RABBIT HASH, Ky. -- As the one-year anniversary of the fire at the Rabbit Hash General Store approaches, the restoration of the store continues, and its reopening should be close to that anniversary date, says Don Clare, president of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society.
"The best news of 2017 is that we don’t think the opening of the store is going to take as long as we first projected," Clare announced in a newsletter last week. "It is not going to take until late summer. ... We would really like it to be on Feb. 13, 2017 -- one year to the day it burned (just for the non-believers) -- but that may be pushing it. Early Spring, however, is certainly not out of the question."
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The announcement comes as residents continue to rally around the 185-year-old general store, which suffered a devastating fire last year that burned much of the building down. Since then, numerous online initiatives, parades and other creative fundraisers -- like paying $1 to vote for the town's canine mayor -- have been able to restore much of the structure.
There have been Halloween parties, Election Day festivities and Christmas bashes. Scores of people have helped in their own ways.
Duane Doyle, vice president of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society, helped deconstruct the store after the fire, making sure to save what they could.
"We salvaged studding, siding, shelving, flooring, the porch overhang, rear door, front center door, window frames, and more," Doyle said. "Losing the store was the same as losing anything or anyone you love. It was painful to watch burn. Don and I spent the rest of that night stopping fires that kept trying to rekindle."
WATCH: Volunteers pick through the debris
Residents have taken to calling this a restoration, not a rebuilding, due to the fact the store must have its wood replaced with that from a similar time in order to keep its historical designation as a nationally registered building.
Local officials first consulted several historic agencies, which decided they could replace the store's wood by gathering new wood from local buildings more than 120 years old. Last summer, residents helped tear down two complete houses in Florence, Indiana., and Bullittsville, Kentucky, and two partial houses in Warsaw and Petersburg, Kentucky.
WATCH: Music returns to the General Store:
They first restored the General Store's floors, then the walls, and now they're working on the ceilings. And the old wood didn't go to waste.
Christmas decorations and as many as 40 wooden benches were made debris. The benches were sold and raised $6,000 for a new fire suppression system for the store -- which was the brainchild of local Fire Chief Jeff Hermes.
"The benches were all made from the unusable remnants of the original 1831 Ohio River barge timbers that were dismantled and used as foundation floor joists for the original building, 180 years ago," Clare wrote. "Just think of all the floods and mud those timbers have endured, yet kept that National Register structure safe and intact!"
Clare said each bench was unique, showing "the scars of the ravages they endured over these many years. Some were charred from the fire; others hacked, cut, hand-hewn, nailed, drilled, bolted and so forth. Each one told a different story, and instead of being discarded or left to rot, they all have a new life and a new appreciation."
The fire suppression system will feature overhead sprinklers, which will be attached to underground lines that run 40 feet away to a hydrant. If another fire should occur, the fire department can plug into the hydrant and feed water through the suppression system, thereby fighting the flames from the inside.
Clare also relayed that while many artifacts were lost to the fire, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, is donating some of their artifacts to display in the new store.
As the date of the anniversary -- and possible reopening -- approaches, Clare said the latest work will consist of the installation of the fire suppression system, the rest of the electrical work and insulation in the ceiling, the interior door and window trim, the washing of the walls and painting. After that comes the installation of the walk-in cooler, two long counters and the shelving.
Resident Ed Unterreiner, 61, has spent 40 years as a carpenter and general contractor. He and son Eddie helped build the benches and together they are helping the restoration, plank by plank.
"This is my neighborhood," he said. "That day it burned was so devastating to me and the neighborhood -- we were so used to that structure -- and people couldn't get there fast enough to help. It's a great honor to be involved in the project, and it's a challenge -- I love the challenge. We need to make sure (the store is) exactly like it was."
But it takes time, he said. A normal project would consist of wood and nails. This isn't a normal project.
"The thing that takes a lot of time is getting the wood, getting the nails out of it, priming it, and then nailing it up," he said. "It's not new construction."
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But the "early Spring" deadline seems more than likely, he said. "It's very doable -- all downhill from here," he said. "There's an awful lot of people who give me a lot of support."
Clare knows none of it could be done without the help of all the residents.
"The interest and energy emanating from the store’s progress is so palpable around Rabbit Hash and the rest of Northern Kentucky," he said.
"The store is the social center, and I get more out of being a part of its return than words can express," Doyle said.
Donations for the restoration of the store can be made to Forcht Bank in Burlington just off Route 18. Ask for the Rabbit Hash General Store Restoration Fund or call (859) 689-1350.