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Autopsy Report: the Rabbit Hash General Store, by Don Clare

Posted by on March 18, 2016

Autopsy Report: the Rabbit Hash General Store

On Februrary 13th, 2016, the Rabbit Hash General Store caught fire around 9:00 PM on one of the

coldest nights of the 2016 winter season. Five different Boone County local Fire Departments responded

to the call and fought the fire throughout that intensely cold night, well up into the early morning hours

of February 14th, Valentine’s Day. But all the hearts in the Rabbit Hash area were already

broken…..beyond repair.

This particular Valentine’s Day was a day of grief and mourning, not one of celebration and happiness.

An American icon was taken from us. Not by flood waters, not by ice, not by wind. But by the most

dreaded villain of all…..fire. The same fire that kept us all warm and cozy for the past 185 years and

more.

Oh, God! Please don’t let it have been the Rabbit Hash Iron Works stove. Not to worry! That product

was still totally intact and working as expected two days later. No, it was an elderly Coca Cola cooler in

the riverside back bay that caused this horrible and devastating conflagration. Coca Cola cooler! How

ironic! Featured on the General Store’s façade since 1931, extolling the virtues of this now benign thirst

quencher and very popular soft drink, that happy looking figure named ‘Sprite’ just didn’t seem to have

a bad bone in him. But something went awry. Water over the dam, now, so to speak!

As the Rabbit Hash Historical Society is currently working with multiple National, state-wide, regional,

and local agencies to re-establish the historical iconic National Register structure, the centerpiece of the

Nation Register Rabbit Hash, Kentucky District, progress is taking time. Many issues need to be resolved

and worked out in order to complete this renovation of the Rabbit Hash General Store. There are very

stringent steps in the Department of Interior’s Standards of Historic Renovation to be taken, and we are

taking them slowly and accurately.

“Good Things Take a Little Time….A Little Bit of Yours and a Little Bit of Mine.” This is a song that was

written by a former proprietor of the Rabbit Hash General Store, Danny Wilson, and it explains the

current process of renovation best. Folks, it is going to take TIME, RESOURCES, and FINANCIAL

SUPPORT!

Social media and the internet are major sources of our information now-a-days. But some social media

information is errant and untrue. Be informed, and listen to the facts. The General Store was indeed

insured against fire damage to the fullest amount it could get. That was $60,000. The building was

considered by the insurers as being nothing more than a hay barn or tobacco barn (both being most

vulnerable to fires) and this was the most we could get. Back in the 1980s, we were only allowed

$25,000. But each year we exercised the option to increase its value incrementally up to this current

value. Same for contents. So, we are only going to realize a total of $85,000 from our insurance. The

maximum we could get. Move on!

It is estimated that to replace the Rabbit Hash General Store to its former look and historic style in order

to remain on the National Register of Historic Places is somewhere in the range of $275,000 to $350,

000 (possibly more!) This is including as much of the original fabric and materials that we are now

tenaciously dismembering, cleaning, and storing for re-use. Thanks to local area farmers and land

owners, we have the appropriate facilities for safe and conservative storage. And thanks to numerous

local and regional property owners, we are able to salvage and re-use exact period materials and

artifacts to reproduce the very essence of the General Store make-up and construction.

We are so very fortunate to have such tremendous champions and supporters to have these various

fundraising events for this vision of renovation that it is hard to express the love and support coming

from every angle and area of this regional community. But we do acknowledge and embrace every

effort put forth toward this ultimate goal!

The autopsy showed death by conflagration! It was determined by several expert fire investigators that

the cause of the fire was an elderly Coca Cola cooler which had recently been serviced several weeks

prior for a faulty light switch. It was NOT due to the wood stove. In the town of Rabbit Hash, we take a

lot of stock in the Rabbit Hash Iron Works stove which heats every building in town. So, you can dismiss

this as a cause of the fire, despite several news agencies’ assumptions on the night of the fire.

