SALAMANCA — Suspects have been identified in what is now considered an arson investigation at the former Erie Railroad Depot, Salamanca Police Chief Paul Myers said Tuesday.
“We have identified suspects, we are questioning the suspects and the investigation is continuing,” he said. He declined to state the age of the suspects or how many are being questioned but said arrests may be pending.
The Salamanca Police Department is working in conjunction with the Salamanca Fire Department on the investigation. Also assisting is the Cattaraugus County Fire Investigation Team (CATTFIT), which was on the scene following the fire.
The former depot caught fire during the afternoon hours of Tuesday, July 29. The blaze was under control during the evening hours, at which time Main Street reopened to traffic after being closed for about four hours.
Fire departments from the Seneca Nation, Great Valley, Kill Buck and Little Valley were on the scene as well as Cattaraugus County Emergency Services, according to Salamanca Fire Chief Nicholas Bocharski. Departments from East Randolph and Randolph assisted at the Salamanca fire station.
Bocharski said the day following the blaze that fighting the fire “went well.” He noted the early afternoon timing of the fire Tuesday made it difficult to get manpower because many of the volunteers at nearby fire companies were at work.
He said his department remained on the scene until 1 a.m. Wednesday morning and returned to the site during the day Wednesday to extinguish any remaining hot spots.
The fire spread rapidly in a significantly open second floor, Bocharski said. At the scene Tuesday he said when the department arrived on the scene fire shot out of second story windows within 30 seconds, a sign the fire had been burning for “some time” before it was noticed.
According to a 1999 book published by jointly by The Salamanca Press and Salamanca Rail Museum, the depot opened as part of the Erie Railroad on Jan. 5, 1904. The building contained division offices, dispatchers and Corps of Engineer offices in addition to handling passengers, mail and baggage.
The final passenger train pulled out of the station in January 1970 on its way to Olean. Passengers on the train included former Salamanca Mayor Keith Reed and his wife, Shirley, as well as city clerk Kenneth McClune and several county officials.
The building sat vacant since the late 1970s, according to Salamanca Rail Museum Director Gerald Fordham. The plans to turn the building and nearby property into a museum and park never materialized despite artist renderings and a press conference in 1982 that predicted a mid-1983 opening.
The depot property, as well as where the current Salamanca Rail Museum stands nearby in a former 1912 depot, were acquired by the Salamanca Industrial Development Agency (SIDA) in 1986, according to the city assessor’s office.
When the lease agreement was signed in 1990, the former Erie Railroad Depot property was reverted back to the Seneca Nation because it was no longer used for railroad purposes.
Salamanca Mayor Carmen Vecchiarella said he had met with Nation officials earlier in July to discuss potential demolition of the structure.
Myers said he felt the building had been properly secured and, although vacant for decades, it had never drawn particular attention from his patrol team. Myers said the ex-depot’s security was much different than the former Fancher Furniture Company building on Rochester Street that burned in 2010 as the result of arson.
“It’s not like the Fancher building where we kept getting reports of doors unsecured and we’d have to go check it,” Myers said. “But when you were doing your general duties of patrol you patrolled it and you checked it.”
Anyone with any information on the investigation is asked to call the Salamanca Police Department at (716) 945-2330.