More than 20 hours after it started, Northfield firefighters on Friday  continued to work to extinguish the last of a fire at Northfield's historic Archer House.

The iconic hotel, built along the east bank of the Cannon River more than 140 years ago, sustained considerable smoke and water damage, according to Northfield Fire Chief Gerry Franek. He noted firefighters have contained the fire to the hotel's fourth floor and were working to extinguish the last of the blaze. On Friday morning, a gaping hole was visible in the back portion of the Archer House.

Despite the damage, Franek anticipates three-quarters of the Archer House building is salvageable, but acknowledged that has yet to be determined. He said that decision will ultimately come down to the estimated repair cost developed by fire insurance underwriters.

“It’s another tough, sad day for this community and also the building owners,” Franek said.

The fire was reported at approximately 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Within 15 minutes, the inside of the restaurant was filled with smoke. As of about 5 p.m., smoke was billowing from all floors of the Archer House. The Archer House, owned by Rebound Hospitality, includes the River Inn, bar, Chapati, Smoqehouse, Northfield Tavern and Paper Petalum. Northfield Police Chief Mark Elliott said as of noon Friday crews were expected to remain for a couple more hours. 

He described firefighters' work within the building as “slow and tedious,” due to the age of the building and the layers of construction material added during previous remodeling projects undertaken since its 1877 construction.  Franek said the fire on Thursday spread throughout the building in walls, areas designed to hold pipes and cables, and hidden spots where fire crews couldn’t reach, making it hard to determine where the fire had gone.

“It’s been kind of a task, a rough one here to fight,” he noted.

Rebound Hospitality COO Todd Byhre said the fire has been traced to a food smoker at Smoqehouse.

Northfield fire crews work to extinguish a fire at the Archer House in Northfield on Nov. 12, 2020. The historic hotel was built in 1877. (Sam Wilmes/southernminn.com)

Byhre said he hoped the fire caused no structural damage, noting it came after months after renovations to public spaces within the Archer House and revenue losses caused by COVID-19. Renovation was also ongoing on the Tavern of Northfield after a June 2019 kitchen fire at Chapati caused extensive water damage to the downstairs space. The Tavern of Northfield had been pegged for a January/February reopening. Byhre said the Archer House is a staple within downtown, adding he was thankful that no one was seriously injured and the inn was empty at the time. 

"It's an icon," he said of the Archer House. 

Smoqehouse employees and sisters Marta and Tove Sorenson were heading to work when they saw the fire.

"It's just creepy to see," Marta said of the fire.

Faribault, Lonsdale, Farmington, Randolph and Hampton fire departments have assisted on scene. To Franek, the massive fire and the relatively small size of the Northfield Area Fire and Rescue Services necessitated the help of other fire departments.

“I feel proud of our group of firefighters and how long and hard they’ve worked,” Franek said of Northfield and neighboring fire crews. “I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

The area around the building is closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic for safety concerns. Division Street remains closed from Second Street to Fourth Street.

NAFRS is expected to release more information once the fire is extinguished.

The hotel opened Aug. 23, 1877 with 50 rooms and underwent a series of ownership changes before Dallas Haas purchased the building in 1981. The hotel was known as Stewart Hotel when Haas bought it but had previously been known as the Ball Hotel and as the Manawa Hotel.

Haas poured considerable time and money into revitalizing the building and brought retail shops and restaurants into the space. Fifteen tons of brick on the third floor alone were removed, according to the Northfield News archives. But after he died in 1995 due to a heart attack in the Archer House, the hotel’s future wasn’t clear.

A group of investors stepped forward to purchase the hotel and keep it vibrant. That group included Rebound Enterprises CEO Brett Reese, who continues to head the parent company of the Archer House.

“It’s such an important asset to the community, to the downtown,” Reese said in July 2017. “It’s a pillar of the downtown. It brings people here to spend their money. It’s an economic driver. It’s an icon. We wanted to try to carry it on.”

Regional Sports Editor Nick Gerhardt contributed to this report. Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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