Story and photos by Nick Archacki, news editor
Last Sunday night, a ravenous inferno raged through Cambridge Springs, leaving another scar on a town that is still recovering from the loss of the beloved Riverside Inn which burnt to the ground just over two years ago.
The flames, which blazed for four consecutive hours, destroyed many sections in a historic building complex on 276 and 278 South Main Street. The building housed four apartments and was going to be the home of a new brewpub, Hardwaters Brewing, which was just six to eight weeks from opening its doors for business.
The fire caused smoke damage to Mr. Woody’s Smokin’ Barbecue, Scott’s Heating and Air Conditioning, Finney’s Chocolate Shoppe, and Kelly Run Art Gallery. The Art Gallery remains open, but the other three stores are closed until further notice. The smoke from the fire remained in the Cambridge Springs vicinity two days after the flames were extinguished.
The blaze, which was reported at around 7 p.m. on May 12, supposedly started in the front part of the new pub, where the bar countertop was installed just a day prior to the fire. Due to the instability of the building and the collapse of the second floor and roof, the fire marshall has not begun an investigation as to how it started.
“It was hard just knowing they were working so hard in there to get it [Hardwaters Brewing] up and running,” Cambridge Springs Fire Chief Chris French said.
French, who has been the Cambridge Fire Chief for seven years, took a moment to reflecton this fire as well as the loss of the Riverside two years ago: “When the Riverside burnt, I was in shock knowing I was just there with over 700 people for the adult prom. Emotionally, this fire didn’t affect me as much as the Riverside. However, it was still tough because I was in charge of about 200 firefighters and they depended on me to make the right decisions.”
According to French, twenty fire departments from Crawford and Erie counties were on the scene with five ladder trucks applying water on the fire. Crews remained at the scene until early Monday morning, with some departments returning later that day when the fire rekindled for a short time.
PENNCREST School District called for a two-hour delay on Monday out of respect for the community and the firefighters (who came from across the district to assist). An email from Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said: “The fire in Cambridge Springs will affect our students, residents, bus drivers, bus routes, and others. Please keep Cambridge Springs in your prayers.”
There is still hope that Hardwaters Brewing may rebuild, but nothing has been confirmed at this time. The smoke damage to Finney’s Chocolate Shoppe was extensive and has caused the future of Finney’s to be undecided. The business is currently closed as the materials that were used to make chocolate, cakes, and desserts were damaged. Scott’s Heating and Air Conditioning will be moving to 239 South Main Street, and Mr. Woody’s will be moving into the location of the former Crazy Pineapple (or the Crossbow) at 259 Venango Avenue.
The Cambridge Springs pride is still strong after another heartbreaking loss. The community is coming together once again to help the firefighters and crews at the fire and aid the people affected by the blaze.