No cause determined in fire that destroyed historic St. John’s home

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The fire burned hot and ripped through the abandoned building in a hurry, but the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says the investigation into how it started has gone cold.

The police in St. John’s have closed the file on the Bryn Mawr fire, marking down the cause as “unknown and undetermined.”

It began just after 3 a.m. on Dec. 9, when a taxi driver spotted smoke coming from the historic home. Firefighters from the Kent’s Pond Station, just 450 metres away, were on scene within minutes but it was a lost cause from the very beginning.

“It’s sad because this structure here has been certainly the centre of controversy here for many, many years, and to see something that’s well over 100 years old completely demolished, it’s unfortunate,” Platoon Chief Michael Hall told News that morning.

Bryn Mawr — also known as Baird Cottage — was built in 1905 by architect William F. Butler, one of the most influential builders in the province’s history. It was built for James C. Baird, a Scottish-born merchant who was looking for a summer home on the outskirts of St. John’s.

It changed hands in 1970, sold to Jim and Mildred Steinhauer, who lived in the home for decades. Mildred sold the house in 2014 to developers KMK Capital, but it was slapped with a heritage designation by the City of St. John’s in a last-ditch effort to prevent demolition.

The move handcuffed both KMK Capital and the historic home. Power was disconnected and it was left to fall apart while the company and city fought over the heritage designation in court. Neighbours in the area said it became common to see smoke coming from the chimney and to find people sheltering inside the decrepit mansion.

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador dismissed KMK’s lawsuit in October 2021, leaving the designation in place.

The developer tore down the little bit of charred shell that was still standing soon after the fire. It’s unclear what will happen with the site now.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said the case has been closed unless new information comes to light.