Fire Destroys Hopes for Birdseye Building

After two years of planning, dreaming, fundraising, and volunteer sweat equity, the people trying to save Birdseye’s historic 1894 Koerner Block looked on helplessly last month when an arson fire destroyed the landmark.

Koerner Block fire, Birdseye

Up in Smoke

On the afternoon of October 12, residents of tiny Birdseye reported hearing an explosion and seeing a man fleeing the two-story Koerner Block. Fire quickly engulfed the 123-year old building. It took fire fighters from Birdseye and the neighboring towns of English and Schnellville four hours to control the blaze. By the time it was over, the building’s ornate brick façade, its original Mesker cast iron storefront, and its remarkably intact commercial interior were reduced to rubble.

The Italianate-style commercial building was constructed in 1893 for William N. Koerner, a merchant who sold just about everything from his store in downtown Birdseye, from dry goods, glassware, groceries and clothing to a line of farming implements. In recent years, the building has been used for storage, deteriorating under a partially collapsed roof. In 2013, a portion of the rear wall fell, too.

Last year, a coalition of Birdseye and Dubois County residents organized with Indiana Landmarks to save the endangered Koerner Block. As recently as September, Greg Sekula, director of our Southern Regional Office, and Arch McCutcheon, Save The Koerner Block Committee Chair, visited the site with architect Adam Green to discuss rebuilding the collapsed south corner of the building.

After the fire, members of the Koerner Block Committee met to discuss the future. “I would like to see our group stay together and see something positive for the community in terms of rebuilding happen on this site,” says McCutcheon. “Ironically, the Koerner Block was built on the site of another building destroyed by fire,” notes Sekula. “Like a phoenix in the ashes, something good for Birdseye can come out of this devastating loss.”

Read more about the Koerner Block fire in the Dubois County Herald.

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