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Timeline of Little Nashville Opry fire news

Little Nashville Opry case timeline

April 4, 1975: The Little Nashville Opry opens and hosts Mickey Gilley as its first act. It was formerly a sawmill and a horse arena, but was converted into a concert hall by co-owners Esther and Dewayne Hamilton and three other couples.

1979: The Hamiltons buy out the other owners and the building undergoes a major renovation.

1996: Dewayne Hamilton dies. Esther Hamilton, along with partner and general manager Jim Bowyer, continues to improve the venue.

April 8, 2008: On a routine inspection for a required entertainment permit for the year, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security finds two exit lights that do not work. They were replaced that day. This was the last inspection of the building before the fire.

Sept. 19, 2009: Fire breaks out in the 28,000-square-foot, 2,000-seat concert venue. It is reported at 10:22 p.m., and the wooden building is fully engulfed when firefighters arrive five minutes later. A show by Goldwing Express had just ended at 9:30 p.m. About 70 firefighters battled the blaze until 11 a.m. the next day. The damage is estimated at $3 million.

Sept. 21, 2009: Esther Hamilton tells The Republic newspaper she is “heartbroken” about the fire and she’s not sure whether or not she will rebuild the concert hall “until I talk to my insurance people.” News outlets report that Little Nashville Enterprises owes nearly $69,000 in back taxes.

Sept. 22, 2009: The Indiana fire marshal’s office requests help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the cause of the fire.

Sept. 25, 2009: The Indiana Department of Homeland Security reports that the Opry was operating without a required $203 entertainment permit that included inspections by the fire marshal. Inspections check to see if smoke alarms are working, exits are unobstructed and for other fire safety measures.

Sept. 28, 2009: ATF investigators announce that the fire was intentionally set, but will release few other details.

Oct. 19, 2009: Little Nashville Enterprises Inc.’s insurance company, Indiana Insurance, increases the reward money for information leading to an arrest in the case to $30,000. The Indiana Department of Homeland Security had previously offered $5,000.

November 2009: Contractors with Lafary Salvage and Demolition of Martinsville tear down the charred remains of the building.

Nov. 11, 2009: The Little Nashville Express, the Friday night house band at the Opry, announces plans to play at the Brown County Playhouse for the remainder of the fall. But tickets don’t end up selling as expected, and the season ends early.

Feb. 9, 2010: Carl “Nick” LaFary files a mechanic’s lien for $134,740.50 against Little Nashville Enterprises, for failing to pay bills related to demolition.

Feb. 17, 2010: In an interview with the Brown County Democrat, Esther Hamilton disputes that the fire was the work of an arsonist. “We don’t feel like it is, from the way it happened and everything, and they do,” she says, “and that gives them a little longer time to investigate.” She tells the newspaper that many of the hundreds of thousands of dollars collected in ticket sales “burned in the Opry.” The Brown County Democrat reports that more than $72,882.88 is due in back taxes on the Opry land, along with $14,635.63 in personal property taxes and a portion of a $1.3 million mortgage on the Opry building. The Indiana attorney general’s office offers Opry ticketholders the chance to file a consumer complaint.

Feb. 17, 2010: A 22-year-old Ohio man announces plans to build a new Opry and starts conducting fundraisers.

Oct. 14, 2010: Three parcels owned by Little Nashville Enterprises go up for tax sale, for a total of $88,449.88, the total amount owed in back taxes. None of them sell.

May 2011: In a civil court case, Brown Circuit Judge Judith Stewart rules that the Little Nashville Opry’s owners are not entitled to any insurance money from Indiana Insurance because they failed to adequately maintain the sprinkler system. At the time of the fire, more than 50 percent of the sprinkler system had been removed, plugged or capped in an effort to stop constant water leaks, at Bowyer’s direction, according to court documents. Only one small portion of the system, in the attic, worked. Hamilton did not return calls seeking comment. The Ohio man who had dreamed of rebuilding the Opry did not answer requests to discuss the progress on his project.

May 26, 2011: The Brown County Democrat reports that the attorney general’s office is reviewing complaints from Opry ticketholders, who have yet to receive refunds. Twenty-eight complaints had been received thus far, averaging $150 each. Brown County Prosecutor Jim Oliver dispels rumors that the arson investigation is complete.

July 2, 2011: Fifty-two ticketholders sue Esther Hamilton, Jim Bowyer and Little Nashville Enterprises Inc. for violations of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. Hamilton refused to comment.

Nov. 2, 2011: The Indiana attorney general’s office announces a $26,500 settlement for 159 Opry ticketholders who had yet to receive refunds, with $10,000 to be allocated immediately.

Dec. 22, 2011: Jim Bowyer is arrested for stealing $776 worth of chewing tobacco from the Morgantown IGA. He gets a one-year suspended sentence and one year of probation and is banned from store property for a year.

Jan. 4, 2012: The three Little Nashville Opry parcels, which went unsold for a second straight tax sale, were placed on a list for certificate sale, scheduled for April 17. The amount of unpaid taxes now totals $114,690.62. Through the certificate sale, the parcels could be bought for half that sum.

