Por­terdale his­tory en­gulfed in flames

The Covington News - - SPORTS -

As flames burst through win­dows and rav­aged both steel and wood in­side the Por­terdale gym­na­sium Thurs­day night, ci­ti­zens watched in a dazed stu­por as decades of mem­o­ries went up with the blaze.

Built as a gift to the city by Oliver Porter — Por­terdale’s name­sake — in 1938, the Porter Me­mo­rial Gym­na­sium was more than a place to play bas­ket­ball; it was the cor­ner­stone of the self-con­tained com­mu­nity.

De­signed by ar­chi­tect El­la­mae El­lis League, it was one of the first build­ings in the state to be con­ceived by a woman dur­ing a time when

“ac­cept­able” pro­fes­sional roles for women were usu­ally lim­ited to teach­ing school or run­ning a board­ing house. The build­ing orig­i­nally acted as a gym­na­sium for Por­terdale schools, hold­ing sport­ing events, pageants and plays.

But it was more than that, ac­cord­ing to Re­becca Rose­berry, pres­i­dent of the Por­terdale His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. It was a com­mu­nity build­ing, a cen­ter where all of the ci­ti­zens were wel­come.

For many years, the gym served as home of the town Christ­mas party, and it housed a mam­moth tree un­der which presents for all of the chil­dren in town were laid. The women’s club met there, as did the garden club. Even younger chil­dren ate their lunch in the build­ing at one time.

“They need spe­cial equip­ment, so it could be mid-day Mon­day be­fore the in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues,” said Glen Allen, pub­lic re­la­tions direc­tors for the State In­surance and Fire Com­mis­sioner’s Of­fice. “It’s way too early to tell if it was in­ten­tion­ally set, or if it’s re­lated to other in­ci­dents in the area.”

The com­mis­sioner’s of­fice dis­patched the state fire mar­shal to the scene at the re­quest of the county.

“We show up when­ever our as­sis­tance is re­quired,” Allen said. “Es­pe­cially in smaller cities such as Por­terdale or Cov­ing­ton.”

Por­terdale city man­ager Tom Fox said the his­toric build­ing was be­ing used for stor­age. The power had been shut off for at least a year.

“The elec­tric­ity was off... there was no power go­ing to that build­ing, and I don’t think there was any­thing in there to cause it to spon­ta­neously com­bust,” said Re­becca Rose­berry, who was heav­ily in­volved with the planned ren­o­va­tion of the gym­na­sium as pres­i­dent of the Por­terdale His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. “There was noth­ing in there hooked up, con­nected or stored to cause a fire that I am aware of.”

Although the state fire of­fi­cials have not de­clared this a case of ar­son, they are ask­ing any­one with in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing such crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity to call the ar­son hot­line at 1 (800) 2825804.

A re­ward of up to $10,000 is of­fered for in­for­ma­tion lead­ing to the ar­rest and pros­e­cu­tion of an ar­son­ist via the hot­line.

“If it was set in­ten­tion­ally, [the sus­pects] need to spend the rest of their lives in jail with no pa­role, be­cause they have no idea what they have done,” Rose­berry said. “It can be re­placed, but it will only be a copy. They have taken a part of a lot of peo­ple’s lives. They have no clue what they’ve de­stroyed or harmed. It’s a lot more than brick or mor­tar.”

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