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Reist Mill at Amherst State Park

Fire destroys historic barn designated as a landmark

Buffalo News July 22, 2008  by Gene Warner

    Plenty of early Williamsville and Amherst history went up in flames early Monday morning, when the 187-year-old former Grist Mill on Reist Street burned almost to the ground.

        The landmark red barn, perhaps the last barn remaining in the Village of Williamsville, was so old it had four names over almost two centuries: Grist Mill, Reist's Mill, the Red Barn and Red Mill.

       Once belonging to the Sisters of St. Francis, it most recently was owned by the state. The Town of Amherst is responsible for maintaining it and surrounding park property.

       The mill was built by the sons of two of Amherst's earliest settlers in 1821, only 10 years after the Williamsville Water Mill at 56 E. Spring St. and three years after the town itself was founded.

       In its heyday during the mid-19th century, the mill produced about 100 barrels of flour per day. Recently, though, the structure, which was granted landmark status in the late 1990s, was best known just as the "red barn."

       Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan said that he had looked forward to the rehabilitation of the building and that the town was applying for a grant to help pay the costs. "This is a sad story," Mohan said. "Somebody was looking to buy this building."

       "It's a loss from the point of view that it was a connection to what was once a thriving industry," Amherst Town Historian David Sherman said. "That was real commerce back then."

       Sherman was at the scene early Monday, not primarily as a historian but as a member of the Williamsville Fire Department. He and other firefighters watched as part of the front of the building, at 265 Reist St., between Main Street and Sheridan Drive, resisted buckling in the flames and heat of the two-alarm fire. "That's how sturdy it was," Sherman said. "It was built like a fort."

       At least 50 volunteer firefighters from Williamsville, Snyder, Main-Transit, Getzville and Eggertsville were sent to the scene after the 4:11 a.m. alarm, which followed reports from several callers.

       Firefighters arrived at the scene to find the two-story barn engulfed in flames. "The radiant heat was tremendous, unbelievable," prompting a second alarm, Williamsville Fire Chief Richard Maddigan said.

       Town highway crews later knocked down what was left of the unstable structure and removed debris so that firefighters could put out the remaining hot spots. Firefighters remained at the scene for more than three hours. Damage was estimated at $60,000.  


        Amherst fire officials weren't sure how and when the barn was last used.

       While the cause remains under investigation and no one labeled it an arson, Maddigan and other fire officials pointed out that the free-standing structure had no electrical power and no machinery stored there.

       "It's a minor miracle that it stood that long," Sherman said. "As a historian, you look at something like that and say it can't be replaced. They're not going to be able to put up something like that again."

       News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report.

       Sister Christopher Talbot/Williamsville - Before Monday's fire, Amherst had been seeking grant money to restore the barn that once belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis and originally had been a grist mill.

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