sustained the building for a few decades, but by the mid '90s that spout ran dry.

After a few ownership changes occurred, the building started to deteriorate and it was abandoned.

Walls rotted and the doors and windows were boarded shut. Even those began to bend and decay in the last few years.

The town council saw this old building for what it was and began the process of tearing it down.

It was 2002.

Tearing it down

The initial effort got the ball rolling, but was, of course, never finished.

As personnel changed and elected officials switched positions, priorities shifted away from cleaning up the vacant property, so there it sat.

Before it got tabled, samples were taken from the building, then tested for asbestos by the state. It was determined to be free of hazardous material and the state archived the report.

Then the report disappeared.

A decade passed and the destruction took precedent again earlier this year.

DeVon Davis, Russellville's clerk-treasurer, made tearing down the old hotel building a priority when she took office in January.

"That is one thing I told people I would do (while campaigning)," Davis said. "So now, if I accomplish nothing else, I can say I did that."

In February, the Russellville town council made the decision to try to buy the property.

This seemed like an easier, cheaper and faster move than trying to put a lien on the building and battling out the inevitable destruction in court.

But in order to buy something, you have to first find the owner, and he was nowhere to be found.

Jason Hartman, a realtor from Bainbridge, helped the town out.

He had the owner's last known address but no contact information and the man had long-since moved away. To Louisiana, it turned out.

Hartman searched through online archives of the local newspaper in eastern Indiana, where he found the owner's name in an obituary for his wife's family member.

An Internet search for the wife turned up a result in Louisiana.

She had run an ad asking people to help her find her missing dog. It had a phone number.

From there the town was able to get in contact with the property owner and, in early May, buy the old hotel.

They had planned to tear it down as soon as the purchase agreement went through. They set a date, May 19, and things were going according to plan.

Then Heritage Landfill asked for a content report for the building. They wanted to be sure it was safe to bury.

They wanted the results of the test the state had done 10 years earlier. But the report was gone.

Davis worked for months trying to get the report found, or have another one done, but came up empty.

A couple weeks ago a new ray of light shined through. Davis was searching the Internet for a company to do the test when she found a statute that would allow the building to come down without a content report.

Residential structures (which the old hotel became in 1963) with four or fewer units (which happened as a result of the fire and remodeling) were exempt from the content report requirement.

Davis checked with the state, then with the county and they reassured her that the statute applied.

The building was finally coming down.

What's next

There were some initial fears, as there would be with any changes to a small town, but most people seem in favor of it.

The building looked like it was in danger of collapsing at any time and there was talk that it was filled with critters.

As the walls started coming down, nothing ran out.

From a personal standpoint, not everyone was happy to see it go, most would concede it has improved the town.

"There are people that had lived there for 20, 30 years and they don't see it as it is, they see it as their childhood home," Davis said. "It's hard to see your childhood home destroyed."

When the rubble is cleared, the property will be filled with dirt and grass.

The future of the property is uncertain. After spending more than $10,000 to buy the property, tear it down and remove the remains, town officials are hoping to make something positive from it.

"I don't know what they will do with it," Davis said. "I do know that it will be maintained and kept nice looking until they decide."

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