Popular Bridgeton tavern reduced to rubble after fire

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Investigators used an excavator to sift through the charred rubble, looking for a cause. (WPVI)

A popular tavern that has been a part the Bridgeton community for hundreds of years is now just a pile of rubble.

The remains of the Hillcrest Tavern in the unit block of West Broad Street were demolished on Monday after an early morning three-alarm fire ripped through the building.

After the demolition, investigators used an excavator to sift through the charred rubble, looking for a cause.

Meanwhile, patrons and employees gathered, with one man throwing flowers on the pile of debris.

We talked to one woman, Denise, who had worked there for 26 years.

"I loved this job," she said. "I had fun, everybody was a regular."

"There will be a million memories of this place," said councilman Bill Spence. "There will be no more new memories."

The flames erupted at 4:45 a.m. Monday.

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An automatic alarm notified Bridgeton firefighters of the blaze.

Fed by strong overnight winds, the flames quickly spread through the upper floor and roof of the sprawling restaurant and bar.

Authorities became concerned flames might spread to adjoining structures. They struck a third alarm at 6:45 a.m.

Along with the winds, the sub-freezing temperature made it tough for the estimated 75 firefighters on the scene who had to deal with ice build-up and try to stay warm.

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There were no immediate reports of injuries.

According to Cumberland County's website, the oldest section of Hillcrest Tavern was built in 1782.

It served customers who attended court sessions as well as those passing along Kings Highway from Trenton to Cape May, a stagecoach route.

The later, western portion of the building was built in the mid-19th century.

In current times, Hillcrest Tavern was a popular eatery and spot to meet up with friends.

"Very sad," said Wanda Dubois of Bridgeton. "I've lived here all my life, and this was my 'Cheers.'"

Fire has damaged a popular historic restaurant in Cumberland County, NJ.

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