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Fire destroys historic barn at popular Tamworth wedding venue

Union Leader Correspondent

November 13. 2017 2:18PM
Ed Phelps walks through the remains of a historic barn that was destroyed by fire late Sunday night. No one was injured by the fire and Phelps said the barn, which hosted a wedding reception on Nov. 11, was insured and will be rebuilt. Phelps and his wife, Mary, have owned and operated The Preserve at Chocorua in Tamworth since 2015. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

TAMWORTH — A historic barn at a popular wedding venue was destroyed by fire late Sunday night.

No one was injured and the structure, which was insured, will be rebuilt, said Ed Phelps, who, along with his wife, Mary, has owned and operated The Preserve at Chocorua on Philbrick Neighborhood Road since 2015. 

The barn had been used just a day before, hosting a wedding gathering for 150 people. The barn was unoccupied at the time of the fire, which was reported at 10:03 p.m. Sunday. 

Tamworth Fire Chief Richard Colcord said the fire is under investigation by the New Hampshire Fire Marshal’s office but added that nothing appears suspicious.

Years earlier, the fire department conducted an exercise at The Preserve. “We trained for this scenario,” said Colcord. 

Sunday night, firefighters laid down 4,000 feet of hose to connect to a nearby hydrant, Colcord said, but even though the first fire unit arrived within minutes of a 911 call from a neighbor, the barn was fully involved and eventually reduced to rubble.

In addition to having ample resources, the Tamworth Fire Department also had some of the first eyes on the fire, with Capt. Matt Baumann seeing the blaze from his home nearby. 

Because Baumann could tell the fire was at The Preserve, he immediately called for a second-alarm response, said Colcord, with the fire eventually escalating to three alarms.

The fire was reportedly visible from as far away as Laconia, said Colcord, and heat from it damaged the vinyl siding of, and cracked several windows in, The Preserve’s farmhouse, which is separated from the barn by just the width of a dirt driveway.

The farmhouse was built in 1778, said Phelps, while the barn, which accommodates 225 guests and has a dance floor, was built circa 1892, although a photograph of it in a different orientation indicates it was moved and might be older.

Phelps said his handyman, John Thurber, came to the Phelps’ cottage on the 26-acre property and alerted the couple to the fire.

The Preserve, according to its website, “was among the earliest farms to open its doors” to tourists in Tamworth and did so in the 1890s as “Hayford’s in the Fields.” 

From 1965 to 2000, the place was known as “Stafford’s in the Field,” bearing the name of the family that owned it then.

The Staffords, who renovated the barn and also began hosting onsite weddings, sold the business to the Harte family, who operated it as the Brass Heart Inn until the Phelps bought it from them, said Phelps.

The Preserve has nine buildings, “eight now,” Phelps said, which provide both lodging and space for events. 

The barn probably won’t be rebuilt in time for a Dec. 3 wedding, he said, which is why he and his wife are looking to press the adjacent Sap House into service.

Phelps said it was “very fortunate” that the fire didn’t spread from the barn to the farmhouse and thanked firefighters for their hard work.

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