Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Fire destroys country club built in 1840s

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AURORA, Ind. - Fire swept through the Dearborn Country Club early Monday, destroying a building that dated to the 1840s and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

No one was injured, authorities said.

The main building at 170 Country Club Road, on a hill overlooking downtown Aurora and the Ohio River, was a popular site for wedding receptions, banquets and golf.

A tunnel connected to the basement was used on the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escaping to freedom.

The country club is off Ind. 148, about three miles north of the city's riverfront downtown. The burned building contained the dining hall and bar, and was not connected to the club's golf shop.

"The building is completely destroyed," Aurora Fire Lt. Kevin Turner said. "It was a fairly historical building."

It was not immediately known how or where the fire started. Fire officials received a call reporting smoke at the closed club at 3:44 a.m.

Firefighters from three departments needed 21/2 hours to extinguish the blaze, Turner said. The Indiana state fire marshal continues to investigate.

The building was constructed in the 1840s by the Wymond family, according to local historians.

"They were people from Aurora," Margaret Pitts of the Dearborn County Historical Society said Monday. "There is a trapdoor that goes to a secret room used on the Underground Railroad."

In the mid-1920s, the farmhouse was bought by a group of local businessmen, who opened it as a country club.

"The original rooms of the first house were still there," Pitts said. "But of course, it's been added on to many times." Firefighters were hampered by the remoteness of the building, at the end of a half-mile-long driveway.

The club was owned by its 100-plus members, who last summer bought out the nonmember stockholders, said Carl Petty, a member who served as president of the board in 1989.

"I hate to see it because it had a great deal of history to it," said Petty, who owns Aurora Lumber Co.

"It's a terrible loss," said member Jack Tandy, who owns Tandy Men's Wear in Aurora. He said he played golf there eight to 10 times a year and had dined there recently.

This month's scheduled events at the club included a Valentine's Day dinner and a wine-tasting.

E-mail toneill@enquirer.com

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Fire destroys country club built in 1840s