Historic Church Street Home Latest Victim in String of Suspicious Jacksonville Fires

By Jeremy Coumbes on May 26, 2023 at 2:14pm

No one was injured when a home tied to a piece of Jacksonville manufacturing history caught fire early Friday morning.

The Jacksonville and South Jacksonville Fire Departments responded to a call of a structure fire at 606 North Church Street just before 5:00 am Friday. Upon arrival, fire crews found the north and east sides of the three-story structure had heavy fire venting.

Jacksonville Fire Chief Doug Sills says the fire was brought under control approximately an hour later. He says the historic three-story house was vacant at the time of the fire.

No utilities were hooked up. In talking with the owner this morning, everything had been shut off to the structure- no electric service for several years now. Definitely, we got the State Fire Marshal in on this one. Given the fact that we’ve had five or six within a three-block area of this location, we’re deeming it suspicious in nature.”

Known as the Capps Mansion, the large gray-colored house on the East side of Church Street dates back to 1890 and in 1902 was listed as being owned by William T. & James G. Capps of the Capps & Sons clothing factory which sits adjacent to the property at the northwest corner of North Church Street and West Lafayette Avenue.

The house was later owned by Charles R. Lewis of the Lewis Grain and Coal Company in 1915 and then was the home and practicing office of Dr. Edward Canatsey beginning in 1930 before it was converted into a convalescent home sometime later.

Sills says given the age and sheer size of the home no estimate of damages is available at this time. He says he’s proud of the work both departments did to contain the fire. “The crews did an awesome job this morning given the size of the structure and the amount of fire. They were able to keep it contained to the back section of the home, but there is extensive damage.

The rear third of the structure has heavy fire damage, so that would be up to the owner and the insurance company on which direction that goes, but it’s a big house and definitely a shame.”

This morning’s fire was just the latest in a string of suspicious fires over the last two years. In each case, the fire occurred in a vacant residential structure that had no utilities hooked up.

Sills says the Jacksonville Fire Department along with the Jacksonville Police Department are again calling for the public to be vigilant. “If you have a vacant house in your neighborhood please keep an eye on it and report any suspicious activity. But these vacant structure fires that we’ve been experiencing over the last eighteen months to two years, you know, it’s just getting really out of hand and sooner or later it’s just going to end tragically.

So we’re asking the community to be a little bit more proactive. If you see something please report it. Call the fire department, call JPD so we can look into it, and start keeping an eye on these structures.

What happened here this morning was just- I mean it’s sad. It’s a big old structure, a historic home, it was well taken care of. The owner is just uh, he’s really saddened by this. So yeah, we’re asking everybody to be vigilant and if you see something please, please call.”

Anyone with information on this or any of the other suspicious fires is urged to contact Jacksonville Police Investigations at 217-479-4630 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers at 217-243-7300.

Sills says the owner of the home had been keeping it up as best as possible with continued work in an effort to preserve it for possible renovation in the future. It is currently not known if the more than 130-year-old house can be salvaged.