90-Year-Old Downtown Pawhuska Building Destroyed In Fire
PAWHUSKA, Oklahoma - Unstoppable flames swallowed a landmark warehouse Thursday.
The old building in Pawhuska was home to four different businesses, including an antique store and flea market.
We spoke with the owner, whose family has owned the warehouse for 75 years. In Pawhuska, most people know it as the Old Benson lumber yard. But it's been years since it served that purpose, and it's been undergoing an intense facelift for several years.
The owner said the renovation was his way of giving back to a town that's working so hard to reinvent itself.
"I saw how the fire was progressing and then my heart just sunk," said Harry Benson.
It was a scene no one in Pawhuska was prepared to see. The flames at the Osage Market moved so furiously that the most anyone could really do was watch.
"I circled the building. I opened the door for the firemen. I tried to enter, but the smoke was too thick," Benson said.
The warehouse was built nearly 90 years ago as food distribution warehouse. That was back when Pawhuska's population was around 25,000, compared to about 3,000 today.
In 1938, Harry Benson's grandfather bought the building and turned into a lumber distribution center, which is what it was used for until the late '90s.
"Oh, a lot of history, yeah. My museum is gone," Benson said.
The warehouse was in its final stages of a lengthy renovation. Benson and his wife had gradually been making updates to the building for about the past five years.
"Trying to restore that 11,250-square-foot building...sweat, blood, tears, splinters, dirt," Benson said.
The hard work paid off. The warehouse was transformed into a giant flea market: the Osage Market.
It was only last month that an antique store opened for business, but in an instant, all that was invested went up in flames in a fire so big, it brought out neighbors and their cameras.
And while Benson is heartbroken, he said he has work to do. He's still in the family business, running the town's only lumber store up the road.
And despite the loss of something so precious, he has a sense of pride that he was part of the process of helping bring his town back to life.
"I love this town and we would love to see it grow again," Benson said.
The fire chief said the fire most likely started in an area of the building where about 200 bales of hay were stored. He said the hay was probably baled up wet, and when that wet hay gets hot, it can ignite on its own.
The feed store and a construction company were also leasing out part of the building.