Wooden beams, stones from Mercersburg's dismantled Smith House survive storage facility fire

May 13, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Stone blocks sit inside Mercersburg building that burned overnight.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — Artifacts from a centuries-old house that once survived wrecking equipment avoided burning in a fire that ripped through their storage facility late Saturday.

Wooden beams and stones from Mercersburg’s dismantled Smith House were being stored in an old tire and auto shop on Pa. 16 across from the MMP&W Fire Co. Fire heavily damaged the storage building overnight Saturday.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Paul Orange, a Franklin County, Pa., doctor who owns the artifacts.

In February 2011, the Smith House was demolished to expand the fire department’s lot. Demolition capped off an 18-month struggle between the firefighters who owned the property and preservationists who wanted the house preserved.

Some historians believe the home played a role in the “Black Boys Rebellion of 1765” uprising of settlers, the American Revolution and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Orange paid the wrecking crew $49,500 to save the house’s pieces and number them for possible reconstruction some day. He dreams of creating a museum on a lot adjacent to the site of this weekend’s fire.

Orange evaluated the artifacts Sunday morning and found they suffered limited smoke and water damage.

“To me, they’re priceless because they can’t be replaced,” he said.

Smith House supporter Karen Ramsburg, who lives nearby, said the items survived because MMP&W Fire Chief Dusty Stoner led efforts to have them pulled from the blaze.

“If he wouldn’t have done that, everything would’ve gone up,” she said.

Orange agreed that the organization once on the other side of their disagreement now saved the house’s materials.

“The fire company did a great job,” he said.

Stoner could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Ramsburg said she wasn’t initially sure what was happening when she heard sirens around 11:15 p.m.

“We walked down, and it looked like fire was coming out of the building,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God.’”

Ramsburg said she saw haze and smoke, heard breaking glass and smelled burning wood.

“I thought, ‘Am I smelling 250-year-old wooden beams?’” she said Sunday.

The Smith House’s doors already had been moved because the property owner was seeking to sell the old tire and auto shop, Ramsburg said.

A new place will need to be found to store the materials, Orange said.

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