The building that stood at the corner of Pine and Eleventh streets in Philipsburg had a history. It had been a sewing factory. It had been batting cages for the local YMCA, where ballplayers like a young Matt Adams could practice their swing.
That was when the building had a roof.
On Thursday afternoon, that changed. The structure, now owned by Derek Hart, of Aaronsburg, was not being used, according to Philipsburg Fire Chief Jeff Harris. The fire took neighbors by surprise.
“I was sitting in the living room, and I looked out the door, and there was a bunch of smoke coming from the building and then I saw flames,” said Philipsburg resident Triton Conklin. The boy told his stepfather, a Houtzdale volunteer firefighter, and the scene was quickly swarmed with emergency personnel from Centre and Clearfield counties.
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Companies including Mountain Top in Sandy Ridge, Reliance and Hope from Philipsburg, Houtzdale, Morris Township, Columbia from Osceola Mills and the Chester Hill Hose Company used aerial trucks to control the flames from different ends of the building. Alpha Fire Company, of State College, and Undine, from Bellefonte, provided backup support to the Philipsburg area during the fight. Personnel were on scene for more than five hours.
By 8 p.m., only a few were still on scene with the fire marshal, picking through the debris of a building that used to employ men and women from all over the area as part of the Charles Navasky and Co. clothing manufacturing group.
The shell of the building still stands, but it ends in dark smoke where it should join the roof. Windows were blown out by water or pulled out by firefighters with hooks to release the heat and prevent them from exploding into the crowd. In the dark, the remainder of the water that was dumped on the blaze ran loudly from one floor to the one below. Drifts of roof shingles ring the property.
Harris said no cause has been determined as yet, but he and the fire marshal will return to the scene Friday to continue to look at the debris. The building was insured, he said.
“Wow, is this what burned?” said one man who drove by and stopped for a look at the scene. “I remember when this was the batting cages.”