Barn Swallow in ruins

Published 10:09 am Friday, October 8, 2004

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Cassopolis Vigilant
CASSOPOLIS - The county lost a unique place when tragedy struck in the early morning hours Monday. The Barnswallow Theatre, 24010 Hospital Road, was completely destroyed by fire.
Marj Federowski, the treasurer on the Board of the Barn Swallow was up late working on her computer, her window just across the parking lot of the Barn Swallow apartments.
But it was resident Barb Lepel who called in the 911 call, after another resident who was up doing laundry, but didn't have a phone, knocked on her door.
The fire possibly started in a storage barn near the theater. When firefighters from Cassopolis arrived about 1 a.m., that barn was gone and the Barn Swallow Theatre was 50 percent engulfed, according to Bill Fitzgerald, Cassopolis Fire Chief. Both buildings burned to the ground.
Four vehicles were destroyed by the intense heat, including a Blazer owned by Erin Morgan. "I also lost two boats which were in the storage area," Morgan said, and my daughter's swing set.
When board members Tom Rae and Carol Senger came in the dark hours of the morning, they watched the barn and their hard efforts disappear.
They had taken down the sound system and were planning to move it over to the apartment building, but that too was destroyed, as were costumes and other equipment.
Fire departments from Edwardsburg, Penn, and Dowagiac assisted Cassopolis at the scene. Dowagiac brought its airial truck to deal with sparks which threatened the Barnswallow apartments.
It was 20 years ago that "the barn swallows were shooed out and a dead fox removed," Federowski said.
The first production was in 1984, the Spoon River Anthology, and the boats which had been left by the county's marine division remained for the next 20 years as decorations in front of the theatre. On Tuesday the boats continued to smolder.
The most recent production at the theatre was the "Barn Swallow Jamboree" on Saturday, Sept. 25.
The barn itself was built in 1922, Federowski said, by Barry Wade of Edwardsburg. "He milked cows in the basement for years," added Wright. The theatre part was where he had stored hay. Wright, who played in a play there about three years ago, is the newest member of the board.
Performers came from Dowagiac, Niles, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Vandalia, Kalamazoo, Mattawan and St. Joseph.
The board met this week at Federowski's apartment to see the damage and discuss plans for the future. As some said, having 20 years wasn't bad.