GENOA, OHIO - The State Fire Marshal's Office ruled Friday that a fire at the village's historic stone depot building was arson and is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information on the blaze.
The 125-year-old stone depot building where electric trolleys used to transport passengers throughout Northwest Ohio was severely damaged in a fire on Thursday afternoon.
The State Fire Marshal’s Fire & Explosion Investigation Bureau said Friday it is seeking information relating to the fire, which it ruled was intentionally set.
The historic structure on Washington Street formerly was part of the Interurban Railway System.
The investigation is being conducted jointly by the fire department, Genoa Police Department and the State Fire Marshal’s office.
A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered by the Blue Ribbon Arson Committee for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the fire.
“Intentionally set fires are not something we take lightly, and tips from the public will help us find who was responsible for this,” said Interim State Fire Marshal Jeff A. Hussey. “If you have any information, please come forward and help our investigators solve this case.”
Eric Hise is one of several Genoa residents who have been working with village leaders to try to preserve the depot building.
He said the Interurban Trolley Station was one of the last stone depots still standing from the Ohio Public Service Company's electric railway system.
Hise said the building was made from stone from a nearby quarry and had been used by Clay Township for storage for roughly 60 years after trolley service was discontinued.
"I'm just a little shocked that out of nowhere this thing goes up in flames," Hise said.
Allen-Clay Joint Fire District acting senior battalion chief Mike Swisher said Friday that the fire was reported around 4:30 p.m. Thursday and that Lake Township Fire Department assisted Allen-Clay in fighting the blaze.
He said the departments had the fire extinguished within an hour.
"It's still standing. It (the fire) did burn through the roof," Swisher said of the historic building.
Hise said the Village of Genoa acquired the depot building in 2014.
He said there is a meeting scheduled with village officials on Monday to discuss the building's future.
Genoa Mayor Ken Harsanje said Friday that despite Thursday's fire, he still plans to hold the meeting Monday to discuss the future of the depot and the adjacent GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) hall.
He said the city owns the depot and had been using the building for storage, with one side holding homecoming festival items and the other spare parts and Allen-Clay Joint Fire District equipment.
Most of the homecoming festival items had been moved to a nearby building prior to the fire, he said.
Harsanje said that as far as he knew, the most important item lost in the fire was an aluminum extension fire ladder that can extend vertically up to 45 feet.
"It wasn't like there was hundreds of thousands of dollars of stuff," he said.
Harsanje said the village council had talked to the committee in May 2016 and given members a year to come up with a funding plan to preserve and maintain the historic buildings.
"I was not going to ask taxpayers to pay for these buildings," Harsanje said.
GENOA, OHIO — Investigators suspect an act of arson burned a 125-year-old railway station at the heart of a historical preservation debate.
A building that was once part of the Interurban Railway system caught fire at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday on Washington Street in Genoa.
Firefighters stand near an old railroad hub at the corner of Washington and Sixth in Genoa following a fire Tuesday.
The state fire marshal on Friday ruled the fire was intentionally set.
Village officials in recent years had considered demolishing the structure if preservationists could not find funds to pay for repairs.
Restoring the former power station and ticket office near Sixth and Washington streets would likely cost $250,000. Village officials said Genoa could not pay for that out of its budget.
On Thursday evening they said they planned to raze the building because the fire left it structurally unsound.
Fire officials said on Friday afternoon that the building had not been demolished, and they said its demolition was a matter for the village of Genoa and its insurance company to resolve.
Before the fire, preservation advocates had planned to meet with village leaders to discuss options for the historic structure.
For decades, the building was used as storage for village homecoming events.
On Thursday morning, a Blade reporter and photographer toured the building with Genoa Mayor Ken Harsanje, Sr., and Village Administrator Kevin Gladden. The four were the last people inside, Mr. Gladden said. Mr. Harsanje on Friday said neither he nor anyone he knows was involved with the fire.
“No, and I guess you have to ask that question, but I take offense to that question,” he said.
Eric Hise, a former councilman who wanted to see the building saved, said the fire marshal’s staff “know their business.” He called it sad to lose the structure, the last remnant of the village’s transportation past.
“Once this history is gone, it’s gone,” he said. “There will be not even a fingerprint of our transportation history.”
A reward of up to $5,000 is available for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
Those with tips are asked to contact the State Fire Marshal’s Fire & Explosion Investigation Bureau at 800-589-2728 or the Genoa Police Department at 419-855-7717.