Ice-covered rubble is all that remains of a nearly 150-year-old structure that held a significant link to the country’s history.
The old Poor’s Wagon Shop that once manufactured wagons with false bottoms to smuggle slaves out of the South and into freedom all but burned to the ground Monday night in what officials — and its owner — are calling a “suspicious” fire.
The unoccupied, 2 1/2-story structure — which took on a second life in the 20th century as Arden Casino on the grounds of the historic, 63-acre Wood Estate at 276 No. Main St. — had been burning for a while when firefighters, returning from another call, noticed smoke hanging low over the road around 7 p.m.
They soon found the source — flames shooting out the front windows of the wood-shingled structure, which overlooks Poor’s Pond. The remote location and snow-covered driveways leading to the building hampered the response, but eventually up to 60 first-responders were on hand to knock down the blaze.
The fire seemed mostly extinguished by around 8 p.m., but continued smoldering and then flared up again an hour later, collapsing the roof and leaving the interior covered in debris and coated with ice.
Now the hard work begins.
While responding to the fire itself was a challenge, Fire Chief Mike Mansfield said sifting through the rubble to find the cause will be an even greater challenge.
The investigation is being handled by several agencies, including the Andover Police Department, Massachusetts State Police and the state fire marshal’s office. Aiding them in the investigation is the state Department of Fire Services rehab unit, which has provided a mobile work site — a converted Winnebago — for conducting interviews and allowing investigators to warm up after working the scene in frigid temperatures, Mansfield said.
While the cold and ice are obstacles, another hurdle is that the building collapsed, helping to conceal and protect hot spots, extending the department’s need to douse the blaze, according to Mansfield.