Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arrests Made in Father Kenny House Fire

Kenny House after the Feb. 10 Fire
As was mentioned in the earlier post about Father Patrick Kenny and the Coffee Run Church, Kenny's 1812 home was destroyed in a fire on February 10, 2010. The blaze, determined to have been arson, began right at the outset of one of our major blizzards last year. Due to the conditions, by the time firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames, most of the three stories of the house and the roof were gutted. The structure was deemed to be unsafe, and although there was a stop-work order in place, property owners Harvey Hanna and Associates demolished what remained of the house on March 2. For their actions, the redevelopment firm was fined $1000 and prohibited from receiving county permits for the site for three years.

Although the fire was immediately identified as arson, the case remained frustratingly unsolved -- until last week. Acting on a tip received from someone who reported hearing a teenage boy brag about setting the fire, police arrested two 17 year-old boys on August 31 and charged them with setting the blaze, along with several other offenses. According to court records:
One of the suspects told investigators that he and another teen entered the building through a second-floor window to explore. Once inside, one teen found a stick to which he attached a newspaper and a cloth, and "ignited it to use as a torch" to see their way. When the pair was finished their "exploring," the teen left the torch on the floor.
One of the teens admitted urinating on the torch to put it out but said it "was still smoldering" when they left the building,
The boys are due to be in court today, September 9, to face a hearing on the charges. After being charged with the offenses, each was released on a $2000 unsecured bond. No determination has yet been made on the $5000 reward offered by Harvey Hanna and Associates for information leading to an arrest in the case.

No decision has been made about the future of the site, either. In 2005, the Layton Preparatory School had filed papers to construct a 20,000 sq. ft. school on the property. The plan was to save the house, but the barn and other outbuildings would have been razed. There was significant opposition to the plan, and the school was never built. As recently as early this year, the Hockessin Historical Society had said it was interested in trying to save the property, but the effort never got off the ground.

According to county property records, most of the almost 17 acre property is owned WCNJ, LLC, a firm managed by Harvey Hanna. However, a .39 acre sliver of land that includes the Coffee Run Church site, cemetery, and access from Lancaster Pike, is owned by St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Hockessin, the descendant parish of the original church. I'm not sure exactly what this means, the Community News reports that, "On the recommendations of the New Castle County Historic Review Board, Harvey Hanna is planning research studies with the University of Delaware on the historic significance of the destroyed farmhouse." Maybe some plan will come up to save the site, but I wouldn't count on it. I think the greatest lesson to take from all of this is to not take our historic sites for granted. Just because a building has stood for almost two centuries, it doesn't make it immune from stupidity or plain bad luck.

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