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Fire Damages Old Western Maryland Hotel

Resident faces arson charges for failed suicide attempt

Rick Fulton
Gettysburg Times Staff Writer

(4/5) A landmark hotel in Emmitsburg, Md. that was one of the last structures that burned in the "Great (Emmitsburg) Fire of 1863" has burned again, and one person has been arrested.

More than 100 to 125 firefighters descended on an early Saturday morning fire that severely damaged more than half of the four-story, East Main Street Emmitsburg Hotel, a structure whose history can be traced back to before the mid-1800s.

The Emmitsburg Hotel, actually a 17-unit apartment building, caught fire around 6 a.m. Saturday, resulting in fire companies within a half hour distance either sending in manpower and equipment to the scene or covering for firefighting companies that responded.

The burning structure was surrounded by firefighters from Emmitsburg, Gettysburg, Walkersville and Taneytown before it was brought under control three hours later around 9 a.m.

There were no serious injuries reported. The fire left 28 occupants homeless.

John Bushman, 43, a resident of the Emmitsburg Hotel, has been charged with arson and malicious burning, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office. Investigators say Bushman was trying to commit suicide.

Firefighter Robert A Rosensteel credited property management with safely evacuating the old hotel before the first firefighting units arrived on the scene.

"A lot of lives were probably saved by a manager who quickly took action and beat on doors to get people out," he said. "Also, smoke detectors served as an early warning."

During the firefighting effort, more than 100 pet birds, as well as other pets, were rescued from the old building that stands on the southeast corner of the Emmitsburg Town Square.

Twenty-eight residents of the hotel are staying at the Emmitsburg Sleep Inn & Suites, 501 Silo Hill Pkwy., for several days, Rosensteel stated.

The firefighter stated that the structure sustained "severe damage" to the top two floors and the roof, while the two floors below them suffered water damage, including Stavros Pizza which operated in part of the ground floor.

The fireman said people can help those displaced by making donations on behalf ofthose who lost their homes to Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, P.O. 376, Emmitsburg, Md., 21727.  Checks should be made out to Saint Joseph’s with "fire victims" written in the memo line.

The only other time the old hotel was brought down by fire was June 15, 1863, when the east side of Emmitsburg’s Main Street caught fire only two weeks before the Battle of Gettysburg.

The last building that burned in that devastating conflagration was the Emmitsburg Hotel.

Several hotels had been constructed on the foundation occupied by the Emmitsburg Hotel.

According to Michael Hillman, president of the Emmitsburg Area Historical Society, the hotel’s roots, quite literally, can be traced back to before the 1820s when "Mrs. Agnew," whose first name has been lost to posterity, operated the first hotel, known as the Eagle Hotel, where the Emmitsburg Hotel is presently located.

Daniel Wile purchased the structure from the woman’s estate in 1853, and had the structure torn down and resurrected as a four story hotel in 1858 on the foundation of the former hotel and called it the City Hotel.

In 1891 the hotel, then known as the Western Maryland Hotel was sold to Annie Slagle, and its name was changed to the Slagel Hotel. In 1922, Lawrence Morndorff bought the establishment and renamed it the Morndorff Hotel, Hillman stated

The various incarnations that have operated on the pre-1820s foundation have not been without their dignitaries.

Francis Scott Key - the composer of the National Anthem - once delivered a speech from the hotel’s balcony, as did President William Henry Harrison, Hillman said.

Regarding this weekend’s fire, Rosensteel could not say if the old historic structure would or could be saved or renovated. At this stage, "It is probably undetermined whether or not they will be able to revitalize it."

"Several of the rooms are completely burned out, especially on the third floor," he said.

"The people of Emmitsburg (would) hate to see that structure disappear," Rosensteel said. "It was a part of our landscape for more than 150 years."

The old hotel sustained more $1 million in damages in Saturday’s fire according to the latest estimate.

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