Dog Team owner may have perished in fire

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(Host) An Addison County landmark has burned to the ground and there are fears its owner may have perished in the fire.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Officials say an early morning explosion and fire destroyed the popular Dog Team Tavern in New Haven.

Firefighters from a number of area departments responded to the blaze.

The restaurant’s owner, 42-year-old Christopher Hesslink lived in an apartment above the restaurant and his two dogs were found in his truck behind the building.

Mike Dunbar lives near the tavern. He says he was awakened at about 2:30 am when his dogs started barking. Dunbar says firefighters were already at the scene, but the fire was well underway.

(Dunbar) “Just a huge wall of flames. At that point the building was completely engulfed in flames.”

(Zind) The Dog Team Tavern is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It had a long and colorful history, beginning around 1930 when an English physician and missionary, Sir Wilfred Grenfell and his wife Anne opened it as the Dog Team Tea Room.

Betty Bell is President of the New Haven Historical Society. Bell says the Grenfells were dedicated to providing medicine to the people of Newfoundland and the tea room helped them in their efforts.

(Bell) “When they came back from Newfoundland, they brought Eskimo’s artifacts, their rugs and their woven tapestries and things to sell here at the Dog Team to raise money so the doctor had money to go back and give them the medicine.”

(Zind) Throughout its history, artwork depicting the Newfoundland scenes hung on the walls of the Dog Team.

For many years, beginning in the 1940s, the tavern was the owned by the Joy family. Robert Frost and Eleanor Roosevelt were among the famous people who dined there.

Many of the Dog Team’s diners came from elsewhere, but Bell says the tavern always had a large local following, too.

(Bell) “Oh yes, I go there all the time. They just made it a very homelike style food eatery. They open their arms for you. They have wonderful waitresses there. They had one gal, Arlene LeFavre who was there for a great many years, everybody missed her when she passed on. People come from everywhere to the Dog Team. It will be greatly missed.”

(Zind) State Police arson investigators spent Friday at the scene in an effort to determine the cause of the fire.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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