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Maritime Museum Destroyed by Fire

DELTAVILLE, Va. -- The Deltaville Maritime Museum went up in flames Wednesday, destroying the main building and significant parts of the collection, but not the volunteer spirit that made the museum a community centerpiece in the last decade.

"We've lost the museum temporarily, but we will build it back," said Bill Powell, vice president for events.

"We put together a committee a few months ago to look at additions to the museum. Now what we'll do is put together a plan to rebuild."

Firefighters were dispatched at 6:12 p.m. Wednesday and found that a pavilion overhang in the rear of the museum already had burned and the blaze had spread to the roof of the main building, said Capt. Paul Murray of the Lower Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department.

Firefighters needed about 2 hours and help from other units in four counties to control the blaze. Once portions of the building were safe, a salvage operation began to save as many artifacts as possible.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined. The museum had insurance to help rebuild.

The biggest losses were in the pavilion area, where participants in a weeklong boat-building school lost all their work and the museum lost two vintage vessels. One was the W.A. Johns, a three-log-bottom sailing canoe that had been built in 1920 and restored. The other was a sora skiff built in the 1930s out of cypress from Virginia's Dragon Run Swamp by a local family for hunting marsh birds.

In the main museum, about three dozen model boats were destroyed, said museum director Raynell Smith.

"Even the ones that didn't get burned are in such terrible shape," she said. "A model builder said they were beyond repair. They got water damage. Some were in acrylic cases, and the cases melted around them."

Some vintage boat tools and other objects were saved, she said, as was an 1862 Civil War campaign chair used by Col. John S. Mosby, which was part of an exhibit on the war in the area.

"We spent (Thursday) going through the rubble," Smith added. "We've recovered some things that we'd overlooked at first, photographic disks with saved files in the library and some CDs and original vinyl records of sea chanteys."

Collections were not the heart of the museum, however. Unharmed on the 36-acre museum site were a sculpture garden, children's garden, stage, kitchen and docks where historical and reproduction boats are anchored.

The F.D. Crockett, recently declared a Virginia landmark, is a 64-foot nine-log-bottom boat that was built in 1924. It has been restored and is used for excursions.

"Our philosophy has always been to have hands-on activities and changing exhibits," Smith said. "We're not so much a collecting museum, but more into having something ongoing and new about history and the area."

Even though exhibits were destroyed, the files were not. "All of the information is archived," she said. "It will be a lot of hours to put it back together, but we have all the information. We haven't lost that."

The museum also will salvage part of the activities planned for this weekend. The Saturday morning boat race is canceled because the skiffs being built for the race were lost in the fire, but the fish fry will continue as planned at 11:30 a.m.

"People like to come out and gawk," Powell said. "I suspect we'll have a lot of people. From the standpoint of the museum and volunteers, we want to make sure everybody knows we want to forge ahead."

The fire is the second major blow in a little more than a year for Deltaville, which suffered millions of dollars in damage when tornadoes and other dangerous weather tore through the area in April 2011.

Fire Destroys Maritime Museum