Police: Mystery of historic campmeeting fires likely solved

The 13 cottages dating to the 19th century are rubble, as is the two-story chapel, and the cleanup has barely begun.

Investigators now believe they have solved the mystery of who started the fires in October and February at the historic Chester Heights Campmeeting, a religious retreat in Delaware County.

But the organization's president, Pat Smith, said Friday another mystery had her nonplussed: Why was the Campmeeting a target?

"There is no vendetta against it," she said. "It's just not offensive to anyone." The Campmeeting, which describes itself as nondenominational Christian, rents cottages and serves as a venue for concerts and other events.

"They're just a quiet group," agreed Sue Timmins, borough manager and head of the Chester Heights Historical Society, which will contribute the proceeds from its annual country fair on April 28 to the rebuilding efforts.

Smith said the cleanup from the October fire, which destroyed three cottages and the two-story Tabernacle chapel, was getting under way. It was just in the last two weeks that investigators gave the group access to the properties, which had been cordoned off as a crime scene.

"It looks like a war zone," Smith said.

It is not known when the group will get access to the section where the Feb. 18 blaze destroyed 10 houses.

This week, a 16-year-old from Aston Township was charged with arson, and four other Aston teenagers were charged with trespassing. Earlier, three adults were arrested in the October fire.

No one was injured in either fire.

The Campmeeting was founded in 1872 by lay members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The site, at 320 Valleybrook Rd., is included on the national Save Our Treasures list and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Last year, it was honored by the Heritage Commission of Delaware County for the restoration of 11 of the cottages.

Smith said that word of the arrests was welcome, but that the loss of the historic property was immeasurable.

"How can you get that back?"

Contact Anthony R. Wood

at 610-761-8423 or twood@phillynews.com.