Fire destroys 140-year-old Emlenton Mill in Venango County
While the smoke cleared Friday morning, residents in the small Venango County town of Emlenton mourned the loss of the Old Emlenton Mill, a century-old landmark, to a massive fire.
“It's a loss for history, and it's also a big loss for the present-day community,” said Carolee Michener, a board member and historian at the Venango County Historical Society.
Crews from more than 50 departments worked through the night to fight the fire that began about 10 p.m. Thursday in the four-story former mill along Main Street. Assistant fire chief and council president Barry Louise said the structure is a total loss. The cause is under investigation; no one was injured.
Built in 1875, the mill was one of the first steam-powered grist mills in the country. It operated as a mill for more than 100 years and housed an ice cream shop, hostel and small museum at the time of the fire.
Louise said the fire destroyed the mill and boutique next door. Heat damaged several other buildings. Below-freezing temperatures hampered crews' efforts, he said, and they had to bring in tankers from four different counties.
“With temperatures as cold as they were, the tankers were freezing up,” he said. “Hoses were freezing solid.”
He said the town's 300,000-gallon reservoir was nearly drained. The nearby Allegheny River, which could have provided additional water, was frozen. The overnight low at Venango Regional Airport was minus 2 degrees.
Michele Ulrich and her husband moved to Emlenton about 16 years ago and fell in love with the mill.
“Everyone knows it, everywhere,” Ulrich said. “It's just a big part of this community.”
She said she and her husband were vendors when the mill housed an antique store up until about year ago.
“I'm just sad to see it gone,” she said.
Dana Weber woke up, saw smoke billowing upward in front of the pink sunrise and knew something was wrong.
“I thought, ‘It can't possibly be the mill,' ” she said. “But it was.”
She said the loss will leave a hole in the heart of the town, and she at first doubted the ability of the town of just over 600 to recover.
“There's so much history here, and such strong characters that have kept the heritage alive for so long,” she said. “What it boils down to is it's those people and natural resources of the town that will keep it going and thriving in the future.”
Louise said, “We don't have much to start with, so to lose something like that hurts a little bit more.”
Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.