Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Cause of country club fire can't be found

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AURORA, Ind. - The Feb. 3 fire that destroyed the historic Dearborn County Country Club left so few clues that state fire investigators have essentially given up trying to find a cause, the department said Monday.

The club, built in the 1840s on a hill that overlooks the Ohio River, had been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

It was a country club since 1928, and most recently had more than 100 members.

A nearby golf shop was not affected. But the building that contained a restaurant, bar and banquet hall was reduced to charred rubble.

No one was injured. The club, located at 170 Country Club Road, was closed when the fire was reported at 3:44 a.m.

"There's just nothing to work with," Pam Bright, a spokeswoman for the Indiana fire marshal's office in Indianapolis, said Monday. "There's nothing further to be done."

The fire has officially been classified "undetermined."

The Aurora volunteer fire department continues to investigate, though it has no new information, Lt. Kevin Turner said Monday.

A tunnel connected a spot outside the grounds to the basement, used to hide fleeing slaves for two decades through the Civil War.

"It's so sad when we lose those types of structures," Bright said in reference to the building's historic significance.

The building, then a farmhouse, was constructed in the 1840s by the Wymonds, a local family, according to local historians.

The tunnel system, according to Margaret Pitts of the Dearborn County Historical Society, included a trap door leading to a secret room.

The club employed 12 people and was a popular site for wedding receptions, banquets and golf. Scheduled events this month were to include a wine-tasting and a Valentine's Day dinner.

The members last summer bought out part-owners who were non-members, and had in recent years discussed renovation projects.

E-mail toneill@enquirer.com

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Cause of country club fire can't be found