The blaze at the Emmitt House restaurant at the corner of U.S. 23 and Market Street caught fire about 9 p.m. Monday. The Pike County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the building appeared to be a total loss.
U.S. 23 through Waverly was shut down to allow firefighters from several departments in Pike and Ross counties to battle the blaze. The conditions they worked under were far from ideal, with temperatures dropping from 0 degrees when the initial calls came in about 9 p.m. to 6 below at 11 p.m., with a wind chill factor of 31 below.
“It’s been an uphill battle since we got here,” said Waverly Fire Chief Randy Armbruster, who estimated there were about 60 firefighters from various departments on the scene. “It (the cold weather) has taken a toll in trying to get a handle on it.”
Armbruster, as of 11 p.m., said he still expected crews would be on the scene for quite a while longer getting the remaining blaze knocked down. There was no confirmation Monday night as to what caused the fire, nor were there any immediate reports of injuries.
The building’s Facebook page Monday night was filled with condolences for the structure and prayers and good wishes for the owner and employees, as well as the firefighters and other emergency personnel on the scene. Many said they were “heartbroken” over the loss and one, Jill Collins, of Phoenix, Ariz., pointed out the landmark was a favorite whenever they passed through the area.
“Emmitt House was always a favorite landmark when we drove through Waverly on the way to Portsmouth,” she said. “Sure hope no one was hurt.”
The historic building, which has gone through several owners over recent years and several openings and closings as well, has gained national attention for its believed paranormal activity. The most recent such exposure came in March 2013 when the restaurant was featured on an episode of the SyFy Network series “Haunted Collector.”
Before that, in late July 2012, a paranormal investigation became a police investigation when bones were found in the basement of the structure by Ashley Cramer and Levi Anthony, of Troy-based Eyes of the Paranormal. The two were on a self-proclaimed mission to make the Emmitt House a Mecca for the paranormal world. Cramer said she had several paranormal encounters during visits through the building, including hearing her name whispered more than 30 times and allegedly capturing a full-bodied apparition on film that she believes to be James Emmitt, who built the structure in 1861 as a hotel during the days of the Ohio Canal.
That sense of the otherworld also attracted the attention of the national paranormal community in early July 2012 when the building played host to the three-day ParaCon 2012 — a gathering of paranormal enthusiasts and celebrities from television programs dedicated to paranormal investigation.
Past owners of the building also have spoken of the haunted nature of the structure, claiming to have seen items moving by themselves, smelling cigar smoke when such a smell should not have been there and hearing unexplained things.
The current owner, Pam Ison, reopened the restaurant in September and had just announced Sunday that they were ready to start opening on Sundays for business as well.
The restaurant is not the only business affected by the blaze. A gymnastics studio, boutique and aerobics studio also made up part of the Emmitt House structure.