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Demolition begins at Block Island’s historic Harborside Inn after devastating fire

“Someone asked me if I was sad,” the inn’s co-owner said. “But I don’t really know how to feel.”

Vaux Finnimore (left) co-owner of the The Harborside Inn, spoke with Manafort Brothers project manager Michael Daversa as his team began demolition of the Inn on Weldon’s Way in New Shoreham, R.I., on Monday.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. — The jaws of an excavator crunched into the exterior of the historic Harborside Inn late Monday morning, beginning the demolition of one of Block Island’s most iconic hotels.

Vaux Finnemore, one of the inn’s co-owners, looked on while filming the first steps of demolition on her phone.

“Someone asked me if I was sad,” said Finnemore. “But I don’t really know how to feel.”

The inn, which first opened in 1879 as The Pequot House, was ravaged by a fire that began in the first-floor kitchen last month, and was deemed a “total loss” by the state fire marshal. No one was injured in the blaze.

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It’s unclear how the fire started. Investigators are still working on their final report, James P. Given, the acting chief deputy of the State Fire Marshal’s office, told the Globe. Fire Marshal Timothy McLaughlin said while an arson dog inspected the property the week of Aug. 22, “there is no reason to think it was arson.”

A person stood on a neighboring building as demolition began on The Harborside Inn in New Shoreham, R.I., on Monday. Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

The demolition of the building is expected to be completed by the end of September, leaving only the foundation, according to New Shoreham town clerk Millie McGinnes.

People gathered on Chapel Street to watch as demolition began on The Harborside Inn.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

Connecticut-based construction company Manafort Brothers Inc. was hired to conduct the demolition. Project manager Michael Daversa said while a demolition for a building of this size on the mainland would typically take about three to five days, demolishing the Harborside Inn could take a few weeks. Multiple ferry trips were needed to bring the required equipment to the island, which is located nine miles south of the coast of Rhode Island.

“My crew is out here full time now,” said Daversa, who said the crew will work 10-hour days. “It’s the only way to properly finish this project.”

Daversa’s next hurdle, he said, was getting the debris from the demolition off the site.

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“We’re going to have to figure out if we can use island sources, or if we have to charter debris over to the mainland,” said Daversa.

Located on Water Street, the Harborside Inn was one of the first buildings the islander’s visitors saw when they stepped off of the ferry. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been welcoming visitors for more than a century as the Pequot House, the Waukesha, and the notorious Royal Hotel, which was rumored to be a brothel.

Vaux Finnimore (left) co-owner of the The Harborside Inn and Michael Daversa filmed demolition.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

On Monday morning, crowds gathered around for the spectacle.

“This is the biggest thing on the island this year,” said Amedeo Molfesi, who manages nearby Chapel Sweets as he stood outside the door of his shop, which faces the inn. He said he’s been visiting Block Island since 1959.

An excavator operated by Manafort Brothers inc. began demolition on the 144-year-old inn's ground-floor kitchen.Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

“This is a shame. I love the Harborside,” said Aldo Leone, the owner of Aldo’s Bakery, which opened in 1955. Standing outside his bakery wearing an apron, Leone offered a few suggestions for what could take the old inn’s place: “We could use a visitor’s center. What we have now isn’t enough. Or perhaps, a public park.”

Finnemore and her ex husband, Michael Finnemore, said they plan on rebuilding the Inn. But it’s unclear when construction could begin.

Daversa said “no one” has been allowed in the building for safety purposes, including the business owners who operate retail stores on the ground floor. Some of these storefronts, including Wild Flowers Boutique, appear to have much of their inventory still inside.

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Wild Flowers owner Jennifer Brady said she didn’t know when or if her store would reopen. “It was truly heartbreaking to watch the fire absolutely destroy the entire building.”

Marty Milner, whose grandparents once owned the property and who has helped the Finnemores manage the property, said they were able to salvage some historic items from the inn, such as a call box that was located in the lobby that was able to communicate with all of the rooms.

“My grandparents are probably rolling over in their graves right now, looking at that building and knowing it has to come down,” Milner said in a recent interview. “That was their home.”


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.