ANDOVER — An unoccupied but historic building on the Wood estate off North Main Street that dates to the wagon era was destroyed in what officials are calling a suspicious, 2-alarm fire last night.
The fire, which broke out around 7 p.m., proved a challenge to fight, with the building eventually collapsing amid the damage.
Firefighters were driving down North Main Street, returning to the station from another call, when they saw a cloud of smoke hanging over the roadway, Fire Chief Mike Mansfield said.
They began investigating and found flames coming out of the side of what was the former Poor's Wagon Shop, a 2 1/2-story wooden structure that faces a pond on the 63-acre estate.
"It was going pretty well by the time we got there," Mansfield said.
Rosalyn Wood, 75, who lives in a mansion at 276 North Main St. on the estate, transferred the development rights on 52 acres of the 63-acre property to the Trustees of Reservations in 2007.
She said the building that was on fire — known today as Arden Casino — hadn't been used in decades, but was considered historic.
Built in 1867, the structure was one of the few pre-industrial buildings left standing in Andover. Originally located across the street in what was then known as Frye Village, the precursor to Shawsheen Village, it was bought by the Wood family following the closure of the wagon and blacksmith business and relocated across the street to their estate in 1900.
"I'm quite upset," Wood said, adding that she believes the fire was set because there was no electricity in the building and because nobody lived there.
"There's no way it could start itself," she said. "I think somebody did it. We have had break-ins there over the years. Someone deliberately put a fire in the building. I guess the Fire Department will have to check that out."