March 6, 2012: ATF agents, Brown County sheriff’s officers and county Prosecutor Jim Oliver announce Bowyer’s arrest March 6 on a charge of Class B felony arson for the burning of the Opry.

Sources: Brown County Democrat and The Republic (Columbus) archives

Obituaries
See Full List »

Helen Watkins, 81, Columbus
  Mother of Billy Ray Watkins of Nashville

Billy Howard Webb, 81, Greenfield
  Father of Larry Webb of Nashville

David H. Ellis, 69, Morgantown
  

  • May 29
    Farmers market reopens in Bean Bean Blossom
    4 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, 11 State Road 45 at 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 29
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 29
    Nashville Technical Review Committee
    1 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • May 29
    Gospel jubilee at Redbarn
    8 p.m. RedBarn Jamboree, 71 Parkview Road off 46 East
  • May 30
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • May 30
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • May 30
    Comedy tour at the Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. BC Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren St.
  • May 31
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    10 a.m. to noon Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • June 2
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • June 2
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • June 2
    Bean Blossom Sewer Board
    6:30 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • June 2
    CSCD Building Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • June 2
    Nashville Redevelopment Commission
    4:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • June 3
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • June 3
    BC Commissioners
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • June 3
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    5:30 p.m. BC Intermediate School, 260 School House Lane
  • June 3
    BC Emergency Management Advisory Council
    8 a.m. Ambulance Base, 53 State Road 46 East
  • June 3
    Brown County SWCD
    6:30 p.m. SWCD Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • June 4
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 4
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 4
    Gospel jam & sing first Thursday in Gnaw Bone
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 4
    Rotary Club
    7:15 a.m. Artist Colony Inn, 105 S. Van Buren St.
  • June 4
    CSCD Ecology Commission
    7 p.m. CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • June 4
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    6:30 p.m. BC Intermediate School, 260 School House Lane
  • June 5
    Strawberry fest during farmers market
    4 to 7 p.m. St. David's Episcopal Church, 11 State Road 45 at 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 5
    Bingo
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 5
    Gospel jubilee at Redbarn
    8 p.m. RedBarn Jamboree, 71 Parkview Road, off 46 East
  • June 6
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • June 6
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • June 6
    Shrine parade celebrates summer
    11 a.m. downtown Nashville
  • June 6
    Kids VBS day set for Methodist church
    10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nashville United Methodist Church, 36 S. Jefferson St.
  • June 6
    Van Buren School reunion slated
    5 p.m. Van Buren Elementary School, 4045 State Road 135 South
  • June 6
    Live band at dance barn
    6;30 p.m., 8 to 11 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • June 7
    Hog roast at church slated
    Following a.m. services BC Community Church, 2370 Main St., Helmsburg
  • June 7
    Read to dogs at the library
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 7
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    10 a.m. to noon Brown County State Park, State Road 46 East
  • June 8
    BETA Can-do Camp dates set
    1 to 5:30 p.m. BETA center, behind Miller's Ice Cream
  • June 8
    VBS starts at Parkview church
    6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Parkview Church of the Nazarene, 1750 State Road 46 East
  • June 8
    Beeline beekeepers club
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 9
    Euchre
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • June 9
    Nashville Parking & Public Facilities
    6 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • June 9
    CSCD Roads, Security commissions
    6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. CSCD Office, 8377 Cordry Drive; CSLOA Clubhouse, 8751 Nineveh Road
  • June 9
    Open 12-step meeting in New Bellsville area
    8 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • June 9
    Retired teachers to meet at new history center
    noon Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • June 9
    Peaceful Valley Heritage meeting
    6:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 10
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • June 10
    CRC Steering Committee
    6:30 p.m. CRC, 246 E. Main St.
  • June 11
    Go Club at the library Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 11
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 11
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 12
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • June 12
    BC photography club
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 13
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • June 13
    Open house conducted at New Song
    9 to 11 a.m. New Song Mission, 7202 Keith Donaldson Road, Freetown
  • June 13
    Homemakers garage sale at the fairgrounds
    8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Exhibit building, Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • June 15
    Essential oil class at tea shop
    6 p.m. Sweetea's Tea Shop, 225 S. Van Buren St., Suite C, Coachlight Square
  • June 17
    Hamblen Fire District
    7 p.m. Hamblen Fire Station, 4650 Sweetwater Trail, Gatesville
  • June 17
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • June 18
    WRAPS
    7 to 9 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 18
    Gospel jam & sing at Gnaw Bone church
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Church, 5181 State Road 46 East
  • June 18
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • June 20
    Rock & mineral club
    6 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • June 20
    Pollinator Awareness Day at state park Nature Center
    9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County State Park, 1450 State Road 46 East (north entrance)
  • June 20
    Relay for Life walk set
    7 a.m.to 11 p.m. BCHS track, Main/Old State Road 46, at south end of Greasy Creek Road
  • June 23
    Art class set for fourth Saturday at winery
    3 to 5 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, Coachlight Square, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • June 27
    Pioneer women porch sale at history center
    8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Brown County History Center, 90 E. Gould
  • July 11
    Health fair at the YMCA
    8 a.m. to noon YMCA, 105 Willow St.
  • July 13
    Backpack Program meeting slated
    7 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane