Fire destroys the storied Stumblin' Inn, a community landmark since the 19th century
Over the decades, many local residents enjoyed their first beer at the Stumblin' Inn in the Village of Elba, and some also drank their last there, noted Chuck Hoover, who drank his first beer there when he turned 18 (the legal drinking age then).
Today, the bar, former hotel (built in 1875), live music venue, and community hub was destroyed by fire.
"At about 9 a.m. we were dispatched for fire on the outside of the building, a couple minutes later when we arrived there were flames coming from the north-northeast side, coming out of two bottom windows, and one window on top," said Elba Fire Chief Mike Heale, adding that they are investigating whether the blaze began inside or outside.
The fire quickly went to a second, third and possibly fourth alarm, Heale said.
Multiple power lines stretched in front of the building were a problem and the logistics of setting up the hydrants and tankers, and truck placements were difficult in the village setting, Heale said, but thanks, in part, to recently installed village fire hydrants, firefighters were able to put a lot of water on the fire quickly.
The balloon construction of the building allowed flames to quickly climb into the attic and then across the length of the structure, which is a total loss.
"We got a good jump on it," the chief said. "We were on point with our pre-plan. We caught a break with the (lack of) heat. ... We attempted to go in through the backside but we immediately pulled people out."
Building owner Steve Goff and his brother, Jim Goff, manager of the bar, both got out of the building safely before the first firefighters were on scene. Steve Goff acquired the building in 1979, when the bar became the Stumblin' Inn.
Rehab for firefighters was set up at the Elba Fire Station and there were enough responders from two counties so that firefighters were rotated through to keep them hydrated.
The fire was reported to be under control shortly before 1 p.m.
According to the 1985 History of Genesee County, published by the Holland Purchase Historical Society with assistance from the Genesee County Department of History, Elba's first hotel, the Pine Hill Hotel, opened in 1815 and was owned by Steve Harmon.
The hotel was destroyed by fire in September of 1874. A new hotel was built and was in operation by July 23, 1875. The Elba or Swartz Hotel (a reference to the Swartz family who took it over from W. B. Moreau in 1882 and operated it for more than 50 years) was passed down through the years and had several different owners before Goff bought it.
Other owners have included Charles and Frank Zambito, Tony and Alice Tartaglia, Tom and Marty Greer, Betty and Tom Hemmerick, and Peter C. Marowski.
"Hotels and taverns have also played an important role in the lives of Elbans since the early days when Wyllis Tavern provided, food, drink and lodging for travelers and a place for local people to meet for refreshments and to get the news," the history book notes.
"It's been here for a lifetime," said Doug Chappius, who along with his wife, Sandra, have owned and operated Chap's Elba Diner at 5 S. Main St., Elba, for the past seven years. "I can remember when I was a kid coming here. As soon as I turned drinking age, that's where I went. I'm from Albion. I remember riding snowmobiles, four-wheelers here.
"Everybody used to come here. It's a loss for party people."
Chappius said when the fire broke out, "a lady came into the restaurant and she said 'There's a fire over there. Can I get a bucket of water to put it out?' She didn't seem very excited but I told my dishwasher to bring a bucket of water over there.
"I guess there was a little fire on the floor -- inside right by the front door -- and by the time he got there, it blew the window out and he backed off and came back."
Chuck Hoover, a lifelong resident of Elba, says "It's a sad day in Elba" because the Stumblin' Inn holds a lot of memories; it was an Elba landmark.
"It was a place where people gathered to meet, they sponsored go-cart rides, held parties," Hoover said. "It was just a good place for people to gather and meet. Listen to some live music from time to time. We use to go there after the field day, after reunions. It was old-school."
He said the Stumblin' Inn has been a community gathering place for years and the Goffs hosted many community charity events.
Bob Given, who has lived in Elba for 55 years, said he remembers when the hotel was three stories and there was a dance floor on the third floor. There was a restaurant that served spaghetti and fish fries on Friday night.
"The older you get, the less you frequent those places," Given said. "I'm glad it went on a day like today -- not with the wind blowing or in 10-below weather."
The Stumblin' Inn was popular with local musicians and area residents who enjoy live music.
"The Stumblin Inn has been a staple in the local music community for so long, it's hard to imagine a world without it," said Paul Draper, a local musician and music promoter. "It's a place where a lot of us musicians cut our teeth and were able to grow and learn to be better entertainers.
"There are not too many places around that would give a new band with no name or following an opportunity to play. The Stumblin' provided that. This is truly a sad day for the local music community and we are already prepared to help Jim and 'Stork' in any way that we can."
Howard Owens contributed to the story. Photos by Howard Owens.
Jim Bouton, deputy emergency management coordinator, comforts Steve Goff, owner of the Stumblin' Inn. Goff is also pictured below talking with Deputy Austin Heberlein.