Authorities in London were still busy late Monday afternoon trying to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed a popular downtown restaurant and heavily damaged an adjacent business early Monday morning.
No injuries were reported.
Late Monday afternoon, firefighters were still dousing hot spots, and Main Street remained partially closed, Mayor Troy Rudder said.
Rudder said preliminary indications suggested that the blaze started in one corner of the restaurant, but it might be next week before a cause is determined.
The fire destroyed Weaver's Hog Dogs, an institution on North Main Street for more than 70 years. It also caused extensive smoke and water damage at Bob's Ready To Wear, a next-door clothing store that had been in operation more than 60 years, according to Rudder.
"These were two of the oldest businesses in our retail family," Rudder said. "It's a real loss."
If not for a firewall between the two businesses, the entire block could have been endangered, he said.
Firefighters from several neighboring communities helped battle the blaze, the mayor said.
While the financial loss is tough, the historical loss might be even tougher for the community to take, Rudder said.
Weaver's Hot Dogs dated to 1940, when Carl Weaver opened it in a building that once housed a pool hall and a lunch counter. Weaver's was particularly famous for its chili dogs. According to the restaurant's website, Carl Weaver bought the chili recipe for $25 more than 70 years ago, then tweaked it with his own additions.
Whatever he did, it worked. The eatery became a hugely popular local gathering spot, and it remained so through three generations of the Weaver family. The original pool tables were removed in 1967, but the restaurant retained old-time wooden tables and booths, and a relaxed atmosphere.
The owners also lined the walls of the restaurant with numerous photographs gathered over the decades, showing the people and events that shaped London and Laurel County over much of the 20th century.
There was, for example, an image of the 1927 London High School basketball team, which finished second in the state tournament. There also was a photo of the Olympic torch passing through town in 1984.
"That place literally had the history of this city and county on its walls," the mayor said Monday. "People would go in there to just look at the pictures.
"Everything from new arrivals to the biggest bass caught, to business leaders and everyday people, ... they had hundreds and hundreds of pictures on the walls," Rudder said. "There were old political posters. Pictures of sports teams from the county schools back in the day. All kinds of memories.
"It's horrible that the business were devastated, but the loss of the history and those pictures is really hard. They meant a lot to a lot of people in this county. Some were irreplaceable."
London firefighters were called shortly before 1 a.m. Monday. High winds made the battle tougher, and several area fire departments sent units to help contain the blaze.
"We're really grateful for all they did," Rudder said. "It's been a rough night and a rough day. The one good thing to come out of it is, I've not heard of anyone being hurt."