The history of fires in Athens is extensive. With the current happenings on the
rooftop of the RTV building that is still being investigated as arson, it is clear that
fires have traced there way through the history of Athens. Here is your chance to go
back through time and visit a few other fires that have carved a space in the history
of a town many of us call home.
The first fire we are visiting occurred in February of 1912 when the Cline Building
caught fire despite an outside temperature of 8 degrees below zero. At the time, the
building housed a drug store with Athens’ first high class soda fountain, a dance hall
known as the Athenian Club and even a factory in the back that made Cline’s famous
ice cream. Despite the cold, the fire destroyed the entire inside of the building but
was contained and did not spread to any neighboring buildings. Once the blaze
idled, all that remained was the outer walls, which were covered in ice. The inside
was rebuilt and remained in business until 1964.
Sixteen years later the Berry Hotel, owned by Edward Cornelius Berry, caught fire.
The hotel, known as one of the first to have Bibles placed in its rooms, survived the
fire and stayed in business until 1923. It later was transformed into Berry Hall, a
dormitory that housed students until it was demolished in 1974. Court Street Diner
currently resides in its place.
The final fire we will visit from the 1900’s took place in 1984 when a fire destroyed
the entire block of South Court Street including the Moore-Russell Building and the
Phoenix. All that was left was badly damaged walls, but both buildings were rebuilt
and became businesses that house apartments up top.
More expansive in our recollection are the fires of the 21 st century, starting with
the 2010 Halloween block party. On the night of festivities as sparks lit in the eyes
of many students at Ohio University, a different kind of spark ignited in the Athena
Movie Theatre. It turns out this wasn’t the only fire the theatre had experienced. In
fact, a much more devastating fire did significant damage to the building in 1988
when the popcorn machine caught fire. The building has been well restored and
continues to show fun unique films.
The final, and debatably most devastating fire we will visit is the one that occurred
during the 2012 Palmer Fest. Recent Palmer Festivals, which have seen their fair
share of couches and chairs ablaze, were somewhat notorious for fires. The 2012
fest took that to a higher level when a cigarette was thrown in the basement of a
house causing it to ignite. Nobody was injured but police, uniformed in riot gear,
quickly moved to clear the streets, subjecting anyone who remained outside to be
We now know what fires have contributed to the history of this college town but
what will the fires that spark destruction in our present lives relay to the future
residents of Athens Ohio?
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