Melrose Church Fire Unsolved 1 Year Later, Community Divided on Future Plans

June 20, 2018 09:44 AM

One year ago, a historic Melrose Church went up in flames, leaving about $5 million in damage.

Investigators believe it was caused by arson and the investigation is ongoing.


Saturday afternoon, there was a moment of silence ahead of mass at the church. 

From the outside, the Church of Saint Mary looks like the landmark it's been for more than a century.

"It's a really nice church," said Jody Middendorf, a St. Mary's parishoner. 

RELATED: Investigators Seeking Help in Finding Those Responsible for March Church Fire

But if you look closely the boarded up windows, burned fixtures, and yellow ribbon at the entrance paint a picture of a fire too damaging for the church to reopen.

"It's not good, it looks horrible," Middendorf said. 

Middendorf lives across the street and is a longtime parishoner. He was at work the day his church went up in flames.

"I got a call from my wife and she said, 'the church is burning' and it's like you don't even really believe it," Middendorf said. "I could hardly get in the yard, there were so many people."

One year later, a chained fence surrounding the building is a symbol of the progress made toward reopening.

"It's just hard to believe something hasn't happened yet with it," Middendorf said. 

Services are now held across the street in the school gym, as stakeholders who declined to comment Saturday decide what's next. It's a decision that many say has divided the town.

"Some people want to see the church restored, and I think a lot do and there are some that also want to see a new church," Middendorf said. 

Middendorf and his wife say they're lucky enough to have a pew from the church.

"It's a great memory," Middendorf said. 

But he hopes the entire community can one day share more memories inside this church, a place many say brings everyone together.

"No matter what decision you make, some people are just not going to agree with it," Middendorf said. "Get it done and the quicker you get it done, the quicker people can start healing." 

Anyone with information that could benefit the investigation is asked to call the Minnesota Arson Hotline, which is offering a reward. That number is 1-800-723-2020.


Brett Hoffland

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