GARRETTSVILLE: Fire swept through a historic 19th century commercial block in this quaint 150-year-old Portage County village Saturday.
Thirty-four area fire departments responded to the call for mutual aid — many of them bringing tankers of water to help fight the blaze — but by late afternoon, Mayor Rick Patrick was not confident there was anything left to save.
“It looks like we’re going to lose that whole block,” he said.
Some 13 businesses were affected, including a barber shop, resale shop, antique shop, quilt shop, hearing aid store, foot doctor and some offices.
The Garrettsville Police Department reported that a call came in at 1:15 p.m. saying, “Main Street is on fire.”
The block in question was anchored by the former Irwin Hardware store — one of the first buildings erected on Main Street and which has been under renovation for a couple of years. It is in the heart of the downtown that serves this community of 2,200 people.
It was not immediately known what started the fire. The Portage County Fire Investigation Unit and the State Fire Marshal’s Office were investigating.
One Windham firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation. No other injuries were reported.
Kim DelTorto, owner of the Chic & Shabby Resale Shop at Main and High streets, said four people were in her store when someone ran inside to say the block was on fire.
DelTorto said she saw the fire and yelled to her customers: “We got to go! We got to get out!”
The fire consumed her business, which celebrated its fifth anniversary Friday.
Like the rest of the block, the store was built in the 1800s and was originally Roots Department Store, Portage County’s first department store, DelTorto said.
She said she spent a couple of years restoring it and loved that it had its original tin ceiling.
“I keep thinking about that ceiling,” DelTorto said. “It’s gone.”
By late Saturday afternoon, fire engines and tanker trucks full of water still lined Main and Elm streets.
Names on the vehicles made it clear that nearly every city, village and township fire department in a 45-minute radius had responded: Bainbridge, Newbury, Hiram, Mesopotamia, Bristol, Middlefield, Munson, Troy, Auburn, Hambden, Ravenna, Edinburg, Rootstown, Braceville, Burton, Mecca, Deerfield, Palmyra, Parkman, Warren, Montville, Windham, Charlestown, Farmington, Champion and Paris.
Resident Tommie Jo Marsilio, a former county commissioner, said she also saw firetrucks from Chardon, Aurora, and Streetsboro, but apparently there were even more. Saturday evening, the Garrettsville Freedom Nelson Fire Department reported it had been joined by a total of 34 fire departments.
Marsilio learned of the fire early Saturday afternoon when she ran downtown to pick up flowers.
“I’ve got three friends with businesses in that block. It’s just devastating,” Marsilio said. “Everyone in town is there, just standing and staring,” she said after running her errand.
Marsilio said she believed the Irwin building renovation was near completion, and was told tar was being applied to the roof on Saturday.
“The bad news is, it’s a devastating day for the village,” Marsilio said.
“The good news is, we will help our friends rebuild,” she said. “That’s what a small town does. We will pull together.”
Hoping to rebuild
Local high school math teacher Dave Opfer, who lives near downtown, also counted friends among the small-business owners affected by the fire.
“Everybody kind of knows everybody here,” he said. “We’ll all pull together and rebuild. We’ll just have to figure out how we can help.”
The block was a key part of the village’s plans to revive its historic Main Street area.
A period of decline began after Irwin Hardware departed in 2002. The property sat vacant for 10 years, Mayor Patrick said.
Left neglected, the building became a hazard and officials considered demolishing it. Instead, the city purchased it and sold it to local builder and developer Mike Maschek.
Patrick said another likely casualty of the fire was the historic Buckeye Hall stage, which was preserved in the building.
A local theater was in the process of applying for grants to renovate it, and a local website noted that William McKinley, James Garfield and other famous orators had given speeches on that stage.
“It’s pretty devastating. I just recently, in my State of the Village speech, commented that for a small town, we were probably 90 percent full, with only two vacancies” among the downtown properties, Patrick said.
DelTorto, who was still watching flames lick at the block as Saturday evening approached, said the architecture defined the town’s history and gave it its “quaint” appeal.
She was confident many of the businesses would rebuild.
“We’ll make it through,” she said. “It’s just stuff. Nobody got hurt.”
Still, she said, “it will never be the same.”