The Great Garrettsville Fire
Certain dates stand out in our collective memories: December 7, 1941 as Pearl Harbor Day; September 11, 2001 as the worst terror attack on U.S. soil. But for Garrettsville locals, March 22, 2014 is branded forevermore as that awful day when the Great Garrettsville Fire brought down the historic Buckeye Block Buildings on Main Street.
What started as a small blaze on the roof behind Miller’s Lawn & Garden quickly spread to become the greatest disaster to befall this historic village. Exhaustive efforts from local firefighters (supported by more than 100 firefighters from 34 neighboring departments) were no match for the hungry blaze which tore through the 1850s-era wooden structure which had just been freshly renovated and fully occupied by a dozen businesses.
Between lunchtime and dinnertime that fateful Saturday, what began as a simple hot seal-and-patch roof repair job became the assumed (although never officially determined) spark for the blaze which leveled the Buckeye Block — all except for the tiny brick and firewalled law office building which withstood the devastation. It remains as a lone witness to the level grassy field on which it now stands, six months later.
As measured by the crowd-filled streets the day of the fire — and the outpouring of support for the community ever since — people here and nearby take the Great Garrettsville Fire seriously and personally. But no one felt the loss more keenly than Mike Maschek, the primary owner of the building. He had just completed the renovation project which had transformed the Buckeye Block Building from a sorry, sagging eyesore to a thriving example of “revival and restoration,” as he called it.
True to form, this man of vision and faith choked back any signs of defeat. The day after the fire, Maschek stated, “To be continued… It’s still all about revival and restoration.”
Funding a Miracle
Unfortunately, Maschek is not a magic man and he hasn’t erected a replica of the Buckeye Block Building within the blink of an eye on that grassy lot. He is, however, a believer in miracles. Maschek says $3-$4 million is required to reconstruct the Buckeye Block according to modern building codes. Insurance payments covered just a fraction of that total, and a government grant Maschek had hoped to secure by now never materialized.
However, an $80,000 grant is promised from Portage County to be used for streetscaping, landscaping, lighting, and infrastructure along the historic district once the reconstruction project is under way.
Maschek is also holding out hope for receiving a generous grant from a private source which would be more than sufficient for reconstructing the Buckeye Block. If that does not come through, Maschek trusts that funds will materialize some other way.
Meanwhile, the community-generated GarrettsvilleStrong Fund, managed by the Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce, has accumulated $72,871.87 (as of 9/11/14) in its account. This ongoing fundraising effort will award monies toward the re-building effort once a plan is approved.
New fundraisers associated with GarrettsvilleStrong include:
• Limited Edition T-Shirts sponsored by the 900 Coalition, on sale at The Villager. (Only 100 total T-shirts were printed).
• Harlem Ambassadors Basketball Game, Oct 25 – Five JAG alumni and five teachers will take on the Harlem Ambassadors in a fun-filled family event. Proceeds to be split between GarrettsvilleStrong and Phase 2 of the JAG Stadium rebuild project.
• Chipotle of Streetsboro fundraiser – (Date and time TBA)
Ongoing GarrettsvilleStrong efforts include:
• Destination Vacations Fundraiser – Michelle Ford at Destination Vacations is offering a $100 donation to GarrettsvilleStrong with the purchase of a 6-day or longer all-inclusive vacation, cruise or Disney trip booked through August 31, 2015. Call Michelle at (440) 391-9896 for details.
• GarrettsvilleStrong Book – Pam Montgomery is creating a book that will contain history about Garrettsville and compiled stories and pictures from people about past events relating to the downtown section that burned. She will also feature a “Main Street is on Fire” section with related pictures and stories. People can submit their stories and may take out advertising at the back of the book, with proceeds helping to pay for printing. Contact Pam at (330) 527-5744 to participate.
• Photo & Video DVD – Rich Teresi is making a DVD video/slide show of the fire. The DVD will contain about 200 unpublished pictures and 30 videos taken during the March 22nd fire.
Anyone with new ideas for fundraising projects to help fund reconstruction of the Buckeye Block can contact the Chamber at (330) 527-5761 to register with GarrettsvilleStrong.
