SYCAMORE – Norm Mathisen smelled something funny while doing carpentry work Friday at the historic Charles O. Boynton House at 307 N. Main St.
Then he looked outside and saw his van on fire.
“I noticed a glow through the window, opened up the door and the whole engine part of my van was on fire,” he said.
The flames eventually spread from the carport where Mathisen’s van was parked to all three floors of the landmark Sycamore home. It took firefighters from a dozen local fire departments about three hours to put out the fire.
Mathisen, owner of DeKalb-based Norm’s Custom Hardwood Flooring, said he didn’t notice anything wrong with the van when he returned to the home from his lunch break about 12:30 p.m. He said the fire still was contained to the van when he called 911.
Sycamore Assistant Fire Chief Todd Turner said a 911 call came in at 12:52 p.m., reporting a van on fire in the carport.
“We had our hands full when we first pulled up because that whole back porch was completely involved in fire,” Turner said. “The flames were shooting up past the second floor, and it took a little while because of the snow to drag hose lines to the rear and get water on it.”
Turner said that by the time firefighters were able to control the fire in the carport, flames also had spread throughout the house. Firefighters had to tear out walls and windows within the house to make sure the fire was completely out, he said.
Turner said officials still are investigating the cause of the fire and figuring an estimate of the damage to the home, which is not inhabitable.
Homeowner Dave Waters said he lives alone in the mansion, and he was not home at the time of the fire. All three of his cats were rescued from the home.
Waters said he has owned the house for about 20 years and had recently talked to a real estate agent about putting it on the market.
The mansion, an 8,000-square-foot Queen Anne-style red brick home, was designed by George O. Garnsey, who built a similar property in DeKalb. The house remained in the family of Charles Boynton for a century. It was built in 1886 and 1887, costing $12,000, or $320,000 adjusting for inflation, and has been a stop on local house walk tours.
The building has undergone several renovations, including a conversion of the entire first floor into an antique and women’s clothing store in the 1940s and then reverted back when the house was sold in 1987. The basement also was converted into a modern wine cellar, which remained after the property was sold again in 1998, according to local historian Steve Bigolin.
“It’s one of the principal landmarks of the Sycamore historic district,” Bigolin said.
Sycamore firefighters were helped by firefighters from several area departments, including DeKalb, Maple Park, Elburn, Kirkland, Hinckley, Sugar Grove, Burlington, Genoa-Kingston, and Cortland.
• Daily Chronicle Photo Editor Matt Apgar and Reporter Drew Zimmerman contributed to this story.