Arson investigation underway after fire at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia

An officer on foot patrol discovered a large fire engulfing the basement of the building, authorities say.

Friday, December 30, 2022
Fire at Carpenters' Hall being investigated as arson
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Police are investigating an arson at Carpenters' Hall within Independence National Historical Park in the Old City section of Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Police are investigating an arson on Christmas Eve in a historic building within Independence National Historical Park in the Old City section of Philadelphia.

US Park Rangers say the fire occurred around 8 p.m. Saturday at Carpenters' Hall on the 300 block of Chestnut Street. It was used as the meeting place for the first Continental Congress.

An officer on foot patrol discovered a large fire engulfing the basement of the building, authorities say.

"They broke into the building and they ignited some kind of fire somehow," said Michael Norris, the executive director of the Carpenters' Company, which owns the building.

Norris said someone broke into the basement of the building where the fire was started. The sprinkler system was activated, which caused more problems for the archives stored there.

Much of it was damaged and taken offsite for restoration work.

"I went downstairs. It was just devastating," said Alex Palma, the assistant director of the Carpenters' Company. He was called out to the building after it happened and saw the damage that the fire created.

"It destroyed our archives, at least our contemporary archives," Palma said. He said the oldest artifacts were safe or were being stored off-site at the time of the fire.

The building smelled like smoke still on Thursday, and there was visible smoke damage to the upper floors of the building, but it was saved.

Multiple agencies responded and extinguished the fire.

There are cameras inside the building, but not in the basement. Since the person gained access from the outside, they were not caught on any of their cameras.

Officials are already making upgrades to the security system.

The National Park Service and the ATF are looking at cameras in other places.

Investigators are asking anyone who was nearby and may have seen anything suspicious to contact them at 1-888-653-0009 or online at go.nps.gov/SubmitATip.

Carpenters' Hall hosted the First Continental Congress in 1774 and was home to the first and second banks of the U.S.

Carpenters' Hall is currently closed for a comprehensive, $3 million preservation project. It was scheduled to reopen on Feb. 2, 2023. Now that opening will be pushed back to a later date.