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Seneca Falls. Staff tries to regroup after fire damages historic church. They couldn't rescue the Institute's library. They were in the basement, which wasn't touched by fire, but was flooded with plenty of water


(WSYR NewsChannel 9 ) Seneca Falls (WSYR-TV) – Members of the Women’s Interfaith Institute in Seneca Falls say they are going to move forward and rebuild after fire damaged much of their building Thursday night.

It took crews about three hours to bring the flames completely under control.

The village has deep ties to American history, and the Women’s Interfaith Institute is at the heart of it.

The church was built in 1871 by the same congregation from the Wesleyan Chapel, a building just down the block that housed the first women’s right’s convention in 1848. The Women’s Interfaith Institute is now used for retreats and conferences, for concerts and seminars.

The fire damaged much of the Great Hall, the area that used to be the sanctuary. The building was undergoing a restoration project, and a group was booked to use it in two weeks.

The pews weren’t inside yet, but the paintings and tapestries were. Some were rescued, along with a significant piece of the women’s rights movement.

“We believe we have the pulpit that [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton and others stood at for the 1848 convention,” says the Institute’s founding director, Dr. Allison Stokes.

But they couldn’t rescue the Institute’s library; there are thousands of books on women and religion. They were in the basement, which wasn’t touched by fire, but was flooded with plenty of water.

On its website, it says the Institute houses an extensive library — four different collections with thousands of books.

Now, board members are dealing with all the details and have yet to really wrap their heads around the damage.

“We’re going to rebuild, but it’s just overwhelming,” Stokes says.

The building suffered heavy fire damage to the roof structure and extensive smoke and water damage throughout.

The state Arson Bureau was on the scene Friday afternoon, but we’re told that’s a standard of the investigation.

They’re still trying to determine the cause of the fire.

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