By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — A mill building just months shy of its 200th anniversary was damaged in a fire yesterday that remains under investigation.
The Abbot Mill, located at 18-20 Red Spring Road, represents the only surviving mill building in the area going back to the early American Industrial Revolution, according to Karen Herman, Preservation Commission chairwoman. The building was built in 1814 and sits along the Shawsheen River.
The fire was called in just before 3 p.m. yesterday after internal alarms detected the fire and sent an automatic alarm to the fire department, according to Fire Chief Mike Mansfield. Seconds after the alarm call, several 911 calls also came in reporting smoke coming from the windows.
It took around eight minutes for crews to knock it down after they arrived, according to Mansfield.
The response was both aided and hampered by the conditions at the scene. Internal sprinklers kept the fire at bay as crews arrived, Mansfield said, but the first fire hydrant they went to was in such poor condition they couldn’t use it, forcing them to go a bit further down the road to get water.
The fire started in the mill building’s basement and worked its way up to the first floor. Mansfield thinks the cost of the damage is minor, about $10,000.
The Preservation Commission has had its sights on the Abbot Mill in recent months because of its historic nature and ties to the earliest moments of the American textile industry. Its current owner, Ozzy Properties in North Andover, recently tried to get a demolition permit so it could redevelop the property, according to Herman.
The building’s poor condition was the developer’s leading reason for tearing it down and building something new. At a hearing last month, the commission voted to extend a demolition delay on the property by a year, Herman said.
“We felt that we were waiting for the developer to develop plans on the site,” she explained. “They were going to get back to us on that.”
The building “has been standing empty for some time,” Herman said. “They’ve just used it for storage purposes. There’s been no manufacturing there for many, many years.”
The building was holding items — including fire extinguishers — that were once located in a neighboring structure on the same property that has recently undergone renovation work, according to Mansfield.
When asked about the possibilities of arson, Mansfield said the building was fully secured when crews arrived.
“The firefighters had to force entry into the building to advance hose lines into the building,” he said. “There’s nothing at this point that leads us to believe it was intentionally set. Certainly, we aren’t going to rule anything out until the investigation is complete.”