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Massena church fire “suspicious”

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MASSENA - The cause of a Saturday fire in downtown’s vacant First Baptist Church has been ruled to be suspicious, according to Massena Volunteer Fire Department Chief Thomas C. Miller.

Massena firefighters responded to a call at the former Baptist church at 98 Main St., at the corner of East Orvis Street in downtown Massena, shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday.

Crews encountered heavy smoke and found the fire in the middle of the church floor on a carpeted area, Mr. Miller said.

“The guys did an outstanding job and had a really quick knockdown,” Mr. Miller said. “We got it put out with minimal damage.”

“We noticed it was suspicious so we called in the Massena police department,” Mr. Miller said.

The police had made no arrests in the fire as of Wednesday, according to Chief Timmy J. Currier.

The brick structure held its last church services five years ago and the building is slated for demolition.

Louisville Fire provided mutual aid at the fire scene, and Massena Rescue also responded to the call. Firefighters remained on scene until 8:38 p.m.

Richard E. Maginn, owner of Heritage Homes, purchased the church at Main and East Orvis streets and an adjacent house at 19 E. Orvis St. for $150,000. He plans to tear both buildings down and replace them with new development.

Asbestos abatement work had previously been completed at the former church building.

He has said he does not have a definite plan for the parcel once the church is cleared away.

“It’s an investment,” Mr. Maginn said several months ago. “I really and truly want to put something nice there at some point ... I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen when that comes down.”

The cornerstone for First Baptist Church was laid in June 1859 and work was completed by July 1860 to house local Baptists, who trace their roots in Massena to the early 1800s.

In 1827, prominent early settler Col. Uriah H. Orvis built a frame house on West Orvis Street to hold religious meetings, according to “History of Massena: An Orphan Town,” written by Eleanor L. and Nina E. Dumas.

Mr. Maginn could not be reached for comment.

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