TOWN OF WALLKILL — A two-alarm fire that broke out in the early hours of Thursday morning destroyed the former Rusty Nail restaurant off Dunning Road.
Debris from the three-story wooden building at 50 Dunning Road was still smoldering by mid-morning while crews knocked down the remaining blackened walls that framed the first floor.
Police believe the fire is suspicious and it is being investigated as an arson, said state Trooper Steven Nevel, public information officer for Troop F.
The Orange County Fire Investigation Unit is leading the probe, Nevel said.
He said troopers who responded Thursday morning did not find any suspicious people at the scene, but homeless people are known to seek shelter there on cold nights.
Mechanicstown Fire Chief Dominick Guardino said the building was fully involved when firefighters arrived at the scene about 4:15 a.m.
The building had been abandoned since the historic Town of Wallkill restaurant closed in 2001, Guardino said.
Middletown, Pocatello, Goshen, Howells and Montgomery fire departments assisted Mechanicstown.
A portion of Dunning Road from Trust Way to East Main Street was closed during Thursday morning rush hour. The road was reopened a few hours later.
Across the road from the Rusty Nail, a new Tru by Hilton hotel is under construction.
Wallkill Town Supervisor Ed Diana said Thursday afternoon the Hilton's developers were looking to build another hotel on the Rusty Nail property.
He did not know at the time if development plans changed because of the fire.
A hopping, eclectic spot
"It was a very hopping, very eclectic sort of a great gathering place for people to enjoy and have happy hour after work," Maureen Halahan, president of the Orange County Partnership, said of the Rusty Nail.
The restaurant was a train station about 100 years ago, Diana said, and was a hot spot for political fundraisers.
Diana lightheartedly acknowledged there were rumors the Rusty Nail was haunted, but he had not heard of any confirmed ghost sightings.
Neither Diana nor Halahan could recall why the Rusty Nail closed, but Halahan remembered the business fizzling out toward the end.
"When it closed, there were a lot of people who were sad because it was sort of a mainstay in our area," Halahan said.