Fire destroys piece of Kewanee history, 2 teenagers charged

Fire destroys piece of Kewanee history
Published: Nov. 5, 2023 at 9:43 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 5, 2023 at 11:35 PM CST
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KEWANEE, Ill. (KWQC) - Two teenagers have been charged in connection to a fire that destroyed the old Boiler Shop property Saturday night.

The boiler shop provided Kewanee families jobs for generations, dating back to both world wars. It even gave the high school its nickname ‘boilermakers.’ Although the shop shut down a couple decades ago, it remained a symbol of pride in the community.

Lee Bailleu, with the Kewanee Preservation Society, was actively working to preserve as much of the property as possible.

“Everybody’s family worked at Boiler, had an uncle worked a Boiler, had a family member who perhaps rented rooms to the Boiler workers.” said Bailleu, “Everybody had a connection to Kewanee Boiler in a close fashion.” She added, “To have it go out this way is just heartbreaking for so many people.”

The Preservation Society was already in the process of preserving one of the main entrances into the shop before the fire occurred, to include in a memorial dedicated to Boiler workers. Mari-Anne Culver, with the Kewanee Historical Society, was shocked to see the abandoned shop completely destroyed, including the main entrance.

“That last final piece is gone,” said Culver, “it’s heartbreaking.”

According to the Kewanee Police Department, officers responded with the Kewanee Fire Department to reports of a significant fire at the vacant officer buildings within the Boiler Shop property at 101 Franklin Street on Saturday, Nov. 4, and continued into the early hours of Sunday.

Officers began investigating witness reports regarding a group of juveniles seen leaving the area just before the fire broke out. A Kewanee police in-car camera captured footage of the juveniles as officers arrived at the scene. After several hours, the officers successfully located and apprehended two juveniles in connection with the incident.

A 15-year-old is facing charges of Criminal Trespass to Property, and a 16-year-old is facing charges of Criminal Trespass to Property and Criminal Damage to Property by Means of Fire. Both juveniles have been released with Juvenile Referral Forms for the Henry County Juvenile Probation office.

Officials say the investigation is still in the early stages and remains an active ongoing matter. Charges against the juveniles may evolve or be supplemented as the investigation progresses. Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact the Kewanee Police Department at (309) 853-1911.

A Facebook post from Kewanee mayor Gary Moore thanked the responding agencies who helped battle the fire.

Tonight we were saddened to find out the Kewanee Boiler Shop was on fire. We hate to see a Kewanee Landmark burning to...

Posted by Mayor Gary Moore on Saturday, November 4, 2023

This is a developing story. TV6 will provide updates on-air and online.