MICHAEL JOHNSON/Livingston County News
Geneseo fire chief Andrew Chanler helps lay out the main hose while calling out orders during the early moments of Monday’s fire in Geneseo
Porch fire threatens Wadsworth Homestead
A fire in the roof of the western porch of the Wadsworth Homestead briefly threatened the historic home on Route 20A in Geneseo Monday afternoon, April 2.
The Homestead has been undergoing several restoration projects. Contractors who were on site doing renovations — Steve Scoville, Mike Martin and John White — were the first to smell smoke. They immediately sized up the emergency and put out the alarm.
The fire appears to have started in connection with repair work being performed on the porch gutter. It swiftly worked its way through the roof, towards and into contact with the main house.
The 1804 construction of the original structure was long before the advent of building codes prescribing firewalls, but the thick-walled construction of the home proved to be an adequate barrier to the flames.
The porch itself is of more recent vintage, having been added after the homestead was moved to its present location in 1874.
Will Wadsworth explained: “The inside walls of the main house are made out of planks laid flat, two inches thick by six-to-ten inches wide. Any gaps in the wall are filled with mortared bricks.”
The very solid and very old wall was effective in stopping the swift spread of fire.
However, the burning porch was situated adjacent to the Wadsworth library room, home to many important and historic books and documents. Wadsworth, along with Police Chief Eric Osganian, and Officer Jeff Szczesniak and a great number of volunteer firefighters, set themselves to the task of removing the contents of the library while the fire burned away on the other side of the wall.
“We all spent a lot of time taking books out and taking pictures off the walls,” Wadsworth related.
Historic documents, including letters, were the first items removed from the library room — in bulk and with relative ease, since they are stored in boxed catalogue format. As the library began to fill with smoke, workers stayed busy taking out books and paintings.
“The house was filled with smoke and it was choking us, but we could still see,” Wadsworth reported. “We managed to get it all out. Some things might have come in contact with a touch of smoke, but there is no real damage.”
Removal was accomplished just before the high pressure hoses of the firefighters pushed water through the wall and into the room.
“It was a race with time,” Wadsworth noted.
Meanwhile, on the second floor above the porch, plaster walls were taken down in places where a heat detector indicated the presence of “hot spots.”
Damage was fortunately minimal. Geneseo firefighters, assisted by volunteers from the East Avon and Mount Morris departments, soon had the blaze fully under control.
“Altogether, I’d say we lost less than one sheet rock of wall. A little bit of plastering should fix things right up,” Wadsworth said. “If there is any inside damage at all, it will probably show up later on molding and things.”
Damage on the outside will call for a rebuilt porch roof and some cosmetic repair in a historic motif to match the original appearances. None of the structural members in the roof or wall were lost.
“We are really in great shape. If there had to be a fire in an antique house, this was the house to have it in,” Wadsworth joked.
“The family remains very excited about the progress being made here,” Wadsworth commented.
“This incident will be only a minor sidestep.”