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Burned tavern was 132 years old

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — A historic home that burned Tuesday night in Athens was not a Civil War era tavern as reported, but the structure is more than 130 years old.

Today the home at 512 N. Jefferson St. is divided into three apartments that housed nine people until it sustained heavy fire, smoke and water damage in the blaze.

The building's owner, Steve Bauer, said the building was a tavern during the Civil War.

But the late Faye Axford wrote in her book, "The Lure and Lore of Limestone County," that the structure dates to 1875.

Called "The Grove," it served whiskey for a dime a pint and brandy for 18 cents.

At The Grove in 1879, prominent Athens citizens stopped a lynching mob intent on hanging a prisoner before it could reach the jail.

The prisoner, John Bailes, had murdered his pregnant wife. After several stays of execution, a mob hanged John Bailes anyway July 2, 1880, on the courthouse lawn.

The Grove was in what now would be the middle of Jefferson Street in a grove of trees. At that time, it faced the courthouse.

Sara Love, archivist at Athens State University, said her records indicate that a group
of men bought The Grove in 1919.

The group subdivided the property and sold it at auction and moved the home to face Jefferson Street.

Bauer said he bought the home in 1990 and turned it into apartments.

Fire Chief Cliff Christopher said the fire erupted in an apartment kitchen, possibly due to electrical problems with a stove, and went through the attic and roof.

"It probably can be saved," Christopher said of the house.

There were no injuries in the blaze.

Bauer said one man sleeping upstairs escaped the fire by climbing down the fire escape.

The Red Cross is helping the occupants while Bauer tries to find them other places to stay.

Bauer buys, sells and rents property. He is the owner of Steve Bauer Properties.

"I'm tired of making the news," Bauer said the night of the fire.

The Daily featured a story on Bauer in March when he spent the night at his North Clinton Street office to catch thieves who had broken into his business and had stolen antiques two nights in a row.

When they returned the third night, Bauer held the female thief at gunpoint and shot at the tires of her boyfriend's truck as he fled.

Athens police caught the boyfriend at his home and arrested the couple.

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