The former Seven Gables Inn in North Augusta was engulfed by a large fire Thursday night, causing massive damage to the historic structure.
The fire was first reported about 10:30 p.m. and caused no injuries. Several emergency workers from six different agencies responded, including an aerial truck spraying water from above on the building, located at the corner of Georgia and Butler avenues. The fire was visible to those driving over the 13th Street Bridge from Augusta and it attracted a large crowd of onlookers.
“This is tragic,” said Melissa Turner, of North Augusta, while watching the building burn. “We hate for this to happen because it’s a major loss for our city.”
By 11:40 p.m., North Augusta Department of Public Safety Chief Lee Wetherington said the fire was mostly contained. However, firefighters were on standby into the late hours of the night, putting out small hot spots as of 12:45 a.m. What remained of the building was a shell of its former state, with its inside gutted.
Michael Dussey, of Augusta, a witness at the scene, said he heard an explosion in the area about 11 p.m. Chief Wetherington confirmed that a two-inch gas line behind the building had exploded. He said he didn’t know what had caused the initial fire, but he said there was no indication it was suspicious.
As of 12:45 a.m., motorists were still being warned to avoid Georgia Avenue north of Martintown Road and south of Five Notch Road.
Chief Wetherington said the interior of the structure had been painted with varnish and shellac.
The inn was built in 1903 as a hunting lodge for the Hampton Terrace Hotel, which was destroyed by fire in 1917, according to an April 2007 North Augusta Today article.
“This place has a long history,” Chief Wetherington said.
In the 1980s, Seven Gables earned a reputation when then-owner Randy Salter ran an exclusive restaurant and barred blacks from patronizing the establishment, according to Augusta Chronicle archives. Later, an FBI investigation turned up drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations. The restaurant went up for auction as part of Mr. Salter’s sentence.
The structure reopened recently under the name Palmetto House, operating a restaurant.
“This is certainly a loss to North Augusta’s architectural history. It’s a sad day,” said Arthur Shealy, a North Augusta city council member.