Discussing the structural weakness of the 1870 addition to the Hale Springs Inn, building inspector Steve Nelson talks Thursday with concerned community members working and living near the inn. Erica Yoon photo.
ROGERSVILLE — A structural engineer hired by the city of Rogersville to assess the Hale Springs Inn rear wall collapse has recommended demolition of the entire 1870 addition because it is “not economically feasible” to repair or rebuild.
Several more voices will have to be heard on the subject before a final decision is made on the fate of the inn’s rear section, however.
The main section of the Hale Springs Inn was constructed in downtown Rogersville in 1824. The section where the wall fell around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday was a three-story addition at the rear of the inn, which was constructed in 1870.
The rear wall of the addition was four bricks thick, and although there had been cracks in the mortar for years, no one anticipated a complete collapse.
Rogersville building inspector Steve Nelson is also a member of the Rogersville Heritage Association, which owns the inn, and he serves as liaison between the city and the RHA on the current renovation project. Nelson said Thursday that the 1870 addition needs to come down as soon as possible for safety reasons and to keep the overall renovation project moving forward.
“The engineer’s recommendation is going to be demolition, and in light of that the architect is meeting with the Tennessee Historical Commission today in Nashville to see if they will approve that or not,” Nelson said Thursday. “If the state approves it, we’ll have an emergency meeting of the (Rogersville) Heritage Association to see what the board wants to do. Then we’ll check with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, and then we’ve got to touch base with the First Tennessee Development District to make sure we’re meeting all of our requirements.
“Assuming everyone is in agreement, we’ll demolish the building. It needs to happen soon because it’s not safe.”
Work on the Hale Springs Inn renovation project began on Jan. 3 and had mainly been focused in the original 1824 section, which fronts Main Street. The only plans for the rear addition were to locate the new kitchen on the ground floor, and probably utilize the second and third stories as conference rooms and office space.
Following the completion of the renovation, the plan is to reopen the inn as a restaurant and hotel, which is intended to revitalize downtown Rogersville. Mayor Jim Sells said Thursday the loss of the 1870 addition won’t change that plan.
The inn’s dining room and nine suites are all in the 1824 section of the inn, which is still structurally sound. That’s the section that hosted three presidents — Andrew Jackson, James Polk and Andrew Johnson.
For years the rear addition has been used for little more than storage space.
“This is a setback, and we’ll have to adjust our plans a little bit, but we’re still moving forward with the project,” Sells said Thursday. “We’re glad that no one got hurt, and we’re concerned about the safety of the (1870 addition) structure right now. If we have to lose it, that’s a shame, but it’s not going to tarnish our plans.”
Nelson said he and contractors were aware of weaknesses within the wall, and plans were in place to strengthen it as part of the current renovation.
No one realized it was on the verge of collapse, however. Neighbors in an apartment building next door said a low-flying helicopter passed overhead around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, rattling dishes in their cabinets just as the wall collapsed.
Nelson acknowledges that if the helicopter vibration caused the wall to fall, it couldn’t have been very sturdy beforehand.
“That wall was four different layers of brick thick, and the last two layers on the outside were breaking lose of the interior two, and it was bowing out,” Nelson said. “The wall had a belly in it sticking out a good two and a half — three inches, and it was starting to crack at the corner. When we put a new floor in as part of this renovation, we were going to try to pull it back into place and tie it into the floor system to stabilize it, but it fell before we could put that plan into effect.
“We knew it was bad, but we didn’t think it would fall anytime soon.”
Nelson said there’s already a plan in place to bring down the 1870 addition. All he and the contractors need is permission.
He doesn’t even want to consider the time and cost involved in replacing the wall.
“With the way way that corner broke off, it would be hard to get the bricks to tie the end-wall into the long-wall to actually hold it,” Nelson said. “The engineer said, ‘You give me enough money I can fix anything, but I don’t think it’s economically feasible to fix this.’”