Iconic Dansville Building Burns

By: Meaghan M. Norman Email
By: Meaghan M. Norman Email

Decades of memories will soon be all that's left of a historical landmark in mid-Michigan. The Wooden Nickel Saloon in Dansville went up in flames early Wednesday morning and there's nothing left but a partial shell and a pile of ash and rubble.

Every person in Dansville, from a child to an adult, says the Wooden Nickel was much more than a building. It was a meeting place for old friends, a family business where generations grew up and where a village came together. There is so much history with the building itself being built back in 1853. Now residents have remnants to help them remember.

"I was of course a little teary-eyed. I got 33 years of history here. My kids and I lived above the bar for two years so a lot of history went down here," said Larry Arnett, owner of the Wooden Nickel.

It took just three and a half hours to destroy 33 years of ownership and more than 150 years of history.

"I still feel a little numb. Reality hasn't set in," said Arnett.

Larry Arnett was woken up early Wednesday morning, thinking he was living a nightmare, when he was told that his livelihood was burning to the ground.

"I know it happened but I don't know what I'm going to do. My mind is wondering what I'm going to do," said Arnett.

Flames broke out around 3 a.m. and it itook 18 agencies to knock down the fire. Part of the reason it took so many was because Dansville has fire hydrants only on one side of town and its water system has been in place for just three years. So, they needed a lot of tankers to shuttle in water. And, due to the massive size of the building, and how quickly the flames were spreading, firefighters had to change up their attack strategy.

"With the amount of fire already going it was a defensive attack which meant everyone stayed outside and we have elevated platofrm with streams flowing," said Chief Whipple.

Arnett is also a caterer who lost all of his contacts and documents. Nothing was saved, except for a freezer whose contents remained unharmed. Thousands of dollars worth of food, now with no place to go will be donated to a local senior citizens center.

Suzi Greenway used to eat breakfast at the saloon at least once a week.

"I started to shake, I was so upset my girlfriend Michele called me and said she heard that the Nickel burned we had to meet here together because we couldn't believe it happened," said Greenway.

Her friend, Michele French, said it was also a very big important part of town and her life. "People from all around the world have eaten here, from Morocco and Abu Dhabi and Australia. It was the only steady thing in my life."

So, it's evident that the impact of the charred Nickel stretches far and wide.

"It's a main staple of the community with the bar and restaurant so it's devastating to lose business and basically lose a whole corner," said Ingham Township Fire Chief Tim Whipple.

Greenway: "He said to me, 'You will have breakfast on Sunday here again.' I can only hope that is true and soon."

Arnett says he wants to rebuild, but it won't be in that building. The building will be torn down once the insurance adjuster and fire crews finish their investigations. One thing investigators look for the is the burn pattern on the building and then they start digging through the rubble trying to piece together what happened. The fire is believed to have started in the southeast corner in a banquet room. At this point nothing has jumped out as being suspicious but this is an ongoing investigation. Chief Whipple even said that a cause of the fire may never be known because of the extent of the damage.

Larry Arnett had dozens of documents and contracts from clients and never backed up any of them on an electronic database. So, if you're a client of his and need to get in touch with him, you are urged to contact him on his cell phone. If you need more information, feel free to e-mail Meaghan.Norman@wilx.com.

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