“Garrettsville is burning!”
On Saturday, March 22, 2014, that message blazed out across phone lines, the internet and news agencies throughout northeast Ohio. Main Street’s newly-renovated historic Buckeye Block Building was on fire at lunchtime. Despite prompt and robust response by local and regional firefighters, the angry fire had devoured the storefronts from Center Street to High Street by dinnertime — all but the small brick building that houses the Mishler and Kohli law offices. The block of buildings lost to the fire include the Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard, Garrettsville Foot & Ankle Clinic, T&B Tools, Attorney Dann Timmons, Maschek Construction, Shaker Tree, New Hearing, Barber of G-Ville, Miller’s Lawn & Garden, One Real Peach, Shiffer Clock Repair, and Chic and Shabby.
About 50 shoppers were estimated to have been in harm’s way as the fire took hold, but they and shop owners were rushed out of the buildings before anyone was hurt. As the fire progressed Saturday afternoon, crowds of onlookers swelled against hastily-erected barriers. Police and Sheriff’s Deputies kept the public at a safe distance as people took photos and video of the progressing devastation.
At a news conference on Sunday, Garrettsville Fire Chief David Friess said many of the affected structures dated back to 1850, and there were few fire walls, making the fire especially fast-spreading and challenging. Garrettsville firefighters were supported by more than 100 firefighters from 34 neighboring departments. It took more than seven hours to suppress the fire. Two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation.
Garrettsville officially became a village in 1864, and the Buckeye Block was the first large building to be constructed in the municipality. “Restoration and revival” were the inspiration for Michael Maschek’s campaign to rescue the historic Buckeye Block Building from the brink of collapse just a few years ago. Maschek Construction shored up the sagging structure; re-roofed it; installed new windows, siding and trim; and drew businesses in to fill the street level of the once nearly-vacant building.
Maschek was working on restoring the second floor, with special attention to the 400-seat Buckeye Hall, which held the stage where young William McKinley and James A. Garfield honed their oratorical skills. While these aspirations are lost to the fire, the inspiration for future developments yet remains. The day after the fire, Maschek stated, ”To be continued… It’s still all about revival and restoration.”
Already, a #GarrettsvilleStrong campaign is under way, thanks to the Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce, and community spirit is not wavering. See http://garrettsvillearea.com/help for more information.
On Tuesday Fire Chief David Friess spoke with the Villager and confirmed that the fire did start on the roof and that roofing work was being done on the building. The scene was finally cleared by the fire department at 3:52 pm Monday. Preliminary estimates are placing the loss at $5 million dollars. The cause of the fire which destroyed one third of Garrettsville’s business district remains under investigation and a final report will not be available until early April. State fire marshal investigator Jeff Koehn said it may take a couple of days to determine a definitive cause of the blaze. Videos must be reviewed, and witnesses must be interviewed.
It is believed to be the worst fire since the village’s namesake Col. John Garrett III arrived to this section of the Western Reserve in 1804 and established the settlement around his grist mill, which still stands across the street from the charred remains of Saturday’s fire.
Photos from Estelle R. Brown, Krista Peterson & Benjamin Coll
Press Conference Footage Courtesy Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce