Thursday, 4:30 PM
Boston Tea Party Museum catches fire
By Javier C. Hernandez, Globe Correspondent, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum caught fire today and sent black smoke rising above the Financial District.
The 100-year-old building did not contain anything of historical significance and has been closed since August 2001 when lightning sparked another fire and damaged the museum's entrance and exit, said Shawn P. Ford, vice president of Historic Tours of America, the company that owns the museum. The Key West, Fla.-based company had hoped to reopen the museum at the end of 2009.
Deputy Chief Robert Calobrisi of the Boston Fire Department said that the fire may have been caused by sparks from workers cutting and welding beams on Congress Street Bridge. Workers from the Walsh construction company were laying deck for a pedestrian walkway.
The exact cause is still under investigation, Calobrisi said.
Firefighters responded to the call shortly after noon and rang a second alarm. About 50 to 60 firefighters battled the blaze, which took three hours to extinguish.
Witnesses said the blaze began at 11:50 a.m. and described flames rising out of the roof of a red wooden building at the midpoint of the Congress Street Bridge. The building served as the entrance and a gift shop for the museum, which has been closed since it was struck by lightning in 2001.
"There was just tons of smoke," said Antonio Pereira, 65, of New Bedford, who was watching the fire from shore with his grandson.
More than 150 people lined the banks of Fort Port Channel to watch the blaze, including workers from the Financial District on lunch break.
"It's sad they are going to have to rebuild it again,'" said Bob Beyer, a Verizon employee.
At 1:30 p.m., firefighters were still spraying the charred building with water. Flames were no long visible, but dark smoke continued to obscure the blue sky.
The museum commemorates the events of Dec. 17, 1773, when a group of revolutionaries raided three ships at Griffin's Wharf. The men, disguised as Mohawk Indians, dumped 342 crates of British tea into Boston Harbor to protest a tax.
The original Tea Party Museum opened in 1973 and included a replica of the Brig Beaver, one of three ships raided by colonists in an act of defiance that helped sparked the American Revolution. The Beaver was hauled out of the water in 2004 and taken to the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center for what was described at the time as a $300,000 reconstruction.
The current renovation was supposed to double the size of the museum. The plans called for the addition of replicas of the Dartmouth and the Eleanor, the two other tall ships raided by colonists in 1773.
The structure that caught fire today was heavily burned on Aug. 3, 2001, when it was struck by lightning.