A 190-year old home located in the 5100 block of West State Road 250 in Lancaster Township was destroyed by fire Monday afternoon.
“It was a total loss,” said Dupont Fire Chief George Canfield, who said no one was home when the fire began and the blaze was reported at 4:04 p.m. by a “passerby who saw smoke coming out of the house.”
The house, owned by Jim Hammond, had been in the Hammond family for decades. The house was purchased in 1941 by his grandparents, Pete and Mary Hammond from John Dale and Ida Marie Horton. In 1978, Jim’s parents, Curtis and Shirley Hammond took over ownership, and it became Jim’s house after Shirley died in 2016.
Firefighters from Dupont and Madison Township fire departments responded but the fire proved difficult to get a handle on.
“It’s one the toughest in a few years that we have had to fight,” said Madison Township Fire Department Chief Robert Black.
Canfield said firefighters were at the scene until 8 p.m. Monday working to put the blaze out and were then called back out at 2:30 a.m. for hot spots when it rekindled, and later at 7:15 a.m. when the fire tried to rekindle again.
Black attributed the difficulty in extinguishing the blaze to the nature of the house. It’s and older home, built in 1830, that has been updated and remodeled over the years and the layers of new drywall and old plywood, and a new roof over old shingles made getting to the fire problematic and the combination of various issues made the fire challenging to control.
Canfield said the cause of the fire is still under investigation but Black confirmed that the fire “started at the first floor level” then spread from there. Firefighters had attempted to enter in the front of the house, Black said, but “then the ceiling fell, then we went to the backside and it did exactly the same thing.”
“It was hard to stop,” Black said.
Jim Hammond and his family lost not only their home, but they also have three dogs missing and unaccounted for. They posted pictures on their Facebook page asking neighbors to be on the lookout for the animals.
“They have been out looking for them,” Canfield said.
Black said he feels bad for the family, noting he has known Jim Hammond since high school.
“We did the best we could,” Black said, adding that some firefighters happened to be at the Madison Township Fire Station when the call came in and responded quickly. “They were out in a minute and a half.”
Hanover Fire Department was also on the scene with its food truck, along with the King’s Daughters’ Hospital emergency medical service.
More and more these days, Madison is hosting a fair share of Nashville talent at our various venues and establishments. Part of the credit goes to Jimmy Davis, who was spending a lot of time pre-pandemic down in Music City, and he fostered a kind of pipeline of musicians coming to town.
One such notable is songwriter Joel Shewmake, who came up to play in Jane Vonderheide’s “House of Jane Songwriter Concert” series. Joel liked our vibe so much he came back some months later with his girlfriend and played a gig at Off-Broadway Taproom.
The Red Bicycle Hall over the years has hosted numerous Nashville denizens as they criss cross the Midwest on tour. And now the dearth of gigs brought on by the COVID pandemic has sent even more quality Nashville talent on the road, seeking out music-friendly venues where they can ply their trade.
One such musician is Brett Stafford Smith, originally out of Dothan, Georgia, but a Nashville resident for some six years now. He played Mad Paddle Brewstillery last weekend and I caught up with him between sound check and the show.
“I got out on the road about a year and a half ago,” explains Brett. “I’d been doing the local Nashville thing pretty solid for five years, playing the bars on the Broadway strip and the whole bit, but I was ready for a change. I have a booking agent who somehow finds gigs in all these great places, like breweries and wineries, so when she strings a few together I grab my guitar and go.
“I have to say rolling into Madison from the bridge is quite an experience. It felt like I traveled back in time. I’m like, where’s the Appleby’s? And what the heck is an Indiana Gun Tattoo Parlor? This town is awesome.
“My road to music is a little unconventional, I guess. I graduated with a degree in economics from Auburn. I had always played in bands as a kid and in college, usually as a drummer, but I didn’t see it as a career.
“I had a series of corporate jobs I did not enjoy, and then when I was about 26 I said what the heck, I’ll move to Nashville and see what happens! It’s been a memorable few years, I can tell you that.
“I’ve done so much different stuff. I had a rockabilly duo with a woman on drums and me on guitar, kind of a White Stripes thing. I collaborated with some great people and I’ve written hundreds of songs. I wrote six or seven new songs just last week!”
At this point I asked Brett about his future plans. He’s been in Nashville for more than six years and he’s in his 30s now. I asked him, what do you want to happen with your music career?
“I don’t know man,” he replied, looking over my shoulder and giving a wistful smile. “I have a buddy who just recently said to me he doesn’t know why he’s doing it. And he wonders whether all these songs he’s writing will ever see the light of day. But I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I know why I do it.
“I know I may not ‘make it’ in the traditional sense, you know, get to that super famous star level. But I feel like I have to do it. Maybe it’s just for the experience, just for the doing. Maybe the doing is an end in itself. And when it’s all said and done, I want to say I tried it, I gave it my shot.
“But I’m realistic, it’s not this or nothing. I want to be able to pivot into something eventually. I’ve actually been thinking about going to Florida to play music. Lots of gigs, good money, and none of the Nashville pressure to succeed and hit it big. Or I may go back to Alabama, be closer to family. But tonight I’m playing in Madison, and I’m very excited to be here!”
