nelsonville public square

Contruction continues on buildings damaged in the fire that struck a block of Nelsonville’s Public Square last April. Photo by Dennis E. Powell.


The Nelsonville Historic Public Square continues to recover five months after a devastating fire damaged several of its buildings. The fire occurred in April and rebuilding and repair efforts are well under way.

“The Chamber is saddened by the fire and the aftermath it has caused,” said Kevin Dotson, president of the Nelsonville Area Chamber of Commerce. “It could, however, have been much, much worse. The temporary closure of Rhapsody (restaurant) is a loss to the square, and I am sure it has caused a hardship for the Mine Tavern. I think people are making the best of the closure on that side of the square to vehicular traffic but it will be wonderful when it’s reopened.”

Damage to the building at 30 Public Square left only the outside walls remaining. Hocking College rented the space from Stuart’s Opera House to display student and professional artwork.

“We don't have an exact amount right now, but we estimate damage in the $2 million neighborhood from the fire,” said Brian Koscho, marketing director for Stuart's Opera House. “It's had a huge impact. That's a lot of damage, and we had significant losses to the future home of our Education and Production Center.”

Stuart’s plans to use space at 30 Public Square for the Education and Production Center and the third floor as the Oesteopathic Heritage Foundation’s Education Center. The building is currently being stabilized and cleaned of debris. They hope to start reconstruction in December.

“As a result of the fire, our entire expansion project needed to be redesigned,” said Koscho. “We had a building to renovate in our original plans and had to now rebuild the building itself. Our renovations are going as planned and moving along; the fire just caused the need to take care of all of that damage, cleanup and stabilization first.”

Stuart's, located at 52 Public Square, sustained smoke and water damage. Yet, just a week after the fact, they managed to host a concert in the building, then plan and put on the Nelsonville Music Festival at Hocking College’s Robbins Crossing in May. The Opera  House hosts between 75 and 100 events a year, including live music, theater, visual arts, educational programs and films. The facility also is rented out for weddings, meetings and other private events.

“Once completed, the space will allow Stuart's to expand and continue our work in arts education, providing even more quality programming to the community and our area students,” said Koscho.

Stuart’s Opera House participates in a summer concert series from June to September as a part of Final Fridays. Final Fridays take place the last Friday of each month from 5:30-9:30 p.m., excluding December. The free community art event showcases artwork and other unique handcrafted items from galleries and shops in and around the square. Artist demonstrations, street musicians, dancers and sidewalk entertainment are also offered.

Final Fridays, in the monthly event’s 14 year, has allowed local businesses to generate funds for repairs.

“All the galleries open new exhibitions,” said Ann Judy, founding member of the Starbrick Gallery cooperative. “This is why we miss the Majestic and Hocking galleries.”

The Majestic Galleries experienced water, smoke and structural damage and is closed until the city of Nelsonville deems the area safe to reenter. A fence blocks off the building’s exterior. They are currently holding exhibitions of local contemporary art during Final Fridays. In addition, they are collecting monetary donations for the cleanup through their Facebook page.

“Starbrick Gallery is having a raffle for a two-night stay in Springwood Cabins in the Hocking Hills, and part of the proceeds will go to Majestic for their cleanup fund,” stated Judy. “The raffle is $5 per ticket or five for $20. We only printed 300 tickets so the odds are good.”

“We really miss the Majestic Galleries not being open,” added Dotson. “Their exhibits are always interesting and draw a great crowd. The loss of the Hocking College student gallery also means fewer shows to see. So Final Fridays have felt sparse, but the attendance has still been good. Thanks goes out to all who come and support local artists and attend this community art event.”

Starbrick Galley has turned to social media to remind its followers the gallery is open. The business now posts event photos and status updates more regularly.

“We have to tell the fire story a lot to our guests who travel here from their vacations in the Hocking Hills when they see the devastation,” said Judy. “But we are pushing forward. We are part of the Ceramic Trail that will take place September through October and includes the Zanesville Prize. Being a part of this trail will continue to get the word out that Starbrick is alive and doing well.”

The trail runs September 2015 to January 2016, with locations in Athens, Nelsonville, Roseville, Crooksville, Hocking Hills and Lancaster. The Zanesville Prize boasts of the largest award in ceramics, $20,000.

Starbrick Gallery offers pottery, glass, jewelry, clothing, woodworking, paintings, handmade cards, photographs, unique handcrafted gifts and antique furniture. It features the work of 40 local and regional artists and offers quarterly classes, private lessons, home-school classes and workshops.

Starbrick Gallery looks forward to its Holiday Open House on Nov. 27, and Stuart’s Opera House has two live musical performances and two plays left this year, “My Son Pinocchio” and “Charlotte’s Web: The Musical.”

“When the remodeling is complete, the opera house will be an even better attraction to draw visitors to the downtown area,” said Dotson.

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