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trial by fire

trial by fire - Algonquin River State Hospital*
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A year ago today, Algonquin River State Hospital nearly ceased to exist.

They say the fire was caused by lightning from a dramatic storm that night, although there are many theories that the disaster was more of a man-made variety. Since the structure is on the historic register and cannot be demolished outright, some say that the lightning rod was removed on purpose, and as Algonquin stands proudly overlooking the town from a hilltop, it was inevitable that this would be the result. Such an action would constitute arson; any removal of a fire prevention device that results in a fire is a crime… but who can or will ever prove such a thing? Another possibility is that an explorer who was in the building at the time started the blaze. No one will ever really know.

I suppose it doesn’t matter. The end result is the same. The fire was of such scale that it is difficult to even imagine; by FDNY standards it was a six alarm blaze. When the hospital was open it was so large that it had its own fully staffed fire department, but those days are long gone. Even the fire hydrants didn’t work, so miles of large diameter hose had to be laid to support the crews. Walls were torn down to prevent the fire from spreading to the administration building, and the firefighters remained for days wetting hot spots.

All in all, it was a heroic effort. Despite the fact that the building was empty, despite the sheer magnitude of the firestorm and the difficulty in combating it, the myriad of departments on the scene prevailed. You might not know it, to see the remains of the wing and the gaping holes in the brick… but when you look at the stunning facade of the administration building, when you run your hands along the exquisite railings on the stately main staircase inside, when you stop to admire the delicate stone carvings that adorn the pillars on the porches, you can see why it was so important that they were there, why it was so critical that Algonquin River State Hospital survived that night. Even though the fire crews probably don’t know or care what their work made possible for me and the few other pilgrims who make the sojourn to see Algonquin’s august remains, even though time and nature will eventually complete the job the fire started, today she still stands.

It was quite literally a trial by fire. I’m glad she survived.

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Photographs and text of Algonquin River State Hospital (a pseudonym) by Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America. If you're interested in more Abandoned America blogs, follow this link. If you enjoy my writing, check out my books: Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream (Amazon / Barnes & Noble) or Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences (Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Signed copies).


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