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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

  • January 27
    Widowed group euchre party
    1 p.m. Sycamore Valley Community Center, 746 Memorial Drive
  • January 27
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • January 27
    Open 12-step meetings in New Bellsville area
    6 to 7 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • January 27
    BC Election Board
    2 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • January 27
    BC Area Plan Commission
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • January 28
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • January 28
    BC Sheriff's Merit Board
    4 p.m. Law Enforcement Center, 55 State Road 46 East
  • January 28
    BC Board of Zoning Appeals
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • January 29
    Go Club at the library Thursdays
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • January 30
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • January 31
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • January 31
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • February 2
    Gnaw Bone Sewage District
    5:30 p.m. Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • February 3
    6 p.m. Sycamore Valley Center, 746 Memorial Drive (fairgrounds)
  • February 3
    Bean Blossom Regional Sewer Board
    7:30 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • February 4
    Lake Lemon Conservancy District annual meeting
    6 p.m. Benton Township Senior Center, 7616 E. State Road 45, Unionville
  • February 4
    Jeff Foster at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • February 4
    Van Buren Township Advisory Board
    7 p.m. Van Buren trustee's office, 4748 Christianburg Road
  • February 5
    Jackson Township Board
    6 p.m. Jackson Fire Station, 4831 Helmsburg Road
  • February 6
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • February 9
    Washington Township Trustees
    7 p.m. Parkview Church of the Nazarene, 1750 State Road 46 East
  • February 12
    BC Convention & Visitors Commission
    8:30 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • February 13
    5 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North.
  • February 14
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • February 17
    Hamblen Trustee Board annual review
    6:30 p.m. 2314 Hickory Ridge Lane off Hornettown Road