Engineers predicted fall of fire-damaged St. Lawrence University steeple
Monday, October 7, 2013 - 5:16 pm

Campus personnel inspect the scene Monday morning where most of the fire-damaged steeple at Gunnison Chapel broke away. Photo by Tara Freeman, St. Lawrence University.

CANTON -- As the winds picked up this morning, the fire-damaged steeple and bell tower atop St. Lawrence University's Gunnison Memorial Chapel collapsed and fell to the ground, just as engineers had predicted it would.

Campus officials said the steeple fell around 5:25 a.m. this morning, ending a dramatic 24 hours on campus that began with a fire in the steeple early Sunday morning.

There were no injuries in the fire or the subsequent collapse.

“We had several engineers and architects here yesterday who predicted that the steeple would most likely fall and predicted where it would fall safely,” said Pat Gagnon, director of Safety and Security. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

The fire was discovered shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday, when campus Safety and Security personnel noticed smoke coming from the chapel’s steeple. They called the Canton Fire Department, and crews were on the scene in less than 5 minutes. Additional fire crews from Potsdam, Gouverneur, Morley, Rensselaer Falls, West Potsdam, West Stockholm and Huevelton assisted in the effort. Crews from Canton, Potsdam and Gouverneur were called specifically due to the need for ladder trucks due to the steeple’s height.

The fire damaged a significant portion of the steeple and the roof of the bell tower. However, the chapel, one of the most handsome buildings on campus, and 10 large bronze bells remained relatively unscathed and intact.

Officials indicated that the fire was most likely caused by an electrical malfunction, however specific details were not available Monday morning.

The chapel was first opened in 1926.

“We’re really lucky we had the response we had from our local fire departments,” Gagnon said. “Their hard work and skill prevented this fire from doing even more damage than it did."

A weathervane and a large copper rooster that sat atop the steeple were badly damaged during the fall. Seaman said he was unsure if they would be repairable. However, he was confident that the steeple would eventually be restored.

There was some water damage to the main chapel, Gagnon said. Workers were already cleaning up the interior of the building and assessing the extent of the damage by late Sunday morning.

“This building is a real symbol for the campus,” he said. “We’re going to want to get the chapel cleaned up and functional as soon as possible.