Representatives of 28 non-profit agencies began to empty out the former Clarion Hotel and Conference Center on Friday.

While many of them expressed delight at receiving free items — ranging from tables and chairs to lamps and furnishings — joy soon turned to melancholy.

That was as people learned Columbus Regional Health would raze the entire 156,000-square-foot Clarion facility at 2480 W. Jonathan Moore Pike later this year.

As nonprofit representatives arrived Thursday to pick out items they wanted, several recalled anniversaries, holiday decorations, family get-togethers, organizational meetings or pool parties they had enjoyed at the facility since its 1963 opening.

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Jim Bickel, the hospital’s president and CEO, acknowledged that the facility, which was a Holiday Inn until early 2012, has historical and nostalgic significance, while serving a functional community need.

But the physical structure has deteriorated far more than most people know, Bickel said.

“Sections are unstable and unsafe,” the hospital chief said. “Critical utility and support systems are either not functioning or in major disrepair, along with other extremely poor general conditions.”

Most of the facility was built at an elevation that continues to make it as much of a flood risk today as it was when high water caused most of the damage to the facility during widespread community flooding in June 2008, Bickel said.

And so the building will be demolished, and the site redeveloped as a medical facility, he said.

After closing July 10, the Clarion was sold one day later during a sheriff’s foreclosure sale. Later that same day, Columbus Regional Health announced it had acquired the property.

One of the first organizations invited Thursday to reserve free items was the Bartholomew County Historical Museum. It was allowed to select whatever it wanted from the hotel as long as it had local historical significance, museum director Cody Harbaugh said.

Like all of the participating nonprofits, the museum had to agree not to resell any items or allow employees and volunteers to take them home, Harbaugh said.

Among the most-sought-after treasures retrieved were a series of photographs depicting the Reeves 1910 Octo-Auto and the 1911 Reeves Sexto-Auto.

While the eight-wheeled car was actually an Overland and the six-wheeler a Stutz, both vehicles were modified in Columbus by Milton Reeves.

Both cars were immediate flops, with Time Magazine calling the Octo-Auto “the ugliest car in the world.” However, Reeves would eventually find success with his Reeves Pulley Co.

Harbaugh identified other historical items retrieved as:

An historic photo of Columbus businessman and community leader Joseph V. Hilger (1864-1950).

Memorabilia from the Red Western Saloon, which operated more than a century ago in Taylorsville.

Rare plane flags depicting different units stationed at Camp Atterbury.

A framed poster promoting a Bartholomew County Railroad Fair.

When representatives of the nonprofit agencies and organizations arrived, many had specific items in mind to help them carry out their respective missions.

Ballroom chairs and tables topped the list for Amy Liimatta and Lalith Iyer of Columbus Robotics. Office supplies and a vacuum cleaner were on a list that Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Executive Director Margaret Powers was hoping to pick up.

Lory Pennington of the Bartholomew County United Way and Road Warriors, a youth community service group. was hoping to find some home furnishings for families recovering from disasters. Meanwhile, Melissa Foist of the Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living sought out basic household needs such as blankets and bedspreads.

But since each nonprofit agreed the items had to be used “for the purpose of direct client services,” several antiques and art works that would be considered valuable in any community were left untouched.

Unknown to most Bartholomew County residents was that several of those valuables were provided by Clementine Miller Tangeman (1905-96), sister of the late Columbus philanthropist J. Irwin Miller, former hotel owner Michael Dora said.

Most were acquired before or during 1978 when the newly renovated hotel debuted as “The Old Holiday Inn,” featuring a decor and ambiance reflecting Columbus’ heritage and architecture, Dora said.

After the nonprofits complete picking up goods on Monday, all remaining items will be turned over to a hotel liquidator, Columbus Regional Health spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue said.

A thorough appraisal of every item of value on the property will be taken before sale events are planned and scheduled, she said.

List of nonprofits

The following Bartholomew County nonprofit organizations accepted an invitation from Columbus Regional Health to acquire free items from the former Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.


Adult and Child Health

Arc of Bartholomew County

Bartholomew County Historical Museum

Bartholomew County Public Library

Centerstone of Indiana Inc.

Clarity of South Central Indiana

Columbus Bicycle Co-op

Columbus Housing Authority

Columbus Indiana Philharmonic

Columbus Parks Department

Columbus Robotics

Developmental Services Inc.

George Junior Republic

Human Services, Inc.

IUPUC/Food Co-op


Legal Aid of Bartholomew County

Love Chapel

Orphan Grain Train

Our Hospice of South Central Indiana

San Souci Inc.

Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living

Su Casa Columbus

Thrive Alliance, Inc.

Turning Point Domestic Violence Services

United Way of Bartholomew County

VDA Fresh Start Recovery Center

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5636.