Fire Destroys Scoville Hall

Amagansett church’s building was a home to many groups and memories
Scoville Hall on Meeting House Lane in Amagansett went up in flames in the early hours of Saturday morning. Over 100 firefighters battled the blaze for three hours. There are already plans to rebuild. Morgan McGivern

    If tears could put out a fire, the Amagansett Presbyterian Church’s Scoville Hall on Meeting House Lane would still be standing. Beloved by the congregation as the home of church suppers, rummage sales, and fairs, and used by many community organizations, Scoville Hall was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours on Saturday.
    The call came to Mark Bennett, the Amagansett fire chief, at around 3:30 a.m. For the next three hours, more than 100 firefighters from five districts — Amagansett, East Hampton, Springs, Montauk, and Sag Harbor — fought a losing battle with the flames.
    East Hampton Town police said the “structure was totally engulfed” when they arrived. The fire “had blown off the front door and side windows,” Mr. Bennett said. “It was a heavy fire load.”
    Meeting House Lane remained closed into Saturday afternoon, with crime scene tape and police at the nearby Main Street intersection.
    Although an aging electrical system is considered as a possible cause, the origins of the fire were still under investigation yesterday.
    The church’s pastor, the Rev. Steve Howarth, and his wife, Nancy, were in Stonington, Conn., on their way to a Massachusetts vacation when he received a text message about an unspecified fire on Meeting House Lane, the pagers traditionally used to contact firefighters having virtually been replaced by cellphones.
    Mr. Howarth serves in the Amagansett Fire Department as chaplain and firefighter, and it was in the latter capacity that he was alerted. He returned to Amagansett as soon as possible, taking the 7 a.m. ferry from New London, Conn. By the time he got to the site, the building had been gutted.
    “Needless to say, the church members are truly saddened by the loss,” he said on Tuesday. “Many of them have a lifetime of memories tied up with Scoville Hall. . . . Nonetheless, we are truly grateful for the response of the fire companies and that no one was hurt.”
    The building had significant ties to the community. It was the home of the Amagansett food pantry and a meeting place for recovering alcoholics, the Masons, and  the Church of the Nazarene.
     Touched by the outpouring of support and well-wishes, Mr. Howarth was grateful for the extra effort the Amagansett Fire Department showed by returning on Saturday afternoon to board up the hall’s windows. “That was truly amazing,” he said.
    The church’s elders have met with insurance adjusters “in the first step toward seeing what the future holds,” Mr. Howarth said, “so we can continue to use Scoville Hall as a community resource for years to come.”
    One who has “a lifetime of memories” of Scoville Hall is the Amagansett fire chief himself. “I went there for Sunday School, and my mother was a member of the church,” Mr. Bennett said. “I used to go see Santa at Scoville Hall.”
    Because of his concentration on the task at hand, Chief Bennett’s memories were put on hold while the fire was fought. When it became safe to enter the building, firefighters immediately proceeded to Mr. Howarth’s office and library at the back of the building, where they tried to save as many papers and personal effects as possible.
    “They brought out a crystal cross that my mother, Dorothy Bennett, had given to Pastor Steve before she passed,” Mr. Bennett said. “Then it all came back.”
    The building was dedicated in March  1925, as the church’s Parish House. In 1973, it was renamed in honor of the Rev. Clarence Beecher Scoville, who had guided the congregation from 1919 to 1943 and died in 1972.  Albert Warren Topping of Bridgehampton was the 90-foot-long hall’s builder. It was designed by H.S. Waterbury of New York City.    
    Alcoholics Anonymous, which met every morning at the hall, and the Church of the Nazarene, which met four nights a week, will now gather in the church itself, at the corner of Meeting House Lane and Main Street. The food pantry has moved to St. Michael’s Lutheran Church across the road from the Amagansett I.G.A.
    At the insistence of his congregation, the Howarths headed north to finish their vacation, but not before leading a poignant Sunday morning service. One of the church deacons, Ronnie Miller-Manning, described it.
    “It was very moving. Pastor Steve delivered a heartfelt service, full of emotion, that comforted us all,” she said. “Our congregation all filed out of church together to have a final prayer outside of Scoville Hall.”
    “I believe Pastor Steve was right in making us feel assured that out of this tragedy of losing our hall, something wonderful will arise. We trust God with absolute certainty.”