The fire that destroyed 3004 Sutton Blvd. last night took with it nearly 100 years of Maplewood history, turn-of-the-century antiques and countless family memories.
“You had years and years and years of memories, and one night they’re all gone,” said Donna Clifford, whose family has owned the home since 1922. “I’ve been in such a shock today. I didn’t even go to bed last night. I haven’t eaten anything since yesterday.”
Clifford’s parents-in-law bought the home after serving in World War I, and a year later, her husband was born in the house “right there under the chandelier,” delivered by the doctor who lived down the street, she said.
“Tears and prayers, tears and prayers,” Clifford said, describing the 12 hours since the home began to burn.
Each member of the Clifford family said they lost something valuable—if intangible—in the fire: Donna, 77, lost the steady stream of income that would help fund her retirement in Florida. Sue Clifford, Donna’s daughter, lost her job as a dental hygienist at the family practice her grandfather founded.
Doug Clifford, Donna’s son, lost the chance to pass a part of family history on to his own sons. In the attic of the 5,000-square-foot Victorian home sat a 1948 Zenith television with a round screen, the first television in the neighborhood, Doug said.
“My grandfather bought it. He gave it to my dad, and my dad gave it to me,” Doug said. “I was looking forward to one day giving it to my sons.”
The three generations of Cliffords who lived in the second floor of the home filled its living areas with handmade, turn-of-the-century antiques, Doug said, including a large armoire and marble-topped dressers. The family also lost the art that decorated the rooms, such as a painting by Donna’s aunt.
In the attic, the family kept family photos that Doug Houser, Maplewood’s unofficial historian, couldn’t wait to get his hands on. Generally an even-tempered man, Houser issued an angry, “Darn! Man!” when discussing the photos and memorabilia lost to the fire.
“They had a lot of things stored in the attic of that house,” he said. “It sounded like a time capsule to me. That’s really a tragedy.”
Doug Clifford said the family photos were “a personal loss,” but for him and Donna both, lost heirlooms and antiques only remind them of the most important piece of news they’ve received yet: No one was injured or killed during the fire.
“You can sit and think of all the things you lost, but nobody was hurt,” Donna said. “That’s the main thing.”
As the Clifford family mourns the loss of their family history in the attic and second floor of the house, the Maplewood community is already feeling the absence of the family dentistry that cared for three generations of teeth.
“I think that it’s the tragedy of the loss of the business that has the greatest magnitude,” said Doug Clifford. “Certainly lost photos, certainly lost heirlooms, but the legacy of the business and what it meant to the community—that’s the greatest loss here.”
Doug said there were patients in their 60s and 70s whose lifetime of dental records went up in smoke last night.
“Everything about your mouth, and those records are gone,” he said.
“That’s just a tragedy.”