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Arson suspected in Compton Town Hall fire

Those with information about the fire are asked to call the arson hotline at 1-800-723-2020.

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The Compton Town Hall is shown in ruins following a fire that destroyed the historic building on June 23, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA – Residents of Compton Township are left shaking their heads after it appears someone set fire to the historic Compton Town Hall in the early morning hours of Thursday, June 23.

Township chairman Larry Richter is one of those people frustrated at the situation. He’s been meeting at the hall for over 20 years and can’t imagine who would do such a thing.

“There’s a lot of frustration right now,” Richter said in the days after the fire.

Deer Creek Fire Chief Travis Collins said they were called to the fire at 3:07 a.m. on June 23. The timing and the appearance of where the fire began gave clues that had the state fire marshal immediately suspecting arson was at hand. The fire is however, still under investigation and an official decision has not been made on the cause, according to Collins.

In addition to Deer Creek Fire Department, Wadena was called automatically for mutual aid and Bluffton assisted with water on the scene.

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Charred wood is seen scattered on the stairway to the basement of the Compton Town Hall on Saturday, June 25, 2022.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The fire extends from the staircase that heads down to the full basement, up one side of the building wall, into the rafters and burned out to the other side of the building. From the lawn, you can now view into the structure through a gaping hole, taking a look back in time.

Collins commented that it was sad to see the building destroyed.

Richter said when he got the call to come in the early morning hours he suspected it could have been lightning or some other cause. Seeing the building burned was bad, hearing that it appeared to be arson was even more damaging.

The Compton board had an emergency meeting this week to discuss steps to move forward.

They decided for the next 60 days they will meet at the Deer Creek Community Center until more plans are made. At this time all ideas were being floated including demolition and building a new structure. Talk of restoring the building was considered, though some felt repairs would be more costly than building new.

The history and grandeur of the building at the corner are not lost on this group. Richter spoke of Frank Tranby and his contributions to preserve and record the history of the school house and other significant structures in the area. He called Frank the “Township Historian.”

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From the north side of the building, the damage can be seen above a doorway and into the attic of the Compton Town Hall.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

The board has many decisions to make in the future on top of preparing a site for the primary election, which is coming soon. Considering how well maintained the building was, finding a new location was not on anyone’s mind, Richter said.

“We never in a 100 years ever thought it would happen,” he said of the fire.

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The board next meets July 19 to further discuss the future of the building. The state fire marshal has until September to release the building back to the township, Richter said.

Richter said the building was “as solid as Gibraltar.” It was known for its church pew seating, cursive ABCs still bordering the top of the walls, and as a stately building on the corner of Hwy 50 and 73 in Otter Tail County.

There are about 800 people in Compton Township. Registered voters of that township may never again get to step foot in the old town hall on election day.

Related Topics: DEER CREEKWADENAFIRES
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