History in ruins: Riverfront Mott House a total loss in Sunday fire

One of the most historic structures in Columbus was left in ruins Sunday morning as an early morning fire destroyed the Calhoun-Griffin-Mott House on the TSYS downtown riverfront campus.

Commonly called the Mott House, it was owned by TSYS and at the time of the fire was under a nearly $4 million renovation to put a conference center and boardroom in the structure. The project started almost a year ago and was scheduled to be completed in April 2015. Built in 1841, the house had survived the Civil War and the expansion of riverfront textile mills.

It was completely gutted by the fire, which Fire Marshal Ricky Shores said was first reported to authorities at 2:26 a.m. The fire was brought under control about 3:45 a.m. by a small army of about 40 firefighters. No firefighters were seriously injured, according to command personnel on the scene.

Later in the day Sunday, TSYS officials, with the fire department and the construction company, were trying to determine what to do with the badly compromised historic exterior. No decision was made and late Sunday the burned-out house remained under the control of the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

Sgt. Mark McMullen of the Columbus Police Department was among the first people on the scene. He was patrolling downtown when he saw the smoke, arriving about 2:35 a.m.

“When I first saw it, I thought it was the TSYS building,” McMullen said.

The parking deck and the main TSYS buildings did not appear to be damaged in the fire, said Battalion Chief Bobby Dutton.

“The main building was never in danger, but we were concerned about the parking garage,” Dutton said.

The fire and damage will not impact the company’s work schedule or the use of the parking garage that was closest to the fire, said TSYS Senior Communications Director Rob Ward.

“The garage should be open,” Ward said. “We see no reason why it wouldn’t.”

There was a small workforce on the campus at the time of the fire and no one was injured, Ward said.

It was not an easy fire for firefighters to battle, Dutton said on the scene about 4 a.m. Firefighters had some issues early on because the house was in a construction zone. They had to pull hoses to the scene from hydrants across 14th Street near the Frank Martin Pedestrian Bridge.

“The access to getting the trucks back here was difficult,” Dutton said. “We had to stretch a lot of lines.”

Firefighters used a ladder truck to pump water down on the house for more than 45 minutes. Just after 3 a.m., the building was fully engulfed in flames and firefighters were in a defensive position, Dutton said.

The TSYS parking garage abuts the structure and firefighters were fighting the fire from the third floor of the parking garage. Dutton, a veteran firefighter, said it is the first time he can recall fighting a fire from inside a parking deck.

At 9:30 a.m., almost six hours after the first call about the fire, firefighters were still trying to contain hot spots inside the house. The inside was completely gutted and the historic exterior was badly damaged.

Firefighters were still on the scene as late as 5 p.m., but fire investigators and insurance adjustors were unable to access the building for safety concerns.

“Right now, the structure is unsafe,” Shores said Sunday afternoon. “There are several load-bearing walls that have just crumbled. We won’t put anyone in until we can completely evaluate it for safety.”

There is a noticeable bow in the front red brick facade.

Shores said that fire officials do not know what caused the fire but have no indication of foul play.

“We have not recovered any information that indicates arson,” Shores said. “There was a security fence and there are security cameras all around it.”

TSYS is working with authorities, Ward said.

“We are very early in this process,” Ward said. “And we will be working with fire officials and law enforcement to make a determination as to what happened. We really have no idea at this time.”

Ten hours after the fire was reported, firefighters were still in the parking deck keeping an eye out for hot spots.

The fire appeared to start in the southeast corner of the structure, Dutton said. “That is where the most flames were,” he said.

At least eight trucks from four stations responded to the fire.

Several TSYS executives were on the scene about 3:30 a.m.

The renovation work was being done by Thayer-Bray Construction. The house and the property immediately surrounding it were fenced in. Thayer-Bray President Philip Thayer and members of the construction team were inspecting the damage from behind the fire line in the morning and were back on site for a meeting that ended about 4 p.m.

“At this stage, we are assessing the situation,” Thayer said.