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N. Main St. Fire

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Aerial view of Hartford from Microsoft Virtual Earth to show location of building X that burned.  The first three 4:00 a.m. photos were submitted by Karl Bayer, TriCity Record. The next four photos, #259, 263, 266, 268, were submitted by Bruce Little, who states that he "took around 4 or 5 in the morning after my dog woke me up". Other photos during fire were taken by Randy, from assisting Covert Fire Department, and submitted by John Dudley.  After fire photos 10:00 a.m. were by Emma Thornburg Sefcik.      Click here for slide show   Updates are shown below and will be added as they become available.  Comments from viewers are noted below.

 - Fire strikes another historic building in Hartford.

At this point, the origin of the fire remains under investigation.  This story will be updated with new photos and facts as the investigation continues.

This is the 4th major fire to have destroyed or severely damaged historic buildings since 2004 in Hartford.  On April 9, 2004, the 100+ year old Hartford House Hotel burned, demolished shortly thereafter, and an empty lot remains.  Within a few days, another fire occurred at Mann Metal, which was originally known as the Thomas Farm in earlier years.  Lightening was determined as the origin of the Mann Metal fire.  Severely damaged portions of the building have been replaced.  Another major fire hit Mann Metal in 2005, which resulted in the total demolition of Mann Metal from that site.  The business was relocated to the old Fruit Exchange building, southwest of town across the railroad tracks from the race track.


House fire in Hartford
closes Red Arrow Highway

HARTFORD  - Authorities in Van Buren County received a call early Friday morning that a home was on fire in downtown Hartford. Six fire departments were dispatched to the scene.

The home, which is at 35 W. Main, is an older building and was the home of four adults and two small children. Everyone made it out, and no one was injured.

The road in front of the building was closed as firefighters put out the fire, so traffic on Red Arrow had to be routed around the area. At 7:00 a.m. emergency crews were wrapping up and putting out the last hot spots.

The cause of the fire is unknown at this time.

 Update 2-16-2008

Herald Palladium 
South Haven Bureau
by Andrew Lersten


Blaze destroys downtown building
Cause of fire remains under investigation

HARTFORD Several area fire departments were called in Friday morning to help Hartford firefighters extinguish a large fire that destroyed a two-story downtown building with a business in it.
     Local firefighters were called to 35 1 ⁄ 2 W. Main St. at 3:26 a.m., and additional departments were summoned to help, Hartford Fire Chief Ed Riley said.
     State police Fire Marshal Scott LeRoi is investigating the cause, and no determination had been made as of late Friday afternoon, Riley said. The fire appeared to have started in the ceiling of the brick building, which was mostly vacant, Riley said.
     Corner Fun and Games, a video and computer games arcade operated by City Commissioner Mark Scholten, occupied part of the first
     The second story, which at one time had apartments, was condemned and therefore was not in use, the fire chief said. The building is owned by Rudy Serratos.
     However, the fire did affect a family renting an apartment just east of the building destroyed by the fire, Riley said. The fire destroyed the stairway used to gain access to the familys apartment.  For now, the family cannot stay in the apartment until that access is restored, he said.
     Assisting Hartford firefighters were the Bangor, Keeler, Lawrence, Coloma, South Haven, Paw Paw, Decatur and Watervliet fire departments, Riley said.

Hartford fire 2-15-08 - John Madill photo - H Palladium Firefighters from several departments fight a blaze in downtown Hartford around 5:30 a.m. Friday. The building was vacant except for a business on the first floor.

Photo by
John Madill - He

 2-21-08 Update

Tri-City Record
by Angela Stair

Hartford fire ruled as arson
10 fire departments fight to save landmark

Fire struck again in downtown Hartford on Friday, February 15.  The building, located at 35 1/2 West Main Street, was totally gutted by a four-alarm fire that struck at 3:26  a.m.  Five people located in the apartments to the east were safely evacuated.

Hartford Fire Chief Ed Riley said that Michigan State Police Fire Marshal Scott LeRoi has investigated the fire and has found it to be arson.  The case is now in the hands of the police, he said.

The value of the building has not been determined at this time.

The two-story building has been home to many businesses over the years.  Residents of Hartford remember with fondness the Green Lantern Caf that had been there during the 1940s and '50s.  Presently, Corner Fun and Games, a computer and video game arcade, was housed in part of the first floor.

The Apartments on the second floor of the building had been condemned so one was in them at the time.  However, the apartments to the east of the building shared a common stairwell.  The five residents from those apartments were displaced and are being housed in Paw Paw by the American Red Cross.

