A fire almost wiped out a beloved Schroon landmark yesterday, when an electrical short caused the top stair at Witherbee’s Carriage House to catch fire and spread to a nearby wooden post.
The timing of owner Patty Christian’s arrival at the restaurant yesterday -- at around 10am -- almost certainly diverted a disaster.
“I walked in the back door (to the kitchen) and there was smoke everywhere. My immediate first reaction was had I left a stove on – the day before I had done a thorough cleaning of the kitchen to get ready for the Lions Prime Rib Dinner,” Patty told Schroon Laker today.
“There were hot read coals that had fallen from above that landed on the brick floor near the podium in the front entrance. I went up the stairs to the loft and at the top of the stairs was a four foot section that had completely burned through and was starting to burn a post”.
Instinct kicked in and Patty doused the area with buckets of water and used a shovel to throw out the hot coals.
Fire fighters were on the scene at 10:18am. Armed with chain saws they were ready to cut away nearby sections of the stairs to look for hidden embers.
“Bill (Patty’s husband) was here and convinced them to let him use his Skill saw. It’s fine wood work up there”.
They did allow Bill to make the cuts. After an inspection, the firemen gave the all clear signal.
Firefighters told Patty the fire most likely started when old wires under the top stairs rubbed together and shorted.
“It’s something that happened after 25 years of people walking on it.”
Incredibly, not a single antique in the restaurant’s amazing collection was damaged.
“We are so lucky. We always said that if this place caught fire, it would GO.”
And if you needed another reminder about how this community comes together in a time of need, one of the firefighters has a sawmill, and had boards that matched exactly the boards that were destroyed in the blaze.
By yesterday afternoon Bill had them installed and the staircase was looking “as good as new”. Huge fans removed most of the odor left by the smoke. “Right now it smells like fireplace smoke,” Patty said.
In a twist of fate, Patty said the Lions Club annual Prime Rib Dinner, played a role in her being at the restaurant yesterday.
“I didn’t sleep at all on Tuesday night. I felt like sleeping in on Thursday. But I wanted to get everything ready for Saturday night.”
Luckily for Bill and Patty -- and the hundreds of Witherbee’s fans -- that decision NOT to get a few extra winks saved a beloved part of Schroon history, and a favorite restaurant that has hosted hundreds of events – from weddings, baptisms and reunions. As the official year ‘round home of the local music scene, we can hear the cheers of area musicians, knowing that their performance space is still standing.
And, we know that there will be many folks at tonight’s Open Mic – hosted by the talented Mark Piper – who will be raising a glass or two, celebrating Witherbee’s survival, and maybe a few of tonight’s singers belting out Rufus Wainwright’s "Hallelujah".