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Historic home burns at Norfolk Naval Shipyard

PORTSMOUTH — Norfolk Naval Shipyard officials hope to restore a historic home that has housed the facility's commanders since the 1800s. It was heavily damaged Tuesday in an early morning fire.

Known as Quarters "A," the stately brick house was built in 1837 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With wide windows and two staircases leading to the front door, the home's interior boasts Italian marble fireplaces, large archways and two kitchens. Enclosed porches look out over lush grounds.

Outside the house Tuesday afternoon, the air smelled of smoke. A gaping hole took the place of the middle top-story window, and there was a wide, blackened hole in the roof.

The top floor was "engulfed" when firefighters arrived, said Jeff Cunningham, a shipyard spokesman.

"This was a major fire with very significant damage," Cunningham said.

He said it will take time to determine exactly how much work will have to be done, but "our goal is to restore it as it was.

"Absolutely."

The original brick portion of the house was built in 1837. The first commander to live in it, Lewis Warrington, moved in the following year.

Porches were added in 1890 and 1910. A stable and carriage house built in 1915 now serve as a garage.

Many original details remained, such as the Italian marble and iron stair railings, shipyard officials said.

Timothy Scheib, a former shipyard commander who lived in the house from 1997 to 2000, called the fire "a tragedy."

He said his wife, working with a Navy historian, had restored many of the walls to colors of the era in which the house was new.

"It was the little things," Scheib said, adding that the house was a witness to history.

He said he was told that at least four presidents had set foot inside.

"When Teddy Roosevelt sent out the Great White Fleet," he said, "they left from right there."

He recalled that he kept the Quarters "A" log on a table in the center of the house's reception room. Like each commander before him, dating back decades, he added a few pages to the diary about his time there before moving out.

"It was an honor to live there," Scheib said.

The fire was reported at 2:10 a.m. Navy firefighters called for help from Norfolk Naval Station and the city. The blaze was declared out shortly before 5 a.m.

The home was not occupied. A commander scheduled to take the helm of the shipyard next month was supposed to move in within the next few days. The shipyard is looking for a replacement residence, Cunningham said.

A crew had been inside the house working on the floors on Monday, he said, but it was too soon to know what caused the blaze, which remains under investigation.

Pilot reporter Cindy Clayton contributed to this report.

Corinne Reilly, 757-446-2277, corinne.reilly@pilotonline.com

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