PORT DEPOSIT — The Bainbridge Development Corporation is offering a reward of up to $10,000 in hopes of identifying and charging the person or people responsible for torching the vacant Tome School Memorial Hall in September, according to officials.
The early-morning blaze on Sept. 21 gutted the three-story building, which, with its clock tower and other ornate features, served as a landmark on that Bainbridge property.
People with tips can make them anonymously through the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency (ATF) arson hotline at 1-888-ATF-FIRE, according to Toni Lozzi, the BDC’s project coordinator.
Lozzi reported that there is a “quick turnaround” when people with information call the ATF arson hotline.
“Someone is manning that line 24 hours a day. It goes directly to someone; you’re not just leaving a message. It’s all confidential,” Lozzi said Monday morning, adding that all tips are then immediately relayed to investigators.
The BDC, which oversees development on the Bainbridge property, is offering the reward from its own coffers as part of a continuing multi-agency effort to solve the arson case, Lozzi reported.
“The BDC has been working very closely with the (The Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office) on the arson investigation of Memorial Hall. We have decided, through the ATF Fire Investigation Hotline, to offer a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of whoever is responsible for the fire,” Lozzi explained. “The BDC remains strong in our commitment to Tome School and we hope this will bring about pertinent and helpful information to aid in the investigation.”
As part of that campaign, the BDC is circulating reward posters bearing photos of the charred building and information on how to place an anonymous tip.
Investigators ruled the blaze an arson shortly after the fire.
“Investigators determined a person or persons gained entry and intentionally ignited the interior of the school. An estimated damage in loss could not be determined, due to the structure being a historic landmark,” Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal Oliver J. Alkire reported at the time.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Derek A. Chapman, lead investigator, said detectives are hopeful that the reward offer will spark tips through the ATF hotline.
Wanting to preserve the integrity of the ongoing arson investigation, Chapman declined to discuss leads in the case, commenting, “There’s nothing that I want to put out there right now.”
While the ATF arson hotline is an option for tipsters and could lead to a reward, people also can leave information that might help investigators by calling the MSFO’s Northeast Regional Office at 410-838-4844 or the Arson Hotline at 1-800-492-7529.
Also, detectives are still seeking photographs of the building before, during and after the fire. Photographs may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first alarm came about 2:45 a.m. on Sept. 21, after a passerby saw the flames and called 9-1-1, fire officials said. Approximately 35 firefighters with volunteer fire companies from Port Deposit, Perryville, Rising Sun and North East, as well as Harford County and southern Pennsylvania, responded to the scene, fire officials added. No one was injured.
Crews on numerous tankers drafted water from the Town of Port Deposit water supply and shuttled it to the burning building, which stands on a bluff overlooking the Susquehanna River and the town.
It took firefighters about three hours to bring the blaze under control, fire officials said. However, fires continued to burn inside the “extensively damaged” building for about a week after the initial blaze and, as a result, sections of the structure collapsed, according to Alkire.
The blaze consumed the vacant, 50-foot-by-100-foot, stone and mortar building, which is rich in history, fire officials reported. That building did not have utilities, which is the case with the other vacant structures on that property, fire officials reported.
The building was originally constructed in 1901 as the Tome School for Boys and later the property was operated as the U.S. Naval Training Center Bainbridge, from 1942 to 1976. It was officially closed for Department of the Navy use in 1986. Some of the facilities were then operated by the U.S. Department of Labor as a Job Corps Center until 1990. The property now falls under the Bainbridge Development Corporation for renovations.
At one time, the Old Tome School Building was the centerpiece building on the campus of Tome School for Boys — a prep school with a list of distinguished graduates that includes R.J. Reyolds, Jr., son of the cigarette mogul, and members of Mellon and Carnegie families.
The school, which became part of the Bainbridge Naval Center, now lays in disrepair.
But even so, the dilapidated granite buildings dotting what was once a thriving campus still appear stately, reflecting the bold design of William A. Boring and Edwin L. Tilton, the same New York-based architects whose long list of projects includes the U.S. Immigration Station on Ellis Island.