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Fire destroys historic Edelstein ballroom

Fire destroyed the historic Hub Ballroom early Wednesday morning.

The entire building, located on Main Street just off Illinois Route 40 in the village north of Peoria, was burned to the ground.

Akron-Princeville firefighters received the fire call about 2:55 a.m.

"When we got here, probably one-third of the building was engulfed," Chief Jeff Troutman said Wednesday morning. "With all that wood in there, it went fast. We always knew if we had a fire there, it wouldn't be a matter of saving the building, it would be a matter of containing the fire."

The Hub, built in 1938 by Bert Potter of Potter Implement Co., originally was intended as a display for farm implements. Those plans changed after an opening-day dance to show off the building drew a packed house, and Potter decided instead to pursue a dance hall.

Since then, The Hub has hosted performers including Lawrence Welk, Glenn Miller, Jerry Lee Lewis, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman in front of crowds of 1,500 to 2,000 people. It has been the site of countless wedding receptions, anniversaries, private parties, banquets, fundraisers and class reunions.

As of late morning, firefighters still were pouring water on the charred remains. The site was too hot for an investigator from the Illinois State Fire Marshal's office to examine the grounds to determine the cause. Firefighters expected to be there all day.

Akron-Princeville was assisted by six other volunteer departments. More than a dozen tanker trucks traveled from the site for hours, hauling water from Dunlap and Princeville.

No one was injured fighting the blaze, which was called in by a neighbor. No other property was damaged other than a small storage shed that was part of The Hub property. Troutman said more than 60 volunteer firefighters took turns battling the fire amid hot, humid conditions. Some witnesses also reported hearing what sounded like an explosion.

"Definitely a valuable piece of central Illinois history gone," said Troutman, whose department held its annual ball at The Hub for half a century until moving in recent years to nearby Arrowhead Country Club.

Company president Lee Hofmann of International Supply Co., which owned the building, said it ended the lease with the previous operator of the building about three weeks ago. The gas and electricity were still active, he said, because several people had shown an interest in taking over the entertainment venue.


Hofmann said the building was insured, but he was unable to give an estimate of monetary damage. Other than a few steel beams and bricks left standing, the site was basically a large, smoldering hole. Looking into the rubble, Hofmann pointed to remnants of the original piano.

"It brought tears to my eyes," Hofmann said. "We had the full intention of bringing this thing back to its glory, and then this happens."

Earlene Hanlon, who owned The Hub with her husband, Ray, from 1975 to 2001, said people would come from out of state to attend the ballroom dancing events. Hanlon celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary at the venue. Her husband, Ray, passed away in 2000.

Hanlon received a phone call at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday from a former employee of The Hub, informing her of the fire.

"It was all wooden and very old. I knew if anything ever started, the whole thing would go and it would go fast," Hanlon said. "It's just one of those things. Now we just have our memories and have to go on from there."

Alan Millard, who lives about a block from the fire, said he awoke around 3:30 a.m. and realized there was a fire. Thinking it was his business, Millard's Florist, he went down the street.

"I got down here and saw it was The Hub, and it was pretty well gone," Millard said. "It was big, open flames and smoke. (Tanker trucks) were coming back and forth. They were like ants."

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