DECATUR (KFDX/KJTL) – A community not far from here is grieving, following the loss of a beloved 130-year-old building.

Built back in 1893, it was originally built as the administration building for North West Texas Baptist College, later changed to Decatur Baptist, then moved locations to what is now Dallas Baptist College. But it wasn’t just a local museum, it also held national artifacts.

“Locked up Friday evening, expecting nothing,” Wise County Heritage Museum Director Kerry Clower said.

Decatur Fire Chief Deroy Bennett recalls when arriving on scene, saying there was light smoke coming from the back, but knew that the oxygen-starved fire was much bigger on the inside than what they could see on the outside.

“Right at 26 minutes into it, I ordered an evacuation on the building, and it was within two minutes. We had a flashover, and the three stories of windows right here to my right, we could see nothing but flames, on all three floors. I could’ve lost some fireman really easy, during that time, emotions were extremely high.” Bennett said.

Clower received a phone call around 1 a.m. Saturday morning that smoke detectors in the museum had gone off. Yearbooks, family files, but his most treasured items, journals and letters from the soldiers of the Lost Batalloin during their three years captured by the Japanese.

“We had so much there, and so many of their writings, their books, that they had donated to us that they had written about their experiences and their lives. And all of those were burned in there. Some we will maybe be able to recover, but others, individuals artifacts that are just gone.” Clower said.

Bennett said the tragedy can be felt throughout the community.

“For two days, all day Saturday and all day yesterday, has been nothing but steady flow of people, people…crying,” Bennett said.

Clower said there will be a meeting held this Thursday on what to do next.

“We need to get our feet under us and establish a new office somewhere else, where we can continue with our research materials with what we have left, and with forming a new museum, and gathering with artifacts that we can salvage, and then we have offers on new things, coming in constantly,” Bennett said.

A grieving community, trying to recover piece by piece.

Clower said that there were a lot of artifacts from soldiers from Wichita Falls, who were a part of the Lost Batallion. At one point, even the Smithsonian Museum had asked for some of these artifacts, but what had the community so tight on the museum was the building’s college history.