FFs from 3 states battle 3-alarm blaze in historic Md. building
Over 100 firefighters fought a stubborn fire in an abandoned, cut up four-story hotel and a mixed-use structure
By Katia Parks
ELKTON, Md. — The Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are investigating the cause of a “stubborn” three-alarm fire that ripped through two buildings, including the 179-year-old Howard House, in downtown Elkton Sunday evening.
The Singerly Fire Company responded to a report of a fire in the 100 block of W. Main St., at the intersection of North Street, at 5:30 p.m.
According to the Office of the State Fire Marshal, an off-duty Delaware firefighter saw smoke coming from behind the historic building, ran into the hallway of an adjoining structure, grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to put out the fire before it rapidly spread into the two buildings.
It took more than 100 firefighters from Cecil County, Delaware and Pennsylvania three hours to fight the blaze. One firefighter sustained minor injuries and was transported to ChristianaCare Union Hospital, according to the fire officials.
“The Howard House has been re-done, cut up, and it’s had multiple uses,” said Oliver Alkire, senior deputy state fire marshal, “so it was a stubborn fire in that aspect because when the firefighters were in there trying to make access to the ceiling, they thought that they made access only to discover another ceiling above it.”
The fire heavily damaged the historic four-story hotel, which is vacant, along with a three-story commercial building that includes Angelucci Bail Bonds and three apartments above the business.
Nine people were displaced and are being assisted by the Red Cross. Damage to both structures and their contents is estimated at $1.5 million.
Investigators have concluded the fire originated in the rear exterior of 111 W. Main Street, which adjoins the hotel.
“The fire happened behind Howard House at the back of the Angelucci Bail Bonds‚” said Alkire. “It got into a stairway leading up, straight in the corner, and that’s how it got into the roof and the attic of both the bails bond place with the apartments and the Howard House.”
The Howard House was built in 1844 by Jacob Howard to replace another hotel, the Washington Inn. The new building had a tavern and restaurant with rooms for travelers, along with a stable with enough room for three horses, according to the Historical Society of Cecil County.
The Howard House first caught fire in the early 20th century. The building was gutted and rebuilt. In the 1940s and ‘50s, various businesses occupied the basement including a tailor, a dentist's office, and coffee shops.
President William Howard Taft, joined by running mate James Sherman, gave a 45-minute campaign speech from the porch of the hotel to a crowd of supporters in 1912, according to the Historical Society of Cecil County.
Taft was the nation’s 27th president, serving one term from 1909-1913, and the 10th chief justice of the Supreme Court, the only person to have held both offices, according to whitehouse.gov.
In 2013, the Howard House bar and restaurant closed. New owners reopened the restaurant as Minihane’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, then as Minihanes 1853 Land & Sea, before permanently shutting its doors last year.
“We are all saddened by the news of the devastating fire at the historic Howard Hotel in downtown Elkton,” said Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger. “We thank our brave first responders for putting themselves in harm’s way to contain this three-alarm blaze and are glad that no one was seriously injured.”
Investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire. So far, there is no evidence of arson, Alkire said.