Waitsburg mill burns to ground

The cause of Sunday's fire is under investigation

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“It was just incredibly quick,” said Erica Peters-Grende of the fire. Peters-Grende arrived at the scene at about 4:15 a.m. “We could even feel heat with the wind going away from it.”

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“It was just incredibly quick,” said Erica Peters-Grende of the fire. Peters-Grende arrived at the scene at about 4:15 a.m. “We could even feel heat with the wind going away from it.”

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“It was just incredibly quick,” said Erica Peters-Grende of the fire. Peters-Grende arrived at the scene at about 4:15 a.m. “We could even feel heat with the wind going away from it.”

WAITSBURG -- A raging fire Sunday destroyed the Preston-Shaffer Mill, the building also known as "Wait's Mill" that gave the city its name.

The fire was reported at 4:10 a.m., and flames quickly engulfed the vacant, five-story wooden structure, which dates from 1865. The cause of the blaze is under investigation, said Waitsburg Fire Chief Justin Gagnon.

"The city's just lost its most historical landmark," said Bart Baxter, a city councilman and contractor who had been working to help restore the building. "It was gone in an hour."

Baxter was among those who watched the blaze as it was fought by the town's fire department, aided by three fire engines from Dayton.

Also watching the fire was city Mayor Markeeta Little Wolf. From her house, "you could see this huge orange glow," Little Wolf said. "There were a lot of people who were in tears watching (the fire)."

According to information on the city's Web site, the facility was constructed after a settler, Doc Willard, convinced Sylvester Wait, a miller, to build a mill for locally produced grain. The facility began operation in May 1865, and the town that grew up around it became Waitsburg.

Located at Bolles and Millrace roads on the city's north side, the mill remained in operation until 1957. In 2005 it was placed on the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation's "Most Endangered Historic Properties List." The city, which owns the building and property, was moving forward with plans to restore the structure, Little Wolf said.

Baxter said he had started work in May to repair the upper mansard roof on the building. Watching the structure burn was "heart-wrenching," he said.

"People just don't realize the craftsmanship that was in that mill," he said about the 144-year-old structure. "Everything was beautiful fir heartwood."

Baxter said one of the saddest things for him was his plan to take some of the wooden floor joists to make a park bench dedicated for a community member who had donated money to help restore the building.

"I don't think there's a piece of wood left in there to do that," he said today.

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