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Residents Grapple With Loss As Remains Of New Hartford Landmark Are Destroyed

New Hartford House
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
The New Hartford House after a fire sent the second and third floors crashing to the first floor when the rear of the structure collapsed. All residents escaped the building, but a 26-year-old Burlington firefighter was in critical condition after a medical emergency and two others were injured fighting the fire in New Hartford, Connecticut, on Aug. 10, 2021.

The remains of an iconic landmark in New Hartford were demolished Wednesday after a fast-spreading fire gutted the building early Tuesday morning.

The building, known as New Hartford House, has stood in Litchfield County since the late 1800s. Over the years, it has housed hotels, restaurants, apartments and more. But it was loved by residents mostly as the site of many fond memories. From family dinners to the backdrop for the town’s Christmas celebrations, New Hartford House was always there with its memorable brick façade and wooden clock tower.

But now, it’s part of the past. And the town is feeling the loss.

“It’s been a somber mood around town that the center and heart of town is going to be missing,” said Joe Petricone Jr., a resident of New Hartford for the last 10 years who, like many others in town, spent a good amount of time in New Hartford House.

“So many people have memories there from way back. As I was standing there watching it be taken down, you could hear people talking about that. I have memories of going in there, having dinner, a couple drinks -- it was always a good time,” said Petricone, who owns Petricone’s New Hartford Apothecary.

His pharmacy stood next door to the now-destroyed landmark. And when the fire broke out, he was one of several to get a call from his alarm company, he said.

“I got a call from my alarm company about a broken window at first, but then it turned out to be the fire. I went on social media right away and raced down to the store,” he added.

New Hartford House
Joe Amon
The New Hartford House after a fire caused the second and third floors to crash to the first floor when the rear of the structure collapsed.

Petricone said when he arrived at the scene after 5 a.m. on Tuesday, the fire was already under control. The blaze drew over 30 fire departments and left one Burlington firefighter in critical condition, according to a news release from the Burlington Fire Department.

Petricone’s storefront still stands untouched, though his store is closed as of Wednesday due to the cleanup. And when you enter, all that lingers is the smell of the fire, he said, which is the least of his worries. He considers himself lucky, but said he feels for those who were deeply affected.

The building housed over 10 apartments and six businesses. All tenants were able to get out in time. But Petricone said he’s talked to a couple, and one mentioned that he barely got out.

“He was telling me how he was woken up by glass breaking and yelling, and then he saw a flame. He woke up his wife, got their dog and cat out of there and he had had minutes to get out of there. He said he turned around and the entrance to his apartment was already engulfed,” Petricone said.

In response, residents are coming together to help those affected. Some are helping the recently displaced tenants find new homes, while others are raising funds for affected pets, said resident and business owner Cameron Cunningham.

New Hartford House
Joe Amon
Michelle Langer of Canton stopped for one last look at New Hartford House after a fire destroyed the building. “To see it like this is heartbreaking, she said. "All the memories, my son and I would walk through town and along the river. It was just so pretty.”

As for local businesses, many are raising money and matching donations. She’s the co-owner of Grey Area Tavern. The gastropub, opened last year, was five minutes from the fire. And Cunningham is pitching in to help any way she can as the new kid on the block, she said.

“As soon as people found out, everyone wanted to help. We’re just trying to do our part for a community that has done so much for us,” she added.

While her business is new to New Hartford, Cunningham is no stranger to the town. She grew up there.

“When you think about downtown New Hartford, that’s the image you have in your mind. I went away for high school and college, but every time you would come back into town that’s the first thing you would see,” she added.

She especially recalls a former restaurant, Chatterley’s. She said she’ll always hold it near and dear to her heart as the site of many dinner dates with her dad as a kid.

Cunningham hopes her fundraising can contribute to any recovery or rebuilding efforts.

New Hartford House
Joe Amon
A New Hartford Volunteer firefighter rests after hours on the scene of the New Hartford House fire. All residents escaped the building, but a 26-year-old Burlington firefighter was hospitalized after a medical emergency and two others were injured while fighting the fire.

“There is no way to replace what was lost, but I would hope that there is a way to rebuild what was lost as a community. And in the rebuilding process, the community can be involved,” Cunningham said.

The building was newly owned, and at least two new businesses had planned to open there, an official from the town’s Building Department told Connecticut Public Radio. Plans for the site are unknown as full cleanup can take up to two weeks.