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Suspicious fire damages Susan B. Anthony Museum after person caught on surveillance video

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/27/2021 Victoria E. Freile, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
The charred remains of the back porch of the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House on Madison Street are curbside following a fire on Sept. 26, 2021. © Victoria Freile/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle The charred remains of the back porch of the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House on Madison Street are curbside following a fire on Sept. 26, 2021.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A suspicious fire has damaged the landmark Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday, Rochester firefighters received a call that the fire alarm at the museum, had activated. Within minutes, 911 dispatchers started receiving 911 calls.

Firefighters found the back porch of the museum engulfed in flames, fire officials said. Firefighters contained the fire to the back porch, which was heavily damaged. There was minor fire damage to a nearby doorway and water damage to the interior carpet, said Lt. Jeffery Simpson of the Rochester Fire Department.

Smoke damage is apparent throughout the house, which remained closed Sunday, said Deborah Hughes, president and CEO of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. It was not known when the museum would reopen.

No historical artifacts were damaged, Simpson said. It took firefighters about 20 minutes to contain the blaze. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters said they were investigating.

Hughes said surveillance cameras captured video of someone on museum property, near the back porch, moments before and after the fire began. That person, whose face was covered, was seen holding something on the video, she said.

Footage shows the fire spreading rapidly, she said.

It was not immediately known why someone may have targeted the museum.

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Hughes noted how thankful she and her colleagues are to Rochester firefighters for acting quickly, carefully and respectfully as they battled the blaze.

"They were aware they were handling a national treasure and were almost apologetic" for needing to enter the home, she said. Firefighters removed paintings and historic banners from some nearby interior walls to secure the items, Hughes said.

“The Rochester Fire Department has long understood the significance that this property holds both to our local community as well as the nation," Battalion Chief Joseph Luna said in a news release. "A great job was done by the firefighters’ tonight in limiting the effects of the fire on both the museum and its displays."

The house was once the home of famed civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony. Now a National Historic Landmark, the house was the headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association when Anthony was president.

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The home was also the site of her arrest in 1872, days after she cast her ballot in a presidential election. She died in Rochester in 1906 at age 86.

The home was built between 1859 and 1864, according to the museum's website. Hughes said that the back porch was not original to the house and that it was unclear when it was added.

Hughes, who was at the museum overnight for several hours, said neighbors called her as she was driving to the scene to alert her to the fire.

The back porch of the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House at 17 Madison was heavily damaged in a fire on Sept. 26, 2021. © Victoria Freile/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle The back porch of the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House at 17 Madison was heavily damaged in a fire on Sept. 26, 2021.

The charred remains of the porch roof and railings were moved to the curb early Sunday. Other pieces of debris littered the scene. The boards' scent permeated the air.

The porch will need to be rebuilt, but because of the property's landmark status, construction could take a long time, she said. The house will need to be professionally cleaned to remove the odor of smoke, she said.

Follow Victoria Freile on Twitter @vfreile 

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Suspicious fire damages Susan B. Anthony Museum after person caught on surveillance video

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