Most artifacts saved after suspicious fire at 99-year-old Eagan Town Hall

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 9, 2013 - 8:32 PM

Displays depicted early government, community and farming life.

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Firefighters called to the scene of Sunday’s fire in Eagan managed to carry out nearly everything that wasn’t bolted down. JOEL KOYAMA joel.koyama@ startribune.com

 

Many of the flags, photos and other artifacts displayed in the old Eagan Town Hall can probably be saved.

It’s too early to say, though, whether the building that was the center of town government from 1914 to 1965 can be saved after a suspicious fire early Sunday heavily damaged the structure, Eagan Fire Chief Mike Scott said Monday.

Inside the 99-year-old building at the corner of Pilot Knob and Wescott roads were photos and displays about town government, farming and community life; the original potbelly stove and the original table where members of the town board gathered; a 48-star U.S. flag and three variations of the Eagan flag; a cradle hand carved in the 1800s; and a small anvil where a farmer might have made his own nails or horseshoes — all remnants of an Eagan that is long gone.

A flag that inexplicably braided itself during a past windstorm was a casualty of the fire, said Joanna Foote, communications coordinator for the city of Eagan and staff liaison for the Eagan Historical Society.

The fire was spotted by a police officer about 5 a.m. Sunday, Scott said. The initial blaze was put out in 20 minutes, he said, although it took another hour to fight hot spots in the attic. Forty volunteer firefighters responded, some extinguishing the blaze, others collecting anything that wasn’t bolted to the floor in the wooden one-room building.

Scott said that the cause of the fire is under investigation but that he is “pretty confident it wasn’t an accidental cause.” He said he couldn’t elaborate until the investigation is complete.

A damage estimate wasn’t available; a contractor will be hired to see what can be fixed.

The artifacts, of course, were priceless, Scott said.

The photos, artifacts, maps and other items saved by firefighters were taken to a professional restoration company to see what can be saved.

“We can’t thank them enough,” Foote said of the firefighters. “The fact that they even thought to do that in the midst of what is already a difficult job.

“Tables, chairs, benches — all of it came out. Steamer trunks, every framed artifact, every snippet of newspaper clipping that might be clinging to a wall,” she said. “It’s truly amazing. The only things they didn’t bring out were the things physically attached to the walls [and] a milk cart that wasn’t able to fit through the doors.”

By the time Foote arrived early Sunday, everything had been methodically stacked in the driveway. She and other members of the Historical Society spent the day sorting and cataloging the items before sending them to Service Master.

“We hugged, we cried,” Foote said of the workers. “But the big thing was: Let’s make sure we can preserve this and make it available to the community and the next generation.”

The old Town Hall and the displays had been curated by the Historical Society since the mid-1990s. Foote said that there were open houses there in the spring, summer and fall and that a committee was planning how to celebrate the building’s 100th anniversary next year.

The agenda has changed dramatically for Tuesday’s meeting of the Historical Society.

“The intent is to figure out how we move forward and how we continue our mission,” Foote said.

 

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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