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Larson’s last original pioneer building, old hotel, burns to the ground

Posted 7/14/15 (Tue)

Larson’s last original pioneer building, old hotel, burns to the ground

By Cecile Krimm
For more than 100 years, the Larson Hotel stood, even as the  rest of the town’s pioneer buildings disappeared -- until a fire Tuesday last week leveled it.
Wanda Ely first noticed something amiss around 10 p.m., when she looked out the window of her nearby farm home.
“Here it was all this smoke, so I just got in the car and drove to Larson,” she said. 
When she arrived only the front part of the hotel was on fire. By the time the Columbus Fire Department came, said Chief Scott Kihle, the entire building was engulfed.
“We were out of luck before we ever arrived,” said Kihle. 
Noonan firemen, who responded to the call for mutual aid were turned back when it was determined there was nothing to be done but stand by.
“Who knows, it might have stood another 50 years,” said Kihle, if not for events described to him by building occupant Vernon Kostad. As of press time none of the residents of the building could be reached for comment.
Kihle said Kostad told him he had been in bed smoking and fell asleep. Kostad told Kihle he was awakened by his dog, then attempted to put out fire.
Kihle couldn’t say how much time elapsed before the fire department was contacted, nor  whether it might have made a difference in saving the structure. 
Afterwards, Kihle called the State Fire Marshal about possibly investigating the blaze, but the likelihood of determining an origin for the fire was deemed to be unlikely. According to Burke County Sheriff Jeremy Grohs, there is no evidence to substantiate criminal activity and the fire has been ruled accidental.
The structure dates back to Larson’s pioneer time, around the turn of the 20th Century. After its early days as a hotel, it served as both a store and a post office.
“When I was a kid, that’s what was there,” said Ely.
In more recent years it has been used as a family residence, but its presence has always anchored Larson’s main street.
“It’s going to be funny not having it there,” Ely said.
Van Norby, a nonagenarian who lived most of his life in the town, is less sentimental.
“Nothing lasts forever,” he said, though the hotel stood a good long time.
Norby said the condition of the building has deteriorated in recent years, but it wasn’t always so.
Virginia and the late Charles Riebling moved to Larson from Pennsylvania in 2000, fixing up the building for their family residence. Norby recalls Charles single-handedly putting a new tin roof on the building. He also praised Charles’ carpentry work inside, recalling sheetrock work that was “perfect.”
Charles died in 2006.
Virginia, said Kihle, was out of town doctoring with her father, Carroll Crabbs, another Larson resident, when the blaze occurred. Calls to his Larson number went unanswered last week.
According to a Burke County history book, the structure was erected in 1912 by Ole Boen and first managed by siblings Marie and Ben Hatlelid. 
“For years the train stopped in Larson, long enough for the crew to eat their meals, the train idling on the track.”
The book also records that,  as of the early 1970s, all but one other of the town’s original business buildings had disappeared.
“Some of the early business places were constructed in a hurry and others were good and substantial buildings. Over the years some have been moved away or torn down but most were destroyed by fire,” just like the hotel.