Chief Riley said the apartments to the east had smoke and water damage but were not destroyed.  Unfortunately, the residents cannot return to their apartments because of the stairwell damage.  He said this is also one of the factors that must be taken into consideration in determining dollar loss.  According to Chief Riley, the owner of the building, Rudy Serratos of Hartford, did not have insurance.

The fire that began at 3:26 a.m. burned so intently that it gutted the building even though 10 fire departments had been called for assistance.  They were Lawrence, Paw Paw, Keeler, Sister Lakes, Watervliet, Coloma, Covert, South Haven, Bangor, and Hartford Fire Departments.

Chief Riley said that, thankfully, there were no injuries to report. 


Fire, fate of gutted building; topics of Hartford Commission meeting

by Mary Brost Reck


Hartford City Commission met for a workshop meeting Monday, February 18, just a few buildings east of the recent downtown fire.  Much discussion - official and non-official - surrounded the details relating to the fire.

The vacant building, which was uninsured, had been condemned.  Smoke and water also damaged the adjacent building, including property owned by Commissioner Mark Scholten.

Following examination of the burned site by the Building Inspector, the building has been determined to be in a precarious condition.  The road next to the building has been blocked off temporarily, for safety considerations.

I don't think that building can sustain windy conditions, noted City Manager Yemi Akinwale.  If the owner doesn't have a plan of action, we may have one for him.

The property owner is responsible for the cleanup or removal of the building, said Akinwale.  The owner has been notified that he has five days to submit a plan of action indicating whether he plans to rebuild or tear down the building, according to Akinwale.  If he intends to rebuild, he must indicate he has the financial ability to adequately ensure the safety of the structure.

It is presently a safety hazard, noted Mayor Ted Johnson.  We have to make sure the area is safe.


Arson investigation is opened


Since there were no working utilities in the building, arson is a consideration.  Chief of Police Ramon Beltran, in his report to the Commission, indicated that his department has opened an investigation into the case.  Following the Fire Marshal's opinion, Hartford Police Department is now in charge of the investigation.

Aikenwale commended all those who assisted in containing the blaze.  He read a letter from Doug Harington, Assistant Fire Chief of Lawrence Township Emergency Services, complimenting Hartford Superintendent of Public Works Danny Staunton and the rest of the staff for the fine job assisting emergency personnel in attaining water and access to the buildings.


Apartment facilities considered


Though the apartments above the burnt building had been vacant, other downtown businesses maintain occupied apartments upstairs.

Akinwale provided examples of other apartments downtown that have been recently renovated and currently provide safe, quality housing.  He also noted that state programs encourage such downtown apartments as a way to revitalize and sustain downtown districts.


Note:  Karl Bayer contributed the first 3 photos in the fire slide show

 3-20-2008 Update
Herald Palladium 
South Haven Bureau
by Andrew Lersten

Man charged with arson

HARTFORD A Hartford man allegedly burned a downtown building last month because of a grudge against a tenant in an upstairs apartment next door.
     Christopher Lee Burrows, 31, was arraigned Wednesday on a charge of arson for the Feb. 15 fire on West Main Street, Van Buren Seventh District Court officials said.
(Burrows) and a man living in an apartment of the adjoining building had had several disputes over the previous couple of months, which led to the fire being started, Hartford Police Chief Ramon Beltran said.
     The two-story building at 35 1 ⁄ 2 W. Main St. was destroyed by the fire, and it affected the adjoining apartment because it destroyed a stairway used for access to it, Hartford Fire Chief Ed Riley said earlier. The fire displaced the family.
     The building that burned was mostly vacant, but did contain Corner Fun and Games video and computer game arcade, owned by City Commissioner Mark Scholten.
     Burrows confessed to the crime, the police chief said. Burrows is locked up in the Van Buren County jail in Paw Paw in lieu of paying a $40,000 bond, jail officials said.
     A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for March 31, court officials said.

 Viewer Comments:

     I can remember that the Green Lantern was changed to the Southern Inn in the late seventies. I worked the midnight shift there and they were open all the time. The mangers were Judy Austin and Marvin. I learned how to knit when I worked there. My boss, Judy, taught me on the not-so-busy days. A guy by the name of Morie, I don't remember his last name, was the owner of the caf before the Austins took over. I worked what I call the "bar nights". When the bars closed for the night, we would be swamped with people who were hungry. At the time, I worked with a girl by the name of Barb Morsaw. That was the good ole days. Before I started working there, my family and I would meet there for coffee on the weekend. Former resident Nancy Urick, now living in Illinois but getting ready to move back to Michigan. I miss my family and going out for coffee with my sisters.
    I went to HHS and quit in ninth grade in 1968. I went back to Adult Ed and got my GED in 1983, took a collage course, and received my master degree in art in 1991 through a home study course because of an auto accident that broke my back. After having back surgery, I was laid up for 3 months and I decided to go for it.
    I remember when I was 15 there was a donut shop a few buildings down from the Southern Inn.
    I can remember when I would get off work, there would be police officers walking their beat on the streets of Hartford - that was the times you felt safe.

