Dave St. Pierre, photo
BERKSHIRE — Firefighters were able to save the old Red Store & Ashery building on Water Tower Road in Berkshire Tuesday night.
Built in the early 1800s the structure is woven into the history of the community, according to Berkshire Fire Chief Irving Wetherby.
When Wetherby arrived on the scene at approximately 8:30 last night, a neighbor was already there. He reportedly told Wetherby, “You have to save it. All our childhoods are here.”
Max Jolley, who ran a toy and candy store, owned the building for many years. “He made it a place where people could bring their kids,” said Wetherby of the former Jolley Store.
Wetherby himself remembers visiting the store as a child in the 1980s. “Half of my fire department and half the town of Berkshire have connections to the building,” he said.
Before becoming a candy and toy store, the building housed a general store. Asked about the ashery part of the name, Wetherby said former owners may have been connected to the potash industry, or it may refer to the blacksmith works that were part of the original store.
The store is also along the route taken by Union troops who traveled through East Berkshire during the Civil War and stayed at the Phoenix House. It’s possible the troops shopped there, suggested Wetherby.
When firefighters arrived, there were flames coming out of the left side of the building, about one and a half stories up. Within minutes of the tanker arriving on scene, fire crews had the fire knocked down, said Wetherby. There was water and fire damage to three rooms and smoke damage to the rest of the building.
“We kept it confined to one spot,” said Wetherby.
Because of the age of the building and the style of construction, Wetherby called for mutual aid, which arrived from Enosburgh, Richford, Montgomery and Franklin. “It’s a heavy old timber building,” he said, of the structure and the potential difficulty to stop the fire if it had gotten out of hand
Firefighters remained on scene until 12:45 a.m. today. Most of that time was spent going through the building to make sure the fire hadn’t spread into any of the walls.
The greatest damage was in the basement where Wetherby believes the fire began. Fire experts from the Vermont State Police were to be on scene today to try and determine the cause.
Wetherby said the current owners of the property were in the process of renovating the building.