STEUBENVILLE - Mary Elaine (Creegan) Feist started crying as she looked inside what was once her second home.
"That's my father's office over there in the corner. You can see what is left of it. This is absolutely heartbreaking because there were still a number of treasures left in there and so many memories," Feist said as she stood in the ice covered alley behind the Creegan Co. building on Washington Street.
The Creegan store has been closed since 2010, but Feist said the company still had a number of puppets, hand crafted animated characters and material in the building.
MEMORIES AND LOSS — Sean Creegan and Mary Elaine (Creegan) Feist look at what remains of their father’s office in the Creegan Co. building. The brother and sister were moved to tears Thursday afternoon as they inspected the fire ravaged building. — Dave Gossett
"We have been slowly moving things out. But we lost so much in the fire," she noted.
The brick structure was gutted Wednesday night and Thursday morning as a fire destroyed the building and forced residents in the nearby Washington Square Apartment building to seek shelter at the nearby Froehlich's Classic Corner restaurant.
"I can remember running down here after I got out of school every afternoon at St. Anthony's grade school. Even after the store closed I could walk in the building and still hear my mom's voice and the many creative people who worked there creating magic," Feist said.
"It was a really neat building with the wooden floors. When my parents bought the building it was a Montgomery Store and S&H Green Stamp business. It was a great place for everyone," she said.
Her brother, Sean Creegan, agreed.
"It was a hell of a place to grow up as a kid. When we were in the building it was our home. This is a very emotional day for all of us in the family but I believe we will come back," Sean Creegan said.
George Creegan sat in Feist's car a few feet away from the building he bought for his puppets and animated figures more than 50 years ago.
"This was our first building. Later on we bought the apartment building next door and used the first floor as part of our store. This is hard for me to see because there are so many memories gone with the building. We lost a lot of memorabilia that can't be replaced," George Creegan stated.
Feist said she received a phone call Wednesday night from the son of one of the Creegan Co. artists.
"He is now a firefighter and he called me to say firefighters were being called to a fire at the Creegan building. I started scrambling trying to call family members to get down here. By the time we arrived it was gone. The most creative people in the world once worked in that building. They created a new world for a generation of kids," according to Feist.
Steubenville Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Washington Street between Fifth Street and Seventh Street will remain closed until the building is demolished. The walls are bowed at several places and the building is not stable. Steubenville Building Inspector Anthony Bodo inspected the structure Thursday morning and is now preparing the paperwork to have it demolished," Capaldi said.
"We are also keeping the residents out of the Washington Square Apartment building until the building is brought down because of the instability of the Creegan building walls. There are also several hot spots inside the building that we can't get to until everything is brought down and we can start pulling the material out," Capaldi remarked.
Two city firefighters were working Thursday afternoon from a fourth floor window in the apartment building to spray water into the rubble inside the Creegan building.
A Washington Square apartment building resident who asked to not be identified said he smelled smoke as he walked from the Rite Aid store to his apartment.
"I thought someone had burned some trash and it was finished because I didn't see anything outside. I went upstairs to my apartment and then saw a cloud of smoke blow by the window. I ran downstairs and saw sparks coming from the building and called the fire department," he related.
Greg Froehlich provided temporary housing in his restaurant building for several apartment residents again Thursday night.
"The Red Cross asked if the people could stay here until they were allowed back in their building. So the first night about nine people slept in our large banquet room and Thursday night they stayed upstairs in a vacant office. It was the least I could do," he commented.
Froehlich said he is used to hearing the fire truck sirens because the North Street fire station is only one block from his restaurant.
"I heard the sirens Wednesday night and realized they had stopped outside of the restaurant and then I saw the Creegan building burning. We tried to keep providing coffee and hot chocolate through the night because I could see the wind blowing the water from the fire hoses all over the place. Those firefighters and police officers who were out there during the fire were completely drenched.
"It was a tough night for those folks," Froehlich said.