Old Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house destroyed in early morning fire

Published 10:09 am Friday, December 13, 2019

The former Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity house was heavily damaged by fire and smoke early Friday morning.

The house has been abandoned for about 20 years since the fraternity moved in the late 90s. Firefighters were dispatched to the home at 4:42 a.m. on Friday and it took approximately 30 firefighters  nearly two hours to bring the fire under control.

“The initial Fire Engine arrived approximately five minutes after receiving the call and observed heavy smoke and flames in the rear of the structure,” said Fire Chief Michael Stephens. “Fire crews made entry into the building and were met with heavy smoke and flames spreading throughout the building, which contained a full basement, and a first and second floor. Conditions inside the structure deteriorated rapidly and crews were forced to withdraw from the building and additional firefighters were called in to assist with firefighting efforts.”

The house was cherished by alumni of the Pi Kappa Phi chapter as well as many others.

“That house meant quite a lot to us,” said Probate Judge Michael Bunn, a Pi Kapp alumnus. “It was a grand old house, somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,500 square feet. It had a dumbwaiter in it. It was a neat house. It was big enough that band parties would actually be held in the front foyer. It broke my heart to see it burned.”

Bunn said he had recently been hoping to find a way to purchase and refurbish the structure, much like the Delta Chi alumni house just a block down the street, so the fire was especially saddening to see.

“I hated to continue seeing it rot away,” Bunn said. “I’d hoped that maybe we could do something to bring it back from the edge. There are a lot of things people can do now that weren’t available back then. It had good bones, it just needed a lot of love.”

Alumnus Pete Jordan said he could “hardly put into words” what the house meant to him.

“It means a lot,” Jordan said. “I made a lot of longtime friends there. That was kind of the introduction to my college and having family over there in that house. It was the home for everybody as we were going to school there; even if you didn’t live there, you were hanging out there. I was hoping one day that house could be restored, but from what I heard there was a lot of work that needed to be done. The house had a lot of wood trimming, so at that age it was probably just like lighter wood, but it was gorgeous inside.”

The house began construction in 1917 under Fox Henderson, brother of Charles Henderson, for his daughter Gussie and her fiancée Frank Jones.

Nickaluss Chrysson of the Reunion Troy committee said Henderson died in 1918 before the house could be completed, but Jones finished the home after the ending of World War I.

“Frank and Gussie only had one daughter, Sarah Margaret, known for her love of horses, which is why in the back behind the house there are stables,” Chrysson said. “There are numerous records of elaborate parties and venues that were held in the house before Frank’s death in 1932.”

The house later became McGehee Funeral Home and eventually was purchased to serve as the Pi Kappa Phi house in 1979.

Sue Fraley has lived next door to the historic home since 1984 and said there was always something happening at the house.

“They made sure we were invited to all the parties so we didn’t call the police,” Fraley joked. “Sometimes I would go over when it was Christmas break to feed the fish. Two of the guys lived down in the very bottom.; that’s where the bodies would come in when it was the funeral home. The fraternity folks were always very, very nice to us.”

Fraley said one story that sticks out about the home is during it’s time as the funeral home, when gypsies came from all around to the funeral of “the gypsy queen” in the 1970s, although she could not recall the exact year.

The Fraleys were as close to the scene of the fire as anybody on Friday as they witnessed the event from their yard.

“It had beautiful architectural features.,” Fraley said. “It would have taken a boatload of money to fix it up. It, like our house, had a lot of lighter in it, so it would just go up in a heartbeat. The firemen were spraying and wetting our house down trying to make sure the heat wouldn’t just ignite us. I went over and talked to (Chief Stephens and (Mayor Jason Reeves) to thank them and hug them and they were telling me to stay back. They were just trying to make sure I was OK, but I was wanting them to know how thankful I was for them. These men did a remarkable job and we are ever so grateful.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Troy Fire Department. No injuries have been reported to civilians or firefighter personnel.

Stephens said residents can expect to see the structure continuing to smolder for the next day or two due to the amount of debris.

“As of right now, we don’t have anybody unaccounted for,” Stephends said. “But it will be Sunday or Monday before we’re able to get in there and dig through everything and do our investigation.”