Buford fire continues to erase the once landmark tannery for the stars

A Buford landmark that once catered to Hollywood stars continued to smoulder Wednesday after a devastating fire gutted the historic building.

But in a nearby park, a statue of two of Buford Tannery’s most famous customers will remain to recall its place in history: Roy Rogers and Trigger, who once donned a silver saddle made by the tannery’s craftsmen, possibly Jack Johnson who is featured in bronze with the Hollywood pair.

Gwinnett County firefighters allowed the massive masonry warehouse of the long-defunct tannery to burn itself down after arriving on the scene Tuesday evening, Capt. Tommy Rutledge said.

“The fire department is planning to keep one engine at the scene overnight tonight to monitor and wet down smoldering hot spots,” Rutledge told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday.

He cited dangers from leftover chemicals and other remnants of the tannery that went out of business nearly 34 years ago for the passive approach. Heavy flames were coming through the roof and windows when firefighters pulled up after being alerted by passersby at 7 p.m., he said.

“It was a massive fire when the crews arrived,” Rutledge said. “We are concerned mostly that there is no runoff (pollution) that could occur by placing water on this fire.”

The tannery has been the site of flames going back to 1903, when a fire devastated the Bona Allen Company; and then again in 1981, when a fire again gutted the tannery and the business closed and 160 workers lost their jobs.

The business once put Buford on the map as a key provider of hand-tooled saddles, bridles and other leather goods for Hollywood stars such as Rogers, Gene Autry and the cast of Bonanza. But high-profile customers could not make up for the decline in the use of horses on the more prosaic Georgia farms and the demise of horse collar sales.

The fire’s cause was still undetermined, Rutledge said. A plumbing business had occupied part of the building, but it was in the process of shutting down, he said. No injuries were reported and there is no immediate threat to the area, Rutledge said.

“We are trying to piece together what may have happened,” he said. “Investigators are listing it as an undetermined fire under active investigation.”