Family moves forward after loss of historic building
By Jamie Organski
Mark Mayer, who owned the Big Moose Inn with his wife, Susan, said the lyrics of a popular song have been spinning in his head following a May 27 fire which resulted in the loss of their business and livelihood.
He said he’s found comfort in the words from “Closing Time” by Semisonic which he’d play on the inn’s jukebox to let the bartender know it was time for last call. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end …,” Mayer quoted.
The inn, in Eagle Bay in the southwestern Adirondacks, could not be saved despite a host of fire responders battling flames. “The most important thing is that no one was injured. This is devastating, but it could have been so much worse,” said Mayer.
The community responds
This year marked the 120th anniversary of the building and the Mayers had a big party planned for later this year. Susan said she and Mark had spent five weeks working on inn renovations, including a brand new look for public areas and refurbished hallways to match the lobby.
The couple met while working in Orlando, Fla. in the hospitality industry, and married in 2007. Deciding it was time for a change, the Mayers packed up a Honda CRV. They and their 1-year-old daughter and a cat moved to Eagle Bay in 2010.
“We got here on April 23 and opened on Mother’s Day weekend with no place to live, no chef hired, and a skeleton staff,” Mark said. “We took one of the smallest rooms in the inn and lived there until neighbors offered us space.”
Mark said in occasions of adversity, such as pipes freezing or flooding,someone usually helped to ease the pressure and lifelong friendships and partnerships developed.
The couple is grateful for the more than $68,000 raised from a GoFundMe campaign set up by neighbor Shane Kovacs, to help the Mayers offset costs not covered by their insurance.
“I feel like it doesn’t matter what we ask for, we would get it in a heartbeat,” Susan said. “If I say we needed water, we’d be swimming in a lake. People are giving what they can and it means the world to us.”
Now with four children, ages 10 to 21, when the Mayer family moved to the Adirondacks 13 years ago and purchased the inn, Mark said he was more concerned about being accepted by the community than with the logistics of running the inn. Those concerns quickly dissipated, he said.
“We picked, by far, the best community in the world to be a part of,” Mark said.
According to interviews,just after 2:30 a.m. on May 27, the Mayers awoke to a notification that the fire alarm system was going off inside the Big Moose Inn. The Mayers had installed an alarm system in their home, situated directly next to the inn.
The couple could see that the back of the inn was engulfed in flames.
“Mark took the second floor, and I took the third floor and we evacuated everyone out of the building, including six overnight guests and two staff members,” Susan said. “ By the time the last staff member was out, the first fire service was here (less than 15 minutes after the tone.)”
A former volunteer firefighter with the Big Moose Fire Department, Mark notified neighbors of the fire and helped get the hoses running.
The Big Moose Fire Department was first on the scene, with six other fire departments assisting, including the Eagle Bay Fire Department, the Inlet Fire Department, the Old Forge Fire Department, the Raquette Lake Fire Department, the Otter Lake Fire Department and the Woodgate Fire Department, according to Town of Webb/Inlet Police Chief Ron Johnston. The Old Forge and Raquette Lake ambulance services also responded to the scene.
The Mayers expressed gratitude to all of the volunteer firefighters who worked to contain and extinguish the fire. Those efforts spared the rest of the buildings on this property including the Mayer home, and neighbors’ homes. “It could have easily gone sideways that night,” Susan said.
Mark said the firefighters worked on the fire for about 12 hours, dumping more than 1 million gallons of water onto the building. Big Moose Volunteer Fire Company Fire Chief Jason Pratt cleared the scene on Sunday afternoon, and the building was declared a total loss.
Chet Lasell, assistant director of communications for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, said the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC) conducted an investigation and found the cause to be accidental. “It was determined the fire started at the rear of the structure and was caused by discarded smoking materials,” said Lasell.
Several historic inns have been lost to fire in the Town of Webb, including, but not limited to the Eagle Bay Hotel in 1945; Camp Meeker in 1977; The Forge House in 1924; The original Glenmore Hotel (Duffy’s) in 1950; and Lakeview Lodge in 2018; according to the Goodsell Museum in Old Forge.
The Mayers are currently taking on the task of tallying up business expenses, and researching exactly what is covered — and what isn’t covered—by their insurance, a process that will likely take months.
“We were just heading into the busy season on the heels of a poor winter,’ Mark said. The cold season had yielded modest snow cover and a lackluster snowmobile season. “Our on-hand capital is at the lowest around Memorial Day, as we place large orders prior to Memorial Day in preparation for the summer season, our revenue-generating months.”
The Mayers said they intend to rebuild, although the process will likely take years to complete. The inn consisted of 16 guest rooms. It employed six core staff and about 15 to 20 people during the height of summer.
“We are still so close to the incident so we don’t have many answers at this time,” Mark said. “We need to focus on the process at hand before we can focus on going forward. The character of the Big Moose Inn can’t be replicated, as it was built in 1903 and everything about it was unique. We have the opportunity to do something special here.”
Susan added that several people have contacted them since the fire to express their condolences and share fond memories of their time spent at the Big Moose Inn.
“You don’t realize how important the inn was to so many people until something terrible like this happens,” she said. “Many people held the inn very close to their hearts.”