Firefighters were called to the home of Harold and Ruby Werschem, 312 N. Park St., just before 11 p.m. Sunday. Smoke was seeping through the roof at the time.
An immediate call for assistance was put out for Crockery Township and Ferrysburg fire departments. Grand Haven and Grand Haven Township fire departments were also called. Norton Shores Canteen came on the scene later.
The homeowners, as well as their son, Michael Werschem, who lives in the other half of the duplex, were able to evacuate the home safely. Nobody was injured, officials said.
Spring Lake Fire Chief Rick Nuvill said a void between the original roof and a newer roof caused some problems, because the area was originally thought to be the attic. Once firefighters cut their way into the actual attic, they were able to dump hundreds of gallons of water on the fire with the use of Ferrysburg's squirt and Grand Haven Department of Public Safety's aerial.
The fire was knocked down about 12:30 a.m. today. Firefighters cleared the scene at 2:45 a.m.
Spring Lake Capt. Brian Sipe said he planned to return to the fire scene this morning for an investigation, as a cause had yet to be determined.
The fire was discovered when Michael smelled smoke, which he thought was from a neighbor’s recreational fire, said Sipe. Michael drove around the area and found nothing. When he returned to his house, he heard the smoke alarm going off on the second floor. Michael went up there and found smoke coming through the flooring. He ran next door, alerted his parents, and called 911.
Sipe said the old home was of balloon construction and had several additions. That type of construction has no fire walls, so fire was able to travel up inside the walls and into the second story attic.
“Fighting a fire with these conditions proves to be a challenge,” he said.
Sipe said the home appeared to be a total loss, but it was fully insured. The American Red Cross is assisting the family.
Neighbor Lisa (Peterson) Kendra, 49, who grew up a block over on Division Street, said the Werschems have lived in that home as long as she’s been around.
She remembered going into the house 25 years ago and noticing push-button light switches and large, floral-patterned wallpaper.
“It is said to see an original home burn,” Kendra said. “It’s awful for anyone’s house to burn.”
Kendra said she’s always known that the house was the oldest one in Spring Lake. She said that’s why the trolley always used to stop there on a historical tour.
The home at the southeast corner of Park and Barber streets was built in 1841 by John Newcomb and was the first home in Spring Lake, according to a book published for Spring Lake's Centennial in 1969.
Harold Werschem’s mother, the former Ester French, was brought up in that house, said another neighbor, Paula Egyed, who lives at 218 N. Park in the second oldest house in the village.
“My house was built in 1858,” she said.