Revival & Restoration, Continued
Some people are dreamers. Others are doers. It’s rare to find someone who embodies both… and rarer still for that person to be a builder by trade. But Maschek is that rare mix of a man. So, while his property insurance proceeds from the fire were a virtual drop in the bucket toward Buckeye Block reconstruction costs, they were sufficient for generating a new site of revival and restoration nearby.
Just a stone’s throw from the Buckeye Block, at the intersection of Main, Center and Water streets, stands the long-vacant and once-integral hub of historic downtown Garrettsville, last known as Paul’s Feed Mill. The wood frame mill, built in 1852, served the village as a carriage shop, general store and feed supplier before going out of business more than 10 years ago. The mill and its outbuildings were dilapidated, blighted and poised for demolition.
But Maschek saw promise in the mill’s history and its nearly 4,000 square feet of floor space. He saw potential for the Buckeye Block’s business owners to have a new set of options for moving their enterprises back to Main Street within months; not the years it could take for the Buckeye Block to rematerialize if full funding isn’t secured soon. (The construction project itself could be completed within 12 months, from dig to finish, Maschek estimates.)
Maschek took ownership of the mill in May. Abatement, gutting and demolition of the outbuildings began immediately with excavation following, to the tune of $80,000 just to open up 175 feet of frontage for future commercial or residential growth along Water Street behind the mill. Maschek says there is ample space there for two buildings plus a parking lot for up to 18 cars, plus the option of a cantilevered deck that could reach halfway across Silver Creek.
Renovation of the historic mill took shape following demolition, first with the removal of old siding which revealed the original wood exterior and faded handpainted signage from the 1800s (“CARRIAGES, WAGONS AND SLEIGHS,” “SEEDS,” “FARM IMPLEMENTS,” etc.) But that history will soon be re-preserved behind modern vinyl siding of a historic crimson hue.
Meanwhile, a stone front face has been built up to the second floor. New windows and roof have been installed, all according to historic design standards of the early 1850s. Topping it off, a glass-enclosed cupola now accents the roofline, automatically lit every evening as a warm beacon shining over Main Street. The Paul Family has also erected a historic plaque out front.
The mill now features a finished basement with repaired original foundational stonework, a bathroom on each of its three levels, and a warming kitchen on the main floor. Drywalling was being done last week. Painting and siding will follow over the next couple weeks. Historic features of the original craftsmanship remain, including exposed posts, beams, and stone walls. A new concrete patio from the rear entrance leads to a ground-level wraparound porch primarily facing Water Street and the newly-renovated Eagles Aerie across the way. Renovation of the mill should be complete by November, Maschek says.
‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day’
While it has been a morale booster for the village to see a central historic downtown building return from the near-dead, its future use is yet to be determined. Maschek’s original intent was to sell the building to an owner who would lease out space to local businesses, with priority access going to any of the dozen burned-out merchants who wanted to return to Main Street.
However, that’s just one viable option. Maschek has an offer from a potential buyer who would use the mill primarily as office space. And although Maschek typically prefers renovating rather than owning buildings, he admits he has grown fond of the mill and would consider retaining ownership to ensure it functions more as a community center. “Everything is conjecture at this point,” he says. “But I am excited about what I’d like to do with the mill. It would change the atmosphere of this community.”
So, there are no final answers yet concerning the future of the mill or the Buckeye Block. The funding status of the Buckeye Block and completion of the mill renovation should both be realized by November. So before the New Year, we may know what direction each is heading. When pressed for answers, Maschek responds, “I know what I need for today. I don’t have tomorrow’s money yet. So I do all I can right now with the resources I have today.”
For now — six months since the Great Garrettsville Fire — Maschek feels, “We’re right on schedule.” Pointing to Ecclesiastes, he says, “There is a purpose to every season. God does things — and allows things — for a reason. ‘There is a time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh’.”
“We can’t live in the past. We can’t live in the future. The time for living — and building — is now, while we have the opportunity, informed by the past and looking forward to the future.”