As flames lap at historic downtown Holly, residents vow to rally around businesses

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Andrea Chapin was stunned to receive the call Tuesday afternoon from the bar and grill she has owned for six years in downtown Holly.

Andy's Place near Broad Street in the northern Oakland County village had caught fire after a blaze erupted at an adjacent business, prompting staff to evacuate.

Within hours, the second floor of the business she was renovating into an apartment had been reduced to a blackened ruin.

Chapin, who had hoped to welcome more crowds this summer amid festivals and an array of returning events, now worries about rebuilding.

"It's very devastating for the whole community," she said while watching fire crews douse the brick building on Tuesday night.

Dozens of firefighters spent hours battling the blaze Tuesday thatspread to multiple buildings downtown, including the historic Holly Hotel, a venue for historical figures, a president, state governors and sports teams, according to online posts and officials.

The five-alarm blaze drew a response from more than 100 firefighters from  agencies including Fenton, Independence Township, Rochester and Milford, said Paul Strelchuk, Oakland Township fire chief.

Six firefighters and one civilian were hospitalized Tuesday due to the heat-related issues as temperatures reached the mid-90s, but their conditions were not considered life-threatening, he said.

The crews were expected to remain at the scene through Wednesday. "We're going to be here quite a while," he said.

The fire shook residents who watched crews extinguish the flames, including those lapping at the upper floor of Andy's Place.

The scene was difficult to take in, and the damage and loss enormous, they said.

“It’s devastating for everybody — the owners, the people who shop here,” said Matt Newmarch, who rushed to the scene when he learned about the fire. “It’ll take them a lot of years to rebuild.”

Firefighters tends to a blaze that spread through portions of the historic area of Holly near Battle Alley on Tuesday.

The blaze appeared to have started near the Battle Alley Arcade Antiques at about 4 p.m., fire officials said.

From there, as many as six other structures were affected either through flames or smoke, said Jon Ruthenbeck, a team leader with the Oakland County Incident Management Team and Clawson fire marshal.

The cause has not yet been determined, investigators said.

Chapin was not at the site when a co-worker alerted her that flames had reached Andy's.

"The flames started getting higher and the wind got stronger and it engulfed my building," she said while standing with her granddaughter across the street. "It got to the roof and the outside."

The fire also spread to the Holly Moose Lodge No. 1168 next door.

"Prayer warriors unite!" officials said on Facebook. "... Fenton Fire has ladder truck spraying Holly Moose roof! Pray, pray, pray!"

Linda Stouffer, owner of the nearby Battle Alley Coffee, spotted the flames as she and her staff were preparing to close. They evacuated but provided drinks to the first-responders.

"It's horrible," she said Tuesday night. "These are small businesses and they are owner operated. It's a small community. We're very devastated, but I also know that even though the members might be hurting because of inflation and gas prices, they will rally around them."

Fire departments from many townships and cities help Holly firefighters end the fire in the downtown historic area of Holly near Battle Alley in Holly, Mich. on June 21, 2022.

The Holly Hotel, a Queen Anne style facing Battle Alley, is an example of the "railroad hotels once so common in American small towns," according to a website on the hotel's history, hollyhotel.com.

It served as a stop for Carry Nation, who brought her temperance movement to town in 1908 to rail against "the drinking habits of the locals" that patronized the hotel's "very large bar."

Every Michigan governor "since 1979 has dined at the Holly Hotel," according to the site.

In 1992, then-President George H.W. Bush and his wife selected the hotel as a dinner stop during Bush's campaign in Michigan. The Red Wings brought their Stanley Cup during championship years, the online history of the hotel said.

Tuesday's fire follows a blaze in 1913 the destroyed the second and third floors, hollyhotel.com said. Then, "exactly sixty-five years to the date and to the hours of the first fire in 1913," the hotel burned again on Jan. 19, 1978. Damage was $550,000 "and the last significant architectural link to the 1800s was being considered for demolition," according to the site.

Instead, it was renovated in "a labor of love," with salvaged wood, railing, molding, tile and glass reincorporated alongside Victorian touches. 

In 1980, the hotel was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, according to the website.

People watch as departments from many townships and cities help Holly firefighters end the fire in the downtown historic area of Holly near Battle Alley in Holly, Mich. on June 21, 2022.

The Detroit News once voted its "afternoon tea" among the best in Michigan.

"Our hearts are broken," the Downtown Holly Facebook page said.

The phone line at the hotel was unavailable Tuesday. Hotel officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Oakland County Commissioner Robert Hoffman, whose district includes the township, owns some property in the business district next to the hoteI. His wasn't damaged, he said.

The hotel's owners, he said, "have been trying to make a go of it for a couple decades with changing menus, Titanic anniversary dinners, clambakes, adding a comedy and blues club in the basement, even seances in an upstairs event room."

The Holly Moose Lodge launched in 1913, includes more than 1,200 active members and participates in events including BBQ competitions, according to its website. It is part of the fraternal Moose organization.

"Please pray for our brothers and sisters at the Holly Moose Lodge!" Fenton Moose Lodge officials said on Facebook. ".. .Also please keep the first responders in your thoughts and prayers as they fight this fire."

The situation, and usage, briefly turned Holly's water brown, village officials said on Facebook.

"Holly is our home, and we are extremely grateful for our Village Of Holly Fire Department and all the surrounding areas Fire Departments that came to help in our time of need," their post read.

"We are forever blessed that no one was hurt today.  Yet, we mourn the loss of historic buildings and treasured businesses.  We know our community will be strong and come together during this time."

Chapin spent hours watching from behind yellow caution tape as crews tended to her business, which hosted events such as baby showers to family reunions.

She was unsure about the next step for her and the staff of seven, which she described as a family.

"We'd like to rebuild and make it whole again," she said.

Staff Writer Mike Martindale contributed