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W.Va. lodge destroyed in blaze

June 20, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Fire roared through The Mountain Lake Lodge early Thursday, reducing the 50-year-old landmark to rubble.

Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives were on the scene Thursday night.

They were called in by the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's office, said Jason Carlson, assistant chief of the Blue Ridge Mountain Volunteer Fire Department.

Carlson, who said he arrived on the scene first, said the blaze was well along when firefighters arrived. "We managed to get into the building, but the fire was too heavy," Carlson said.

The alarm came in at 2:57 a.m., he said.

The three-story Adirondack-style lodge, located between the Appalachian Trail and the Shenandoah River, was of stone and log construction.

"All of the inside was wood - walls, floor ceiling. The furniture was heavy wood, too," Carlson said.

"It was a big fire load and it had a good start," he said.

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A Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy, called to the lodge for a burglar alarm, discovered the blaze, Carlson said.

Jack Hahn, who lives across the lake from the lodge, said he woke up around 6 a.m. and saw the building in flames.

Hahn said the lodge was built as a clubhouse for residents of the Shannondale subdivision. The members' association owned it until about three years ago, when it was sold.

The main floor was a huge dance hall and restaurant that over the years was the site of dances, parties and weddings, Hahn said.

"The new owners were doing wonderful things with it," he said. "They've been fixing it up since they bought it. The members are devastated. This is a tragic thing."

"It was beautiful," Carla Nilsen, the banquet manager for the lodge, said as she surveyed the smoldering remains Thursday night.

Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said he surveyed the smoldering remains Thursday afternoon.

"It was totally destroyed. The floor was gone. The roof and timbers burned up," he said.

All that remained was the stone fireplace and one wall near the parking lot, he said.

Assistant West Virginia State Fire Marshal Ed Robinson was investigating the blaze, Boober said.

Robinson was getting technical expertise from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help him in the large undertaking of determining a cause, Boober said.

Boober's office was doing some preliminary investigation in case the fire is ruled arson.

"There's nothing that tells me it's suspicious," he said.

Nat Hughes, 75, chief of the safety patrol for Shannondale, said the lodge was built by volunteer blue-collar workers in the 1950s. It was made from trees chopped down from Shannondale's wilderness, he said.

"You talk about huge logs," he said. "There were trees in the whole lane of the thing."

After the lodge was completed, those who worked on it used it for a private clubhouse and only members attended activities and dances there, Hughes said.

About three years ago, Elizabeth Houghton bought the lodge, refurbished it and converted it to The Mountain Lake Lodge, he said.

These days, members were mostly professionals, Hughes said.

Food served at the lodge's restaurant ranged from flounder and filet mignon to "fancy stuff you can't even pronounce," he said.

Hughes said the lodge was decorated in an Adirondack style with deer heads, fish and fishing gear, a real "country lodge."

"It was gorgeous," he said.

"I've got a lovely cabin in the woods, but I'm going to miss it," he said.

Staff writers Pepper Ballard and Laura Ernde contributed to this story.

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