Jan. 20--CITY OF NEWBURGH, NY-- An overheated power strip is being blamed for the Wednesday morning fire that destroyed a historic 118-year-old City of Newburgh mansion whose previous owners included a future law school dean, a newspaper publisher and a famed local hat maker.
An investigation determined that a power strip plugged into an outlet in a second-floor room at 420 Grand St. was at fault, acting Newburgh Fire Chief Terry Ahlers said.
Owner Bryan Burke said his cat "Jake" became agitated while he and his wife were downstairs and that his wife eventually smelled something. When he went to check, he saw flames "licking" the walls of the second-floor room, Burke said.
Jake was later found dead on the first floor as the couple stood outside watching firefighters battle the blaze in freezing temperatures and falling snow, Burke said.
"At that moment, it was the end of the world," he said.
The house's origins date to the late 1890s. Within its nearly 8,000 square feet of living area are eight bedrooms and four bathrooms.
George Smith, an attorney who later became dean of New York Law School, moved to the house in 1899. Smith sold the house to Moe Myer, who owned a millinery and ladies' furnishings business.
Frederick Keefe, whose father started the Newburgh Daily News, was the next owner. Keefe later became the paper's co-publisher and then president.
Many current local residents remember the house as the antique- and heirloom-filled home of Beatrice Kidd. From her Broadway shop, Kidd made custom-designed hats for Broadway shows and local residents, and also dresses.
"I was in there many times," Newburgh resident Susan Valentine said of the shop. "If you wanted a hat, that's where you would go.
On Thursday workers stepped over piles of damaged household items and pieces of ceiling wood as they moved from room to room to clear window frames of remaining shards of glass and cover each opening with plywood.
Burke, who bought the house in March 2015, is unsure if it is worthy of restoration or whether it should be torn down. On Thursday, he showed off some of its distinctive features: lengths of walls bisected by wood wainscoting; the wooden stairway so sturdy it felt like "cement"; and the servant's quarters.
"It was just beautiful," said Burke, who would like the see the house become a computer center for children if it can be saved.