Mars Hill University is catching heat for paying $250,000 for a century-old home and then letting a local fire department burn it down for a training exercise.
The private liberal arts university bought the 3,000-square-foot home in 2013, and media outlets report it had once been occupied by a founding member of the school. Mars Hill is two and a half hours northwest of Charlotte.
Preservationists in the community called the destruction “maddening” and a “waste,” reports the Asheville Citizen-Times. The home dated to the early 1800s, media outlets reported. It was burned down June 10.
Historian Taylor Barnhill told the Citizen-Times the home was architecturally and historically significant. “It could have become a real asset for the college,” he was quoted as saying. “Now It goes from asset to ashes.”
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However, Mars Hill University President Dan Lunsford rejected ideas of the home as historic. “It’s an old house, a lovely old house in its day without question,” he told the Citizen-Times. “Still, there was never any information given to me or any that I have found that has connected this to historical events of the county.”
He noted the home has been vacant for the past two years and was attracting vandals. The land may be used for everything from a residence hall to an administrative building, it was reported.
TV station WLOS covered the burning and noted neighbors weren’t thrilled at what happened.
Laurie Seleski lives in the area and was out on a walk with her husband when they saw the fire. “We’ve enjoyed seeing this old house here, and I’m sad to see it burned down," she told the station.
Stephanie McCullough of the Community Housing Coalition told WLOS there were many other ways the school could have used the home.
“We could have housed three, four families in it,” McCullough told the station.