3 historic Morrow homes destroyed in weekend blaze; arson suspected

Credit: Morrow Police Department

Credit: Morrow Police Department

On Sunday morning, smoke was still visible rising from the charred remains of three historic homes in Morrow that were destroyed over the weekend in a fire that’s being investigated as arson.

No injuries were reported at the homes — at least one dated back to the 19th century — that were meant to be converted into commercial spaces in the city’s community area called The District.

“This is a very sad day for our community,” Mayor John Lampl said in a statement. “The District has become an important community gathering space, the home of many city events, and the site of several new businesses. The loss of these beautiful, historic homes at the heart of our city is a cruel blow to the residents and community members who utilize this area.”

The police department shared videos from the large fires at the homes on its Facebook page:

Morrow and Clayton County firefighters battled the blaze for several hours, and by Sunday morning, smoke was still coming from the foundation of some of the homes, according to Channel 2 Action News.

Investigators believe the fire started in one of the homes and quickly spread to two others, according to a news release. Preliminary information indicates a group of people were in the home before the fire started, which could be as early as 8:45 p.m. Friday. By midnight, the fire was visible.

“We grieve with our community, and with the business owners who have poured their dreams into this venue, and we are committed to identifying and holding responsible anyone who was involved in the catastrophic damage caused by this fire,” Lampl said.

Fire investigators plan to use accelerant detection canine teams to help determine the origin of the fire and its cause.

“The location and intensity of the fire are suspicious, and early indications suggest this fire is likely the result of arson or fire setting by a person or persons,” Morrow Fire Chief Roger Swint said.

Morrow police, who are assisting with the criminal investigation, have early leads suggesting more than one suspect was involved, a news release states.

“Unfortunately, The District has been a frequent target of vandals, even as new tenants have begun moving into the site,” Interim Police Chief David Snively said in a statement. “Our detectives have successfully identified several previous offenders, including an attempted arsonist; and we will work tirelessly with fire investigators to determine the exact events surrounding this incident as well.”

Police told Channel 2 that there are security cameras in and around some of the buildings, along with license plate reading technology.

Two of the buildings were already under contract to begin the revitalization, City Manager Jeff Baker said.

“This is a devastating setback just as we’ve begun to turn the corner and fill the long-vacant spaces at The District, and it is an especially tragic loss of history — including the Napier-Small house — a distinguished example of Greek-Revival architecture built in 1846 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” Baker added.

Formerly known as Olde Towne Morrow, the area has been rife with problems since its opening in 2009. It was intended to be a revitalization project for the community, which was beginning to see retail leave Southlake Mall, one of its main sources of revenue, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. The city spent more than $10 million buying property, including moving old houses from around Georgia at a cost of $200,000 per home. The houses gave it an “authentic” town square feel and were going to be turned into commercial, office or restaurant space.

But the development never lured the businesses, shoppers or tourists it needed to make it viable. The city then tried multiple times to sell the property at a loss, with one of the latest attempts reported by the AJC back in 2019 at a listing price of $1.6 million.

Anyone who saw suspicious activity in or around The District on Friday evening time is asked to call Morrow Police at 770-961-4006 or the Georgia Arson Control at 1-800-282-5804. Tips can be anonymous, and a reward of up to $10,000 is being offered for information leading to an arrest.