Fire tore through the nearly 100-year-old Hedderich Department Store building on Main Street Williston Monday evening, bringing the iconic sign on its roof crashing down as the roof caved in.
The fire was reported shortly before 5:45 p.m., according to a news release from the Williston police department.
By 6 p.m., smoke was spreading throughout downtown as firefighters tried to put out the blaze. The fire got progressively worse throughout the evening until, at around 8:15, the sign atop the roof, which had been listing for more than an hour, tipped backward and fell through the roof.
Once the roof began to collapse, flames and dark smoke shot skyward, making the fire visible from miles away.
The building has been owned for more than 35 years by Dr. Loye Ashton, who purchased the building when it was still a department store. The store closed in 1988.
Over the years, the building transformed into a combination antique store and museum.
Planes — both real ones and replicas — hung from the ceiling, and the floor was filled with vehicles of all descriptions, from a fire truck that dated back to the 1920s to antique cars of various kinds.
“He (Ashton) is the one responsible for that building still being here,” Chuck Wilder, owner of Books on Broadway and a member of the Williston Downtowners Association, said.
The building was originally a brick-fronted log cabin, according to “The Story of Williston,” which was published by the Williston Jubilee Committee.
The current building was built in 1918, according to Darin Henderson with the Frontier Museum.
The sign that fell was a later addition. Until the 1970s, the sign on the roof said G.M. Hedderich & Co.
Firefighters were still fighting the fire Monday evening, with large portions of Main Street blocked off and dozens of spectators watching the fire burn.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation Monday, according to the Williston police.
Roads were closed in and around Williston to help with the firefighting efforts, according to Williston City Administrator David Tuan. Truck traffic was being routed around the city. Trucks were supposed to take 11th Street through town. Access to U.S. Highway 2 and North Dakota Highway 1804 was by 48th Street West and East Dakota Parkway, respectively.
In town, streets were barricaded for blocks around the fire, with staff from Public Works and the police department directing traffic.
The city was going to re-evaluate the closures this morning, Tuan said.
Truck route detour at locations:
- 48th St W & US Hwy 2 : eastbound traffic detoured north to 11th St
- East Broadway & East Dakota Pkwy: westbound traffic detoured north to 11th St
- Front St @ S. Main: eastbound closed to 2nd Ave E
- 1st St W @ 2nd Ave W: eastbound closed to 2nd Ave E
- 2nd St W @ 2nd Ave W: eastbound closed to 1st Ave E
- E Broadway @ 1st Ave W: eastbound closed to 1st Ave E
- Washington Ave @ E Broadway: southbound closed to 1st St W
- 1st Ave W @ E Broadway: southbound closed to 1st St W
- Main St @ 4th St E: southbound closed to Front St. E
- 1st Ave E @ 2nd St E: southbound closed to Front St E