Historic brick building in downtown Litchfield collapses during bridal shower

·2 min read
Litchfield Fire Department

Officials haven’t yet determined what caused a historic two-story brick building in downtown Litchfield to collapse on Saturday.

About 20 people were attending a bridal shower in a rented space on the lower level, according to Litchfield Fire Chief Joe Holomy. Some were treated at St. Francis Hospital.

“A few of them went to the hospital with minor scrapes and bruises, but everybody got out,” Holomy said Sunday. “They described what they heard as a cracking or a creaking, and they started exiting the building, and it came down.”

The white storefront with a black awning is in the 300 block of North State Street, the city’s main drag. All that’s standing now is the facade, which is attached to buildings on either side.

The building is owned by Short Furniture on the corner. The upstairs was vacant. There’s also a florist shop and resale store in the block.

Officials have closed nearby businesses, evacuated tenants from an upstairs apartment in another building, shut off gas and electricity and blocked off the southbound lane of North State, Holomy said.

A structural engineer is expected to examine the site on Monday to determine what caused the collapse and how officials should proceed with cleanup.

“When the building fell, it caused stress to the buildings on either side,” Holomy said. “If you pull that center wall down arbitrarily, you could potentially weaken the walls of the other buildings.

“It’s going to have to be a meticulous process. It’s not like an abandoned home that you can just bulldoze.”

Litchfield is a city of about 6,600 people 50 miles northeast of Belleville. It began as a railroad stop in 1853, according to the city’s website.

Today, people come from miles around to shop at the Litchfield Pickers Market, which takes place on the second Sunday of each month along the same section of North State. The next one is scheduled for Aug. 14.

Firefighters were dispatched at 11:48 a.m. Saturday to what was initially reported incorrectly as a building explosion, according to a Litchfield Fire Department incident report on Facebook.

“A portion of the roof and second floor collapsed requiring gas and electric for the entire west side of State Street between Ryder Street and Kirkham Street to be shut off,” the post stated.

“In addition the water was also was shut off for the entire block, but water has since been restored after isolating the collapsed building. Buildings have been posted as uninhabitable by the City Building Official.”

Holomy has been Litchfield fire chief since 2019. During his 45 years in the fire service, he has seen similar building collapses in other places due to storms, damage or maintenance issues.

“This is not unusual,” he said. “But we’re extremely fortunate that no one was seriously hurt or worse, especially with a bridal shower going on.”