Up in Flames, Leeway Farm’s ‘Castle’ Helps Firefighters Learn

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FAYETTEVILLE — The big house with multiple turrets and spires sitting on a long driveway along East Main Street was unusual when it was built in 1898.

Over the years it became somewhat of a landmark, a curiosity and even a fantasy castle to some people. Some thought it was haunted, although that didn’t seem to affect the people that lived there during the century-plus that passed following its original owner’s tragic death in 1911.

After its last owner died a few years ago, it set empty until the McNew family bought it at auction last fall.

Brian McNew and his family firm paid over $350,000 for the aging, deteriorating home built in a style that has often been described as a cross between late Gothic and the French Renaissance.

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It was designed by Captain John Buckman, an unusual man with unusual ideas, even back at the turn of the 20th century.

By the time McNew bought it, it was in pretty bad shape structurally.

The cost of restoring it would have been prohibitive, he and the family decided.

Keeping Wrecking Ball at Bay, Serving Community

So they came up with an unusual way to keep it from the wrecker’s ball and provide a service to the community’s volunteer firefighters.

They salvaged what they could of the building’s unusual features in hopes of incorporating some of the best parts of the old house in a future project.

Then they offered the rest of the deteriorating structure to Fayetteville Volunteer Fire Company as a training site.

It presented a unique training opportunity for the volunteers, one not frequently available to volunteers, fire officials said.

It took a lot of planning and work to get ready for burn day, both on the part of fire officials and the McNew family.

The McNew family had to remove and asbestos or other hazardous materials from the house. It had to pass a number of inspection and basically “get a clean bill of health” to be burned.

The family got several permits, all designed to protect the public and firefighters from various environmental contaminants when the house finally went up in flames.

‘Unique’ Fire Training Opportunity

Over 20 firefighters from local departments participated in the Acquired Structure Burn on Saturday.

The entire day was carefully planned to give local firefighters the best over-all training possible.

Safety was a major factor as the different training exercises were carried out throughout the day.

Crews tackled asks such as putting out small fires in various part of the building, to putting out roof fires attacking blazes through open windows.

Each crew got several chances to put out each type of fire, and safety protocols were observed in each situation.

Trainers included search and rescue and ventilation experts. A rapid intervention team was on hand to survey the operation and jump in to assist with troublesome situations.

“This is the first time in many years that something like this has been done in Franklin County,” said one fire official.

At the end of the day, the entire building was set ablaze so trainees could tackle a fully engulfed blaze before finally standing back and letting the fire burn itself out.

Organizers declared the day’s training event a huge success.

A number of area fire companies participated and many contributed instructors for the training, including Franklin, Mont Alto, Cashtown, Cumberland Valley Hose, Saint Thomas, and the sponsoring Fayetteville Fire Company.

Question of the Day: To Restore or Burn?

Many area residents who grew up in the Fayetteville area expressed dismay on social media that more of an effort was not made to save the house.

Eric McQueen once delivered newspapers to the residents of the house in the 1980s.

He said that as a child he would sometimes take naps in the Mentzer cemetery on the west side of the drive leading down to the house.

Sometimes he would go fishing in creek behind the house.

“It was a beautiful house,” he said. “I wish (the McNews) would have contacted Property Brothers or one of the home improvement shows to save it.”

Others said while it made them sad that the house that had been a part of the town’s landscape all their lives was gone they knew the cost of preserving it would have been prohibitive.

McNew said the house had too many problems to be salvageable, including a bad case of black mold.

His family has a long and close connection to Fayetteville. He said he also grew up in the Fayetteville neighborhood near the house. Like others in the area, it was a familiar part of his childhood, he said.

“It’s not about the money (it would take to restore it),” he said. “It just wouldn’t be the same house in the end.”

But, he said he felt if the old house provided quality training to local firefighters it would serve a greater good.

“If this training saves one life down the road, it has served its purpose,” he said.

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Published on May 6, 2019

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