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Bess-Sitze log homestead fire

A Thursday morning fire causes significant damage to the Henry and Jane Bess-Sitze log homestead in Marquand Historic Park. According to Marquand Assistant Fire Chief Phillip Karn, the State Fire Marshal has determined the cause of the fire is arson. 

For the second time in a matter of days the city of Marquand saw a late night fire damage an historic building.

According to Marquand Fire Chief Jim Starkey, firefighters responded to a call just after midnight, Saturday morning to the Old Buckhorn Church on Hwy M, just southwest of Marquand.

Starkey said the abandoned church did not have any utilities connected, and the Missouri State Fire Marshal Office was called in to investigate the cause of the fire.

The fire was blazing when emergency crews arrived on the scene. According to Starkey, it took crews until 5:30 a.m. to put the fire out.

Assistant Fire Chief Phillip Karn later said the fire marshal determined the cause of the fire was arson and it appeared to have the same pattern as the log cabin fire two days prior in downtown Marquand. 

In the early morning hours Oct. 4 a fire caused heavy damage to the Henry and Jane Bess-Sitzes log homestead in the Marquand Historic Park.

According to Karn, firefighters responded to a 3:50 a.m. call reporting a structure fire in Marquand Historic Park. Upon their arrival, firefighters discovered the log homestead — built sometime in the late 1800s — had fire coming out of the roof.

Karn said the fire was put out quickly, but not before the historic home received substantial damage. The fire marshal's office was called in to investigate the cause of the fire. Karn reported it is believed to have been an act of arson. 

Meanwhile, residents of Marquand and others on social media quickly spread word of the fire and the significant loss being felt by all of the town’s citizens. At Moores’ Grocery Store, just across the street from the park, employees and customers shared their thoughts about the fire at the log cabin, as well as their suspicions of who might have started it.

Especially devastated by the loss was former Marquand mayor, Denny Ward who heard about the fire while attending an out-of-town conference.

“I’m heartbroken and tearful,” he said. “This was much more than a cabin — it was a symbol of our pioneer past and the work of many dedicated citizens. The Henry and Jane Bess-Sitzes Log Homestead was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Rudy Brothers in 1989.

“A small group of citizens recognized as C.R.O.P. under the direction of Billy Ray Starkey, Shirley Gilmore, and myself, dismantled, moved and reassembled this structure over the next two years. It became the focal point of the city’s park and the icon for the community’s annual Pioneer Days Festival, which just celebrated its 28th year.”

According to Ward, the cabin housed significant historical artifacts that are now gone forever.

“I am hopeful that it can be saved and restored once more,” he said. “I hope to launch a ‘GoFundMe’ page and have received a very thoughtful phone call from Jason Brewington offering his volunteer carpenter skills as assistance in this effort.”

Ward added that the city of Marquand and Marquand Development Corporation will be offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the responsible party/parties.

Retired Marquand-Zion history teacher and author Shirley Gilmore was welcoming guests to the Henry and Jane (Bess) Sitzes Homestead at last weekend’s 2018 Pioneer Days. Now vacationing in Michigan, Gilmore said she had spent most of the day crying after learning of the fire.

Asked in what year the log cabin had been built, Gilmore said, “We don’t know for sure, but one of the stones on the outside of the chimney had ‘1895’ inscribed in it. When we got the cabin, it was already there. So, we know it at least dates from then.

“When we first moved it, there were people who were still alive who, when they visited the cabin, would say, “Oh, gosh, we used to spend so much time here when Aunt Jane and Uncle Henry were here.’ Some of them said they thought it was built earlier than that but looking at the dates when Henry and Jane lived, I think 1895 is a pretty accurate number.

Gilmore is saddened by the many irreplaceable items that were destroyed in the fire — including a pair of her very own baby shoes. She also believes a symbol of the town’s ability to better itself has been lost.

“I think it showed what could happen when a dedicated group of individuals have a vision for the town,” she said. “I think it symbolized — even though it was a historical part — the vision that we could turn it into a park.

“Before, it was abandoned railroad property with cinders and ashes and gravel. There was no grass, no trees, no nothing. It was a place where people parked their derelict vehicles. I know there used to be a van there that was just stock full. It was like somebody’s shed.

"People with big trucks would park them there. It was just an eyesore when you went through town. The cabin was the first item we placed in the park. It all started there.”

If you have information about either fire call the Madison County Sheriff's Department at 573-783-2234 or the Arson Hotline at 1-800-39-ARSON.

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