MOULTONBOROUGH – It was a normal holiday night at The Woodshed restaurant Thursday, and as employees left the century-old restaurant, everything seemed to be running as usual.
"I'm sure everyone was out of there by 9 p.m.," said Greg Titherington of Tamworth, a waiter at the restaurant.
But just before 10 p.m., the 2,000-square-foot building and eating rooms caught fire. Within a few minutes, more than 40 years of collected memorabilia and photos of famous people, such as actor Henry Fonda, eating at the restaurant was destroyed.
"In one evening, everything that made that restaurant a cornerstone of the Lakes Region for so many years, it's just gone," said Scott Ouellette, one of four new owners who bought the restaurant a little more than a year ago.
More important to Titherington and the 40 people who work at the restaurant was employment.
"I'm okay, I'm semi-retired anyway, but I worry about my friends who worked there," he said. "This isn't a time of year when it's easy to get work around here."
Oullette, who owns several restaurants in the state, said he and his three ownership partners had not yet met on the fire. Reached at his Canoe restaurant in Center Harbor Friday afternoon, Ouellette said the owners hadn't met yet with their insurance company, and weren't sure what they would be able to offer employees.
"We don't know yet, we'll certainly do what we can," he said.
The restaurant's four owners "have several establishments that have staffing needs over the holiday, hopefully we can utilize them."
"Right now we don't know whether insurance will help with that," he said. "We haven't had time to do much, the fire just happened a little more than 12 hours ago."
Friday afternoon, about 14 hours after the fire was reported, Fire Chief David Bengtson and several yellow-coated firefighters were joined by a representative from the state Fire Marshall's Office in going over the embers from the buildings.
The call for the fire came in at 9:52 p.m., Bengston said.
"When we got here it was going pretty well, it had taken hold of the main building, and when the roof collapsed in the main building, it was pretty well gone," he said. "There was a large volume of fire there when we got there."
"The building is a total loss," Oullette said.
Bengston said the cold temperatures were a bit of a problem, as was getting water. Firefighters were able to set take water from a nearby pond, he said.
The cause of the fire was not known Friday afternoon, and Bengston said it was too early to rule out anything.
"We're just getting started on that," he said.
Titherington said he didn't have any idea what started the fire.
"Everything was totally normal when I left," he said.
Ouellette said he wasn't sure if the owners will rebuild. But if they do, "we can't replace all that was lost there," he said.
The restaurant, which had occupied the building for more than 40 years, was established and run for most of those years by Lynn Seeley, who could not be reached for comment.
"Any customers who have been there or anyone who worked there would know that if a fire started, everything would burn quickly," Titherington said.
There were antiques of all kinds throughout the buildings, especially in the porch eating areas. There were banners from colleges, wall hangings, and pictures of all the famous people who had eaten there, among many antiques.
"I'm heartbroken, especially for Lynn (Seeley)," Titherington said.
"Lynn put her whole life into this, I feel for her especially," Oullette said.
But all were glad that only the building burned.
"We feel lucky that no one was in the building, no one was hurt," Oullette said.