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Photos: Hailey Bollinger

“You drive 20 minutes from Cincinnati and you feel like you’ve gone back 200 years,” says Clare, who first took interest in preserving the town’s legacy in the late ’70s with his friend, Louie Scott. Scott halted the seemingly inevitable bulldozer effect by purchasing every property in Rabbit Hash, piece by piece. By 1979, he owned every landmark in town — including the infamous General Store, built in 1831. In Clare’s words, “(Scott) won the Rabbit Hash Monopoly game. And if he hadn’t stepped in when he did, this place wouldn’t be here today.” In essence, Scott was the sole proprietor of Rabbit Hash in its entirety until 2002, when he sold his bundle of properties to the Rabbit Hash Historical Society — a local organization created to ensure long-term preservation of the town and its history. This transaction was made possible by a single donation of $250,000, as stated on the historical society website. It was one of many significant individual contributions aimed at keeping Rabbit Hash alive, just as it was. The old, wooden buildings in town required dedicated upkeep to withstand the elements — most notably floodwater. But on Feb. 13, 2016, the historical society faced an unprecedented crisis. Around 9 p.m., a fire erupted inside the Rabbit Hash General Store, claiming more than a century’s worth of antiques, artifacts and mementos, in addition to causing critical structural damage. According to Clare, the fire started in a Coca-Cola cooler. He called it “ironic,”

given that one of the store’s most iconic features was a huge Coke sign that hung above the entrance. Burning into the early hours of the morning, the fire left only three walls standing and an entire community in mourning. “Ever since it was built, (the General Store) has been the pulse of the community,” Clare says. “It’s where you got your news, socialized and connected with people. It’s kind of like the 19th-century Facebook.” He’s not the only one who thinks so. In fact, hundreds of people were quick to rally on social media as a means to kickstart a crowd-funded restoration effort that continues to gain traction. Terrie Markesbery, current proprietor of the Rabbit Hash General Store, launched a GoFundMe campaign the following day that has received over $65,000 in contributions from more than 1,100 donors. As of today, her campaign has been shared approximately 17,000 times on social media, reminding us all of the internet’s potential to unite communities, not just inflame their divisions. In addition to an overwhelming response online, supporters have organized a number of local fundraisers, including music events, motorcycle rallies and art gatherings. Clare reports that approximately $300,000 has been raised for the General Store’s restoration so far, enabling them to make rapid progress throughout the past year. In accordance with requirements by the U.S. National Register of Historic

Places, restorations were made using materials that date back to around the same time the General Store was originally built. Ed Unterreiner, owner of Rivertown Construction, was contracted for the job soon after the fire. “The boards we used on the interior walls are boards that came off a barge that they floated down river to Rabbit Hash,” Unterreiner says. “Some of these boards still have the original barge lettering printed on them.” Along with the lumber they salvaged from the boat, Unterreiner and his small crew of builders meticulously deconstructed two entire buildings in town to repurpose their materials. Clare was a daily participant in the process, spending countless hours removing nails, cleaning, storing and painting the old wood in preparation for it to finally be used. “It took a lot of extra time, money and labor,” he says. “But that’s how we were able to make it look like it did the day before the fire.” Unterreiner elaborated on the unique challenges of a project like this. In the 25 years he’s been in business, no other restoration effort has required so much attention to preserving the details. “In a typical remodel, you always have something to go by: architectural drawings; homeowners who can tell you exactly what they want,” he says. “With this, we took it down to dirt and the only plans we have were based on photographs. It’s hard to determine dimensions just by looking at a photo. But with

enough of them, we’ve come up with something that’s really, really close to the way it was.” As a Rabbit Hash native himself, Unterreiner even remembers the building’s little imperfections, like the crooked front porch. These, too, were an intentional part of the restoration process. “I want it to be as if nothing happened,” he says. “This is a personal thing. All these little details are important to me.” With the help of volunteers and local business sponsors, the Rabbit Hash General Store is standing once again. To a visitor, the store is indistinguishable from its former self. Even the Coca-Cola sign has been restored — and that’s not all. “This whole thing just restores your faith in humanity,” Clare says. “Especially in this political atmosphere, it’s good to be in a place with decency, love and respect.” As they put on the finishing touches inside the store, which now includes a new fire suppression system, they’re still in need of antiques and novelties that can recreate the old vibe. “If anyone has something laying around in their garage or barn and think it would look good in the General Store, we’d gladly accept it,” Clare says. The store will reopen on April 1 after a 9:30 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony, with live music, wine tastings and other festivities from noon to 8 p.m. T he R A B B I T H A S H G E N E R A L S T O R E i s l ocate d at 1 0 0 2 1 Lo w er R i v er R oa d , R abb i t H ash , K y. rabb i thash . com . 2 017 B ES T O F CIN CINN AT I  17

2017 Best of Cincinnati  
2017 Best of Cincinnati