Electrical wiring is the primary suspect in the fire that tore through Scoville Hall in Amagansett Saturday morning.
“The building was built many, many years ago and as such the electrical wiring is of an advanced age,” said East Hampton Town Det. Lt. Chris Anderson on Monday. His department is investigating the cause.
Between 100 and 150 volunteer firefighters were called out of bed when the blaze was reported at about 3:30 a.m. on Saturday. Scoville Hall was used by many in the community as a meeting place and owned by the First Presbyterian Church of Amagansett, which had its pastor’s office and Sunday school there.
Amagansett Fire Chief Mark Bennett said on Saturday, “It’s pretty much totaled.” A member of the church, he had just finished boarding up the building with other volunteers shortly after 4 p.m.
Chief Bennett said about 60 members of his department had responded. Assisting them were the East Hampton Fire Department, which sent an engine truck, a ladder truck and a hose truck, the Springs Fire Department, which sent an engine truck, the Montauk Fire Department, which stood by at the Amagansett Firehouse, and Sag Harbor’s Rapid Intervention Team.
“We got it down in a half hour to 45 minutes” but spent about three hours at the scene, Chief Bennett said.
“From what I understand,” the chief said, the fire was called in by “people walking home” nearby at 3:31 a.m.
The Reverend Steve Howarth had just left town on Friday night for a vacation with his wife, Nancy, to meet friends and travel to Block Island and Provincetown, Massachusetts. At about 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, Reverend Howarth, a volunteer firefighter and chaplain of the Amagansett department, received a text message in his motel room in Stonington, Connecticut, that there was a fire on Meeting House Lane.
“I receive a text every time there’s a fire call,” he said Saturday afternoon, explaining that, “naturally,” he feared the worst.
“I didn’t know if it was my home, the church or Scoville Hall,” he said—all of them are on Meeting House Lane. He was most concerned that it was the church building, he said, because so many important moments have been marked there for his congregation, from births to weddings to funerals.
When Reverend Howarth learned that it was Scoville Hall that was on fire, he asked a church elder to go to the scene. Other than that, “there was literally nothing I could do” except take the first ferry back at 7 a.m.
“All I know is that it was toward the front,” he said. “It was fully engulfed when firefighters got there, flames shooting out from the front doors.”
Chief Bennett said that was where the investigation was focused. The roof collapsed about 20 minutes after firefighters arrived, the chief said.
“I’m so grateful that no firefighters were injured,” Reverend Howarth said.
Scoville Hall was used by many in the community, sometimes with as many as “1,000 to 2,000 people going through the building a week,” Reverend Howarth said. Alcoholics Anonymous had been meeting there every day, with two meetings held on Wednesdays, and attracting “easily” 100 to 150 people on weekends in summer.
The Amagansett Food Pantry was based at Scoville Hall. A Weight Watchers group met in the building, as did two branches of the Masonic Lodge. The Presbyterian Church office and the church’s Sunday school were based there.
In addition, a Latino congregation led by Hector Ocasio, pastor of the Church of the Nazarene, was using the building four nights a week, Reverend Howarth said, including for worship, Bible study and band practice.
“About five years ago that congregation was literally without a hall,” and Scoville Hall, which had a stage on its main floor, proved to be “a wonderful arrangement,” he said.
“I feel so terrible for them,” he continued. “That’s what saddens us so much, is the community has lost a resource. There’s no other facility that I’m aware of like that that’s available to the community in Amagansett.”
Reverend Ocasio’s congregation and AA “both are way too important to leave homeless,” Reverend Howarth said, and “right now we’ve told them to meet in our church building.” The food pantry will move to St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett.
Built in 1925 by Albert Warren Topping of Bridgehampton, Scoville Hall was designed by H.S. Waterbury and originally called the Parish House. It was renamed in 1973 in honor of Reverend Clarence Beecher Scoville and had a full kitchen in the downstairs level as well as the meeting space upstairs.