Historic Waverly Restaurant Damaged By Fire

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A building that stood more than a century and a half came down Tuesday, destroyed by fire the night before.

The historic Emmitt House covered half a city block in the Pike County community of Waverly.

10TV spoke with community members about what they lost.
Emmitt House was a landmark for anyone traveling along US 23 in Pike County.

"To me this was just the centerpiece of Waverly,” said lifelong Pike County resident Shelly Smith. “It was something you couldn't drive through town without looking at."

Tuesday that landmark looked like a scene from the North Pole, encased in a thick layer of ice.

Monday night, before the ice, came the fire.

"You could actually see it burning 4 to 5 miles away,” said Smith.

"Immediately we had a wall collapse," said Chief Randy Armbruster with the Waverly Fire Department. He was among the 60 firefighters battling the flames.

Sub-zero conditions turned their water to ice and snow, an eight hour ordeal that left firefighters themselves covered in ice.

It was no ordinary fire, in what was no ordinary building.

Among Emmitt House’s ties to history, the chief carpenter who helped build it was Madison Hemmings, believed by historians to be the son of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemmings.

Local historian Jim Henry can't bear to see the building in ruins.

"It just tears at me,” he said.

But possibly no one feels the loss more than owner Pam Ison.

She worries for her 40 restaurant employees, and the small business owners who invested to re-open this building last August.

"We were all working together to make this building a go."

Tuesday evening demolition crews moved in to finish what the fire started.

"It's just all gone,” said Ison. “Everything's gone. Everything I had, was in that building."

Tuesday the Pike County Chamber of Commerce released this statement:

           "Our community is devastated by the loss of our historic Emmitt House. This structure contained our county's foundation and history within its walls.  We were thrilled when Pamela Ison reopened the restaurant and added the additional shops this past year. For a community that has been hard-hit by unemployment and the economic downturn, it was a tremendous boon to our community pride and economic development.”

Four businesses were in the Emmitt House building, all destroyed.

A neighboring building also suffered heavy damage.

The estimated loss is between $1.5 - 2 million.

The State Fire Marshal is still trying to determine the cause.

Anyone who was in the area or has photos from just before the fire is asked to call 800-589-2728.