This autopsy also confirms that the central portion of the General Store was most probably built from

the members of an Ohio River watercraft, either some sort of barge, raft or flat boat that was

dismantled at the site and used for the construction of the central bay of the General Store. It was

basically a balloon framed structure which consisted of four joined sill logs, with four corner mortised

upright beams on each corner, with mortise and tenon plate logs along the upper periphery. Then, two

inch wide vertical boards were attached to the upper plate log and the lower sill logs to complete the

balloon structure. There was NO other vertical framing.

On these vertical boards on the left side of the central bay, it was discovered that a sign of some sort

was painted along about twelve of these upright boards. The letters were large, maybe five or six inches

tall, painted white and then outlined in red. It was extremely difficult to make out what the sign said,

but the first word appeared to be ‘Bayou’ and farther along was ‘La’ which was fairly clear to read Was it

referring to Louisiana? That remains to be seen. Photographs were taken and hopefully can be computer

enhanced to help solve this puzzle.

These upright two inch thick boards were all clear white pine, a species believed not to be in abundance

in our area and probably imported from somewhere in the south. Clear white pine was a very workable

and durable wood type and was preferred in the building and finishing of fine early homes. Today, it is

prohibitively expensive and hard to come by. There were at least two known homes in this area that

were constructed of clear white pine. Conceivably, this wood arrived in the area by boat and then the

boat was dismantled and used to construct the central bay portion of the General Store.

All throughout these huge wide boards (several were 23 inches wide) were found holes for pegs which

was probably the method of construction for the boat. In the building, these thick, wide boards were

attached at the top and bottoms to the sill and plate logs by seven inch long, blacksmith made, hand

forged iron spikes with the rose head pattern at the top. The numerous peg holes all throughout these

boards were all plugged up with a broken off corn cob in order to minimize air and water leaking into

the building. Early insulation? Pretty ingenious, actually. They used whatever was available to them in

those early days of Rabbit Hash history.

The two attached sheds were added shortly after the original pen was completed, again using thick

vertical boards as the sides and various other used and reconditioned lumber for the rest of the

structures. Each shed was slightly below the level of the main floor, which accounted for that signature

‘dip’ one encountered when going from room to room.

The tongue and groove flooring ran in the direction of road to creek in the main section and in the left

(bridge side) shed. In the river side shed it ran perpendicular to that (towards the river). All throughout

the building, patch upon patch, and repair upon repair were observed, each one as innovative and

eclectic as the other. Pieces of tin advertising signs covered mouse holes and holes in the floor.

Whatever used wood pieces were available at the time were used to make repairs when needed. Having

been through at least as many as a dozen or more major flood and high water events in its life, recurrent

repairs were rather commonplace and it is not surprising that used materials were put to good use. The

old timers just used what they had and conserved on everything in their daily lives. The only new

material used in repairs was that used in the past thirty seven years since Louie Scott or the Rabbit Hash

Historical Society had owned the building. But the flames spared nothing, new or old!

Probably one of the most asked questions is “Why are you saving that old burned up ___ (wood)? In

order to maintain the Rabbit Hash General Store’s National Register status and in keeping with the

Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving,

Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings, we are required to re-use as much of the

original material and fabric as we possibly can in carrying out this restoration. That which cannot be re-

used must be replaced by ‘like’ material, using ‘like’ craftsmanship, tools and procedures. Now it’s

beginning to make a little more sense in understanding the estimated inflated cost of renovation, isn’t

it? Why not just build a contemporary building? Because that’s not what Rabbit Hash is all about! We

care for our past; we embrace our history and heritage; we are passionate about the iconic centerpiece

of our town, the very Center of the Universe!

We’re not out to “fool’ people into thinking that the renovated General Store is the original one. We are

merely determined to fix what was taken from us by fire. When all was said and done, we had the

foundation system, floors, and three standing walls remaining…..more than enough to work with in

order to keep this historic building on the National Register of Historic Places. The history of Rabbit

Hash, Kentucky will continue as it always has. Only now, we will refer to ‘before the fire’ or ‘after the

fire’ instead of ‘before the flood’ or ‘after the flood’.

Stay tuned for further updates as they become available.

-Don Clare, President of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society

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