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Video report - Rear wall of Rogersville's historic Hale Springs Inn collapses

Jeff Bobo • Feb 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Some might say the Hale Springs Inn renovation project is cursed, but the collapse of the rear wall of the newer addition to the building early Wednesday morning might actually be a blessing in disguise.

The main section of the inn was constructed in 1824, and in 1870 a three-story addition was completed at the rear of the building. When work commenced on the inn renovation project last month, the main focus was on the original section, and the addition hadn’t really been touched except to remove the porch and some other minor demolition.

That’s why everyone involved in the project was stunned when the rear wall fell at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

A neighbor in the apartment building next door told officials that a low-flying helicopter passed overhead, causing dishes in her cabinets to rattle, and at that moment the rear wall of the 1870 addition collapsed.

Officials found out later that a Lifestar air rescue helicopter was inbound to Hawkins County Memorial Hospital at that time to pick up a patient.

Rogersville Building Inspector Steve Nelson met a structural engineer at the site Wednesday night along with several contractors, who are waiting to find out what their next move will be.

Nelson told the Times-News afterward that the engineer will present his findings to the project architect this morning to determine if the 1870 addition can be saved or should be razed.

The general consensus of those who met with the engineer Wednesday evening, including Nelson and lead contractor Glen Courtney, is that the addition is too far gone to save. The remaining walls of the addition swayed in the wind much of the day, and those who witnessed it said it’s not a matter of if the rest of the addition will fall, but when it will fall.

“As long as the wind isn’t blowing, I’m not too worried about it,” Courtney said. “If we get strong winds, I wouldn’t want to be standing in it.”

If the engineer and architect determine that the addition can’t be saved, Nelson said he will contact the Tennessee Historical Preservation Commission about holding an emergency meeting to give permission to raze the structure as soon as possible.

Courtney noted that time is of the essence in getting a final decision because if the structure is to be razed some new plans must be arranged. The addition was going to be used mainly for conference rooms, but the first floor of the structure was to be the new location of the kitchen.

Wednesday’s collapse was just another in a long line of setbacks that have plagued the Hale Springs Inn renovation project since it was conceived in 2003. That’s the year the Rogersville Heritage Association purchased the historic inn with hopes of reopening the restaurant and hotel, which is expected to revitalize Rogersville’s historic downtown area.

Two years ago, the city took over administration of grant funds for the renovation and is partnering with the RHA on the project.

Until now the setbacks have involved delays in getting plans completed and approved by the state, and then finding a contractor who could meet the city’s budget.

RHA President Dr. Eddie Abernathy also visited the site Wednesday night anxious to hear the engineer’s final report. Although the collapse is another dark cloud on the project, Abernathy was quick to find the silver lining.

“This might be a good thing because I’d hate to have had that new kitchen installed and then the wall fall down,” Abernathy said. “And thank God it happened at night when no one was standing there or we could be dealing with a real tragedy. If we find out we can’t save that structure we’ve got to find a new place for the kitchen, but we can take it back to the original design and it still might work out OK for us.

“We’ve run into so many pitfalls on the project so far, we’re kind of used to it. This is just one more, but we’re going to keep moving forward.”

Abernathy joked that if worse comes to worst, they can sell souvenir Hale Springs Inn bricks.

An insurance adjuster from Nationwide was on site Wednesday night as well, but there was no decision yet on what — if any — claim can be made from the collapse. The insurance adjuster did, however, put up all the occupants of the next-door apartment building in a hotel just in case the side walls fall onto the neighboring building.

Nelson noted that the 1870 addition was not constructed nearly as well as the original 1824 building.

“The original structure is a perfect example of federal architecture,” Nelson said. “The 1870 wing wasn’t built well, the design wasn’t right, and it never went with the original building at all. When the previous owner Carl Netherland-Brown renovated it in 1982, he and I sat in the front room in front of the fireplace many a night discussing whether the addition should come off of it so we could restore the main part back to its original beauty because it’s just an awesome piece of work.

“Either way this is going to be a major financial setback. The insurance company has looked at it, and I don’t know what they’re going to say. It’s definitely a huge setback because demolition was almost done and we were ready to move forward, and now we’ve got this.”

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