If you’d like to hear some of Brett’s original songs, just go to YouTube and search “Brett Stafford Smith.” The song “Shoulda Married You” is one of his newest, and “Buddy With a Boat” is pretty fun, too.
We have live music in town on Thursday and Friday, but Saturday is shaping up with a couple of special shows you may want to check out. Saturday at Mad Paddle Brewstillery we have Amy Noel fronting a powerful new force on our local music scene called The Madison Rhythm Section. The “Section” is basically a group of our most talented and experienced players — you know the guys who seem to show up in just about every local band — who have sort of formalized their role as the preeminent group to have if you want it tight, right and professional. Also on Saturday at Thomas Family Winery for the very first time you can see local legend Rusty Bladen playing a full show with his wife Andra, a lead vocalist in her own right with the band Two Buck Chuck. Should be a fun one!
Charlie Rohlfing is a retired advertising man and partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Look for his distinctive fedora bobbing above the crowd, anywhere live local music is happening.
Mad Paddle Brewery — Kyle Pearl
Broadway Hotel & Tavern — Leah Pruett
Mad Paddle Brewery — Jon Eason
Mad Paddle Brewery — The “Famous” Amy Noel and the Madison Rhythm Section
Thomas Family Winery — Rusty AND Andra Bladen
Jefferson County Council heard a report on progress toward construction of a new county jail and discussed which utility will provide water service to that facility at Monday evening’s County Council meeting.
County Council President Pam Crozier said she had expected bonds for the new jail to be purchased in January, and wondered why there has been a delay.
County Commissioner David Bramer said the delay “was probably my fault. When I spent a week in the hospital, it took a little bit for me to recover.”
Bramer reported that “construction documents are on hand. We are reviewing them. We will select a construction manager this week. He will do the final review and we should have them out to bid in early March.”
Once bids are received the county should have the cost, and Bramer said the Commissioners will seek the necessary bonds after that.
“We’re going to have a design for a jail that’s going to be what the sheriff and his department wants,” Bramer said. “We’ve kept the cost down and saved money along the way. I think it’s moving forward well.”
Bramer said the waterline for the new jail is more complicated. “There were some personalities that got involved and it looks like we will be going through Dupont but will be tying into a Madison line,” he said, adding that the usage rates by going through Dupont will “probably be more per gallon” than it would in going through Madison.
“If personalities are involved, can we negate personalities, and go back and get it from Madison because we’re trying to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and we should lay personalities to the side and go directly to wherever the cheapest source is, and the best services, and get the product for cheaper, whatever that product is,” Crozier said.
“Unfortunately, that being the case, it had nothing to do with our personalities, but it was other personalities that got involved,” Bramer said. “People dug their heals in, and said it’s our district, and you’re going to get your water from us. I had no part in those conversations but we are feeling the impact of those conversations.”
Bramer went on to note “the jail is located in Dupont’s water district. It’s not like we can re-draw water districts. It’s not that we want to pay more for their water. It is in their district. They are going to buy the water from Madison then sell it to us.”
Bramer said the Madison waterline Dupont will connect to and bring water to the new county jail is located just across the road from the jail site but legal issues make Dupont the provider.
“We can talk offline to why things happened the way they did,” Bramer said, adding that he will send the letter the Commissioners “received from the lawyer about this. You act like this was our choice. It wasn’t our choice. You act like we didn’t want to pay less for water. It’s not the case at all.”
In other business, the Council:
• Discussed with Sheriff David Thomas the daily rates that are being paid for housing inmates in other counties. “I have been able to negotiate with Crawford and Switzerland on the per day cost for inmates” because Jefferson County has a history of working with them, Thomas said. However, he has not been able to negotiate rates for housing inmates in Clark and Scott counties. Thomas noted that as more warrants are issued Jefferson County’s numbers will go up. “They are actively going out and looking for these people. We get them in and out of here as quick as we can. We’ve picked up some people in the last three weeks on some really heavy charges, and they just aren’t going to go anywhere,” he said.
“I think the staff is doing a good job. We’re trying to keep an eye on it, and are trying to move them to the cheapest place that we can as cheaply as we can. We’re trying to keep that number down.”
• Susie Lawrence, 911 executive director, asked the Council for $16,943 for supplemental dispatcher pay. “The dispatchers receive no overtime pay, no shift differential, no clothing allowance, and it’s just a thanks to the staff and an appreciation for all the hard work and stress that they had gone through in 2020.” She also asked that a line item be added now and for future budgets named longevity, and the “amounts and percentages would be the same that it is for the Sheriff’s office.” The total requested longevity pay was $8,200.
Lawrence said all of the money would come out of the state 911 funds, and none from the county, Madison city or Hanover town contributions. Lawrence said the state has approved the money coming out of its 911 fund, but it also needs approval from the County Council.
“I don’t really have an issue with the longevity,” said Council Vice President Chris Shelton, “but I really wish this would take place during budget time. We have had a series of these requests coming in January, February and March after budget, and they really need to be part of the budget planning process.”
