Fire destroys house containing museum
Sad news from Illinois from the Museum Security listserv.
December 30, 2012
WHITE HALL - Seven generations of family history - of Greene County history - vanished Thursday when fire consumed the home of Jim and Emily Esarey.The home not only was part of a sesquicentennial farm, but it also housed the Gregory House Museum, which chronicled the history of the rural White Hall family and the county.
The White Hall Fire Department first was notified about the blaze at approximately 3:30 p.m. Thursday, but by the time firefighters arrived at the home - about 2 miles south of White Hall - it already was engulfed in flames.
White Hall Fire Chief Gary Sheppard said the fire required summoning 43 firefighters from eight different fire departments within the first 30 minutes after his arrival.
The nature of the house made fighting the fire difficult, and it took about four hours to bring the blaze under control.
"At first, there was a problem with water, because it was in a rural area, but we got that taken care of," Sheppard said. "We put 100,000 gallons of water on it, and that takes a bit to set up and get a tanker system going."
The home also had a concrete floor between the first floor and the furnished basement. With the fire originating in the basement, the fire had a chance to grow before it was noticed.
The cause was determined to be a grease fire in a basement kitchen. Sheppard said by the time the smoke started flowing into the first floor - triggering the smoke alarms - the basement likely had been engulfed.
With the basement cut off from the first floor by concrete, it made fighting the fire all the more difficult.
A few people were in the home at the time of the fire, but all made it outside safely.
Sheppard said the only injury to report was one White Hall firefighter who was taken to the hospital for chest pain, and was treated and released.
The Gregory Farm was founded in 1821 by Emily Esarey's great-great-grandfather, Charles Gregory, and seven generations of the family have lived there.
In 1993, Jim and Emily Esarey opened the Gregory Farm Museum in their home and featured it during Greene County Days. The museum housed many family artifacts and antiques from the local area.
Sheppard said the family members in the home made it outside with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The home and its contests all were lost.
Fire departments that responded included White Hall, Roodhouse, Carrollton, Kane, Eldred, Greenfield, Rock Bridge and Winchester.