‘Hope to see it rise from the ashes like a phoenix’: 2 weeks after Archer House fire, fate uncertain but many hope for preservation

The Archer House, the historic red brick hotel in Northfield, stands silent and dignified these days, behind a chain link fence.

Just over two weeks ago, the iconic building was hit by a destructive fire that burned for 24 hours.

More from KSTP.com:

Northfield community reacts to the fire at historic Archer House River Inn

Damage reported after fire at historic Archer House in Northfield

“Just makes me sad, it was a beautiful building,” said Jenny Tuma, who worked security at the Archer on the overnight shift. “Watching it burn, I stayed all night when I came for my shift and I watched the firefighters fighting it.”

The hotel, on the National Registry of Historic Places, was built in 1877. It’s considered a small-town landmark.

"It really was the heart and soul of this community in many ways,” declared Susan Hvistendahl, a historian who’s written five books about the area. “I was with other people who were just in horror as they saw the smoke billowing out of the windows, and we just couldn’t believe it.”

The stubborn, massive blaze broke out Nov. 12, at 3:30 p.m.

"Almost 24 hours of water from four to five fire departments,” recalled co-owner Brett Reese. “Over two-million gallons of water."

A kitchen fire that spread.

"The smoker, restaurant, flames. It got into the walls, the ceilings, the roof,” Reese noted. “I think the fire department got it under control and it sort of popped up.”

As for the future? Reese said it’s too early to know.

"Can it be replaced or can it be restored or rebuilt?” he asked. “We have to wait until the insurance company does its analysis, its report.”

Historical photographs show the grandeur, the elegance of the hotel.

"People were all excited because it meant Northfield was on its way and had accommodations for people, for visitors,” Hvistendahl said. “A sign of prosperity for the town.”

During that time, Jesse James and his gang had visited Northfield.

“They robbed the bank,” Hvistendahl says. “Citizens of Northfield rose up against those outlaws and chased them out of town.”

James didn’t stay at the Archer, but many others have in the last 143 years, including educator and author Booker T. Washington and actress Betty White.

"When you walked in there, I’m going to sound like a small town girl, you felt like you were in a big city,” said Lisa Peterson, the president of the Northfield Chamber of Commerce. “It was very elegant, very posh.”

This past summer, during the pandemic shutdown, the owners did $150,000 in renovations.

“Our lobby was sort of the living room of the community,” Reese said. “We lost that. Hopefully, we can bring that back, with something great and beautiful on this site.”

With so much damage, what might be possible?

“People have talked about maybe the front?” Reese said. “But we just don’t know. And the building behind it."

No one was seriously hurt in the fire and the hotel was safely evacuated. But 50 employees are now out of work.

Reese said the owners expect to hear from their insurers right around Christmas about the extent of damage, and whether the Archer, or part of it, can be saved.

"It’s just heartbreaking really,” Tuma said.

Asked if she think the Archer House could somehow come back, she says she’s trying to stay optimistic.

“I sure hope so. I mean, there’s a lot of damage, but if they can preserve something and rebuild, that would be awesome.”