Council member Ray Black Jr. agreed, “I think it needs to come up as part of the budget hearings, not two months into the new year. I understand where they’re coming from, but I think it needs to be brought up during budget time.”
The Council members were in consensus, and did not act on the request.
• Tammy Monroe, administrator at the Jefferson County Health Department, talked to the Council about $40,320 the state has provided for anything related to COVID-19 that needed Council approval to appropriate. “I did have to purchase some new laptops so I will be spending part of that for some new laptops. I don’t really have plans as yet for the rest of the amount of money. It will just depend as they roll out the vaccine, and it becomes more available, if I need some extra help then I might utilize some of it to hire some temporary help.”
Monroe asked if the Council wanted to appropriate all of that money to the health department now, or prefer that she request appropriations each time she spends some of the funds.
“Since we already know what you are doing with that, I think we can go ahead and vote on that, then you can just allocate those funds as needed, when needed,” Crozier said, and the appropriation was approved unanimously.
Council member Judy Smith had high praise for the county health department in how it is handling COVID-19 vaccinations.
“How you are running that is wonderful,” said Smith, who said she received her vaccination there. “It’s quick. It’s easy, very easy. Everyone is very helpful. It was very, very smooth. I just think you should be praised for what’s going on and how well it’s working.”
Council member Heather Foy also expressed her appreciation of the support the health department has provided to King’s Daughters’ Hospital as a secondary site. “Daily from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. they are giving three shots every 10 minutes” at KDH, said Foy. “It’s a challenge when so many folks are wanting the vaccine,” but she praised Monroe for going there to answer questions and for being helpful. “You have been great resource for them and it’s been a team effort.”
• Approved $1,500,000 transfer from the Cumulative Courthouse fund to the general fund in an effort to keep the county’s general fund in the black throughout the year. During the year the funds in the general fund fluctuate as collections come into the county from taxes. The money is moved back at the end of the year to the Cumulative Courthouse fund, which is used for repair costs to the Courthouse.
“We started this two years ago to keep our general fund in the black,” said council member Ray Denning. “For years, it has gone red, and the state doesn’t like that very much, and after we started doing that, we’ve got more cooperation from the state on our yearly budget.”
County Auditor Sherry Eblen noted that when they started that process $2,300,000 was transferred so to only need to transfer $1,500,000 now shows progress haw been achieved in that they are now transferring less. “Hopefully in another four years we won’t have to do this,” Shelton said.
• Council member Gary Copeland suggested having a steel toe shoe allowance available to all 220 county employees. “Steel toe shoes are safety, and we have got to have a safety emphasis with the county employees. I think they deserve it. How many will want it, I don’t know.”
He favors providing the option to all county employees and added Copeland it’s just an idea and that he will follow-up with more research.
“I think it’s worth pursuing for insurance purposes,” said Crozier.
Copeland agreed, noting “when you’re dealing with heavy equipment or dealing with chemicals, and stuff like that, your feet are your foundation, and I would like the county employees as safe as they possibly can, and I think our taxpayer money would be in line to do if we can work this out.”
• Crozier reported on an issue with a software update that has substantially slowed operations in the County Treasurer’s office, and that the County Treasurer “was not aware that they were going to have this software update that was going to cause her systems be compatible with it, so she is going to need, if she is going to run efficiently, new computers for her office.”
Crozier added that the purchase is not currently budgeted but that the Treasurer will get some invoices together and research how many computers are needed and the prices before bringing the request to the County Council at a future meeting.
• Highway department superintendent Bobby Phillips requested a transfer of $256,023.25 from the construction fund into the local grant matching fund. The Council approved the transfer.
• Approved transferring an $8,000 donation to the local Animal Shelter to provide spay and neuter vouchers and $2,000 for rabies shot vouchers.
A Monday night search for a missing 16-year-old Trimble County boy in a wooded area involving rough terrain and frigid weather conditions ended with a positive outcome when searchers located the boy about a mile from his home in cold but good condition.
According to Trimble County Emergency Management Services Director Andrew Stark, the boy was reported missing at about 4:30 p.m. Monday and thought to have enter the woods behind his home on Rhea Drive just off US 421 between Bedford and Milton. The boy was found at 9:20 p.m. near the end of Reynolds Way, about a mile northwest of where he started.
What caused the boy to enter the woods and remain so long is not known but rescuers were glad to have the positive outcome on a night when weather conditions — the temperature was in the 20s with freezing rain and snow — could have resulted in a much worse outcome.
“I’m guessing he got lost,” said Stark, noting the rough terrain combined with total darkness and cold could have been disorienting. “Volunteers who were searching for him located him and he walked out on his own.”
Firefighters, rescue workers and volunteers searched on foot and an aerial drone with infrared capability was used to fly over the area and look for the boy and monitor the progress of searchers on foot.
The boys’ mother at one point posted information and a description on social media asking neighbors and others to be on the lookout for the boy.
The Jefferson County Courthouse, Madison City Hall, Hanover Town Hall and all US Post Offices will be closed Monday, Feb. 15, to observe Presidents Day.
The City of Madison’s waste Transfer Station also will be closed and trash pick-up, recycling and compost service will be delayed one day next week.