ESSEX, Conn. --
A portion of the historic Connecticut River Museum in Essex was damaged by fire Wednesday night.
Crews were called to the museum around 9:30 p.m. on reports of fire on the museums front deck. The museum opened in 1974 and houses artifacts and exhibits that tell stories of Dutch explorers and British raiders.
Susan Daniels, of the Connecticut River Museum, said, "My heart fell to my stomach when I found out."
Daniels said her main concern were the artifacts, paintings and memorabilia, which are housed inside the 1800s steamboat warehouse on the banks of the Connecticut River.
Exxes first selectman Phil Miller said, "It's a local monument. A landmark on the river."
Flames spread up the outside of the building and it took about 75 firefighters to extinguish the blaze. Witnesses reported seeing flames shooting 50 feet into the air.
Daniels said she credits quick-thinking firefighters. She said they were not only trying to knock the fire down, but to save as many of the artifacts and exhibits as possible. Firefighters placed blankets and tarps down in an attempt to save the museums exhibits.
Patti McGuire, of Guilford, said, "I was hoping it wouldn't be bad. I've been coming here for years."
Museum officials said the worst damage was caused to the museums third floor, where the Hidden Treasures exhibit is located.
Museum Director Jerry Roberts said crews will have to repair the three-story building, and an artist will be fixing a mural that was slightly blemished.
Roberts said no museum pieces were burned, but conservation work is needed because smoke permeated everything inside.
McGuire said, "I'm just glad it's being worked on and not as bad as it could have been."
The museum is expected to reopen in two weeks, but boat tours are still operational.
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