A yellow Victorian estate once stood tall at 72 Brinkerhoff St. until the house was engulfed in flames Friday, Jan. 5, destroying the home of 10 brothers of Plattsburgh State’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, and a piece of the city’s history. There were no injuries.
The former Pi Kappa Phi residence was built in 1893, and has held a number of purposes since. What was once the location of the Redden Funeral Parlor, and later home to Executive Director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage in Keeseville, Steven Engelhart, is now a pile of charred rubble and foundation that is almost totally demolished.
Considering the building’s state, investigators will rely on interviews with witnesses.
“Even though the building is in ruins, we can still sift through anyone’s perspective by conducting interviews,” Plattsburgh City Police Lieutenant Levi Ritter said.
Investigators were unable to access the home safely following the fire. Detective Jarrod Trombley could not get to the second floor or basement of the structure, Ritter said.
“We had to be very delicate,” Ritter said. The lieutenant also said there is not enough evidence to support a definitive cause for the blaze.
The home was owned by Chuck Callioras of Calcom Properties, LLC, who could not be reached for comment.
“Overall, these students, the campus and the local community are fortunate that no one was present during the fire and there were no injuries or worse,” Vice President of Student Affairs Bryan Hartman said.
Fraternity brother Mitchel Rutte is one of the displaced.
“In terms of housing this semester, all 10 residents of 72 Brinkerhoff were able to move into 74 Court St.,” Rutte said.
“Most importantly, the fire further bridged the connection between the guys that lived in the house, and greater, the fraternity,” Rutte said.
The effects of the blaze are felt in a number of people throughout the community.
“The house is the center for a lot of memories for my family,” Engelhart said. “It was a warm, well-lit space with big rooms.”
Engelhart’s parents, Carl and Margaret Engelhart, were active participants in the community. Carl was an English professor at PSUC for 30 years. The Engelharts moved their young family of 11 to 72 Brinkerhoff St. when their son was 10 years old.
“Imagine my excitement as a 10-year-old moving into this old funeral home,” Engelhart said. He recalled memories of exploring the depths of the house to look for spirits – none of which he found – along with discovering old embalming equipment and closing his brothers in left-behind wicker and metal caskets.
“It wasn’t just a house,” Engelhart said. The events he remembered taking place at the spacious home ranged from picnics and weddings to draft counseling for soldiers in the Vietnam War. Engelhart also recalled playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band that would practice at the historic address.
“Losing something close to us, like the house, has caused us to reflect on how lucky we are to have such supportive families, friends and a fraternal community,” Rutte said.
PSUC has recognized the resiliency of the brothers.
“It appears they collectively and individually have been very self-sufficient and resourceful,” Hartman said.
The GoFundMe page started for the brothers has reached $7,125 out of its $8,000 goal.
“It is times like these in which we recognize our gratitude to be a part of such an extraordinary community,” said the official statement of the brothers of the Eta Kappa chapter of Pi Kappa Phi.
Email Sage Lewandowski at email@example.com