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Fire burns historic Whitney House, one of UConn's oldest buildings

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Provided Photograph
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University of Connecticut
Firefighters work to control an early-morning fire at one of UConn's oldest buildings, the Whitney House, Jan. 20, 2023, The Whitney House dates back to around 1800 and was not in use, but it has been occupied as living and office space. No injuries were reported.

A fire early Friday heavily damaged the Whitney House, which is one of UConn's oldest buildings.

School officials said the colonial-style house, which predates the university, was not in use, and no injuries were reported.

"It is a very unfortunate circumstance, because it was an older building," said UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz. "From this point, we will see what the investigation shows and what the next steps will be."

Firefighters responded to the Whitney House at about 6 a.m., and the building was "almost fully engulfed" in flames at one point, Reitz said. The fire was deemed under control at about 8 a.m., but firefighters remained at the scene to put out hot spots within walls and other parts of the building.

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Mark Mirko
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Connecticut Public
The cause of the fire at UConn's Whitney House is under investigation. The building borders Route 195.

The building borders Route 195, and one lane of roadway remained closed for emergency apparatus as of mid-morning.

"It's too early for us to know what the next steps will be — in terms of the building's future," Reitz said. "That would certainly all be guided by safety considerations.

"The back of the building is very heavily damaged," Reitz said. "The roof has damage where they had to open it up to vent it — to get out the smoke and get in the water."

The Whitney House is one of several private residences in Storrs that predate the founding of the school and were acquired by the university.

While UConn officials initially reported that the building was UConn's oldest structure, Whitney House dates to around 1800, making it among the oldest buildings on campus.

"It originally was reported as the oldest structure at UConn Storrs," Reitz said, in an email. "However, it now appears it may have been built on materials moved there from an earlier structure elsewhere, and that one of the Whitney House foundation stones was engraved with the earlier date."

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Connecticut Public Radio's Maricarmen Cajahuaringa and The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story has been updated.

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Mark Mirko
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Connecticut Public
Firefighters investigate one of UConn’s oldest buildings, the Whitney House, after an early-morning fire on Jan. 20, 2023. The building was not in use, but it has been occupied as living and office space.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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