Cheyenne Summer

I remember back in the late 70's the corner building that caught fire used to be a restaurant and the CBers in the community would have coffee breaks at the restaurant and down a couple doors was a pool hall.

Bruce Little
Note:  The pool hall was located in the red building just east of the restaurant.  I believe that is where the family resides that was mentioned in Andrew Lersten's article above.  I think that building also once housed Art Smith's Paint Store. 

     Hi Emma, I always appreciate everything you send from Hartford. I'm following the reports of Shaun and Julie Sweet and praying with all of you for that family.  I'm interested in the new obituaries section and have already read it all. Also, I'm most interested in the reports about the fire in the old Green Lantern Restaurant building.  That was my uncle Roy Knapp's restaurant when I was a child. I'm going to send here some of my memories of it from the 40s and 50s.    
     I remember that when one entered the restaurant, eating tables were to the right and rear, and a long soda fountain was to the left. I rarely got things at the Green Lantern soda fountain. (I think mostly only adults did.)  I preferred to buy "Blue Moon" ice cream at the Bookstore (over east, mid block. Now gone.)  When I got to be a teen, I preferred to hang out at Clark's Drug Store and buy my sodas there--or usually cherry Cokes or a concoction we called a Cherry Green River.     
     Along the back (north wall) of the eating room at the Green Lantern were booths.  In the NW corner was the door to the cooking area in the back. Just in front of that door, on the west wall, was a Las Vegas type slot machine that took quarters.  My uncle gave me quarters to play the machine. (I never won anything.)  Old timers used to sit in the booths and eat and play cards when it wasn't rush hour meal times. I used to play Tunk Rummy there with my uncle when business was light.       
     In the back room cooking area, the cooking ranges were immediately to your right along the dividing wall.  Beyond them, and a bit north, were the dishwashing tubs. A few steps north of the cooking ranges was the big island on which food was prepared.  Along the west wall was that door that opened onto Maple Street with no steps down. It was never used for entering or exiting, but Uncle Roy (the cook as well as manager) would stand at it to cool off on hot summer days. On the north wall was the rear door to the alley.  In the northeast corner was a bathroom stall.     
     One time when I was coming home from school, the town policeman, Volney Austin, was doing crossing guard duty at Main and East Streets.  Another kid dared me to grab his billy club and run with it.  Because Volney was a distant cousin, I guess I thought I could get away with that. I adroitly snatched it and ran, with Volney in hot pursuit.  I ran all the way to the Green Lantern, ran in the front door and back to the bathroom to hide. It did me no good. Uncle Roy turned me in, and Cousin Volney handcuffed me to the bathroom stall where I sat for a good long time pondering my crime before he turned me loose. (A policeman couldn't do such a thing to a kid today, but it worked just fine back then.)

Donna Knapp Broadhurst (HHS class of '56)

Webmaster note:  Every kid in town traversed through the front door of The Bookstore, eyeballed the candy counter, went out the back door and on to school.  After school, it was in the back door, candy counter and maybe the soda fountain counter where Don Boniface (HHS 1952) prepared a quick Coke float or 5 ice cream cone, and out the front door to the rest of the day.  The Bookstore was where the new City Hall is now located, with Clark's Drug Store (last known as Rose Drug Store, which was destroyed by the big fire of 1968) located almost directly across on the south side of Main Street - now home of the Move Gallery.

I am so sorry to hear of this particular building burning down.  It was the home of the "Green Lantern" cafe when I was growing up in 
Hartford.    We went there for penny candy and the best tutti fruiti ice cream in the whole world.   I can't remember the name of the 
people who owned the cafe but they made all of their ice cream and were super nice to kids.   

Dorothy Dyer Martelle (HHS 1947)

It's what I thought.  My mom worked in the Green Lantern Restaurant when my dad was serving in Korea.  We were kids and with my Mom, staying with his parents Vic and Mary Rhinehart.  Its across the street from where or maybe still is, the old tavern.  I still remember the old bookstore just down from it way back when.  We have to protect the elderly including old trees and old buildings.

, Jim Rhinehart  (Former resident now residing in Alabama.  Jim's family moved from Hartford in his elementary years and he would have graduated with HHS class of 1965.)

   Click here to send your own viewer comments to be added to this section.
Photos by Emma Thornburg Sefcik  2-15-2008.  Other articles and photos by perspective owners as indicated.