TAMWORTH — A fire completely destroyed the historic barn at the Preserve at Chocorua, a popular events venue, on Sunday night.
No one was injured in the three-alarm blaze, which was reported at just after 10 p.m. Sunday at 88 Philbrick Neighborhood Road in Tamworth.
Responding were fire departments from Tamworth, West Ossipee, Conway, Freedom, Center Ossipee, Madison, Moultonborough and Sandwich, as well as Tamworth Ambulance and North Conway Ambulance.
Tamworth Fire Chief Richard Colcord, interviewed at the scene Monday morning, said, "I believe it was a passerby who noticed the flames in the sky," adding that happened at 10:03 p.m. "It was fully involved then."
The chief said the barn was unoccupied at the time of the fire and confirmed no one was injured. He didn't hold out much hope that a cause would be found. The fire is not considered suspicious.
The Preserve at Chocorua was created as a business in 2015, according to the New Hampshire Secretary of State's Office.
The Preserve's website says the location, formerly known as the Brass Heart Inn, was among the first farms to open its doors to guests and was known as Hayford in the Fields in the late 1890s.
On Monday, Ed Phelps, who owns the Preserve with his wife, Mary, said they recently concluded their wedding season. He added they were grateful no one was hurt.
Phelps said they would be closed until they either get a tent up or rebuild the barn. He declined to comment further, saying they were busy dealing with insurance paperwork.
On Monday afternoon the Phelpses posted a statement on Facebook, saying they were "shaken" but otherwise fine. They thanked the firefighters for their swift response and for saving the adjacent inn.
"As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for us all and we appreciate the outpouring of love and support from so many of our family, friends, clients, and community. As we process this tragic event, we ask for your patience and understanding as we work towards our plans for the future of the venue," said the post signed "the Preserve Family."
Colcord sifted through the rubble Monday with Sol Rosman, an investigator with the New Hampshire Fire Marshal's Office.
"Everything is so destroyed," said Colcord.
Colcord said there was a wedding in the barn on Saturday and then on Sunday it was shown to three potential clients, and everything was "buttoned up" around 5 p.m.
He said Tamworth Fire Capt. Matt Baumann, who arrived ahead of him, did an outstanding job commanding the scene and calling for a third alarm.
Baumann, he said was able to call for help to area fire departments and make sure enough water was available to knock down the fire, plus defend the nearby inn, which was only a driveway away, said Colcord.
"I'm so proud of Capt. Baumann. He didn't hesitate to call for help, and he already wrote this (the barn) off because there was nothing to save and they concentrated on (the inn). Then he asked for another crew for the brush fire," said Colcord, adding that as many as 40 firefighters arrived from area towns. "We are grateful for the help."
Colcord said the heat from the barn fire, as well as water from the hoses, broke windows of the inn building.
"You can see some of the char," said Colcord, referring to burn marks on the side of the inn.
Half of a Polaris ATV also melted.
Colcord wasn't sure where the ATV was during the fire.
Colcord said the firefighters cleaned the scene at roughly 4 a.m.
Colcord said he watched the scene overnight to make sure nobody attempted to alter anything and to keep an eye on hot spots.
Long ime Tamworth resident George Cleveland called the loss of the barn "such a tragedy."
He said said the Phelpses had turned the preserve's barn into a place with an international reputation.
"The Phelpses put so much blood, sweat and tears into that venue," said Cleveland, who has officiated as justice of the peace at many weddings and attended other events at the Preserve.
The news traveled widely and was on WMUR and even U.S. News & World Report via The Associated Press.
Cleveland recalled that before it was the Preserve or the Brass Heart Inn, the place was known as Stafford's in the Field and was owned by Fred and Ramona Stafford. Back in the 1960s, it was featured in a well-read travel book called "Country Inns and Backroads."
He also recalled that Fred Stafford was known as "the rock 'n' roll king of Carroll County" as the barn was where bands from the greater Boston area would play. Ramona Stafford, he said, was known for her incredible cooking.
Cleveland recalled going to a concert there one night in the late 1960s in a VW bug that he borrowed from his brother-in-law. When the police checked for contraband, they found a bottle of bourbon that Cleveland didn't know was in there. Luckily for Cleveland, who was well under age, the officer just poured out the alcohol.
"The concerts on summer nights were a rite of passage for many young people in Carroll County," said Cleveland. "If those walls could talk, oh my."
Tamworth Economic Development Committee Chair Pat Farley said she took to the Tamworth Exchange email group to see if she could get ideas for assisting the Phelpses in getting the barn going again.
"We are all in support of bringing it back better than ever," said Farley, speaking for the community.