Harvey Marsolan sat on a porch bench opposite the charred building where he had spent much of his life and solemnly watched the firefighters work through the rubble. The fiery flames had been extinguished but a pungent odor of smoke lingered in Covington town center on Tuesday morning.
Marsolan’s Feed & Seed on East Gibson Street – founded by Harvey’s dad – was more than a place to shop for garden supplies and animal feed. It was a community center, a place where people gathered to exchange stories and seek friendly advice from Harvey Marsolan or his father.
Back in the days when St. Tammany Parish was filled with farms and ranches, Marsolan was where people went to get food and supplies for their livestock. And as decades passed and farms were increasingly replaced by housing estates, Marsolan remained relevant, always a place to congregate, shop – even listen to bluegrass and country music. On certain days the place also served as a popular concert venue, with the sounds of guitars, banjos and violins drawing visitors to the nearby Covington Trailhead.
But that legacy came to an end Monday night when the wooden building, which dates from the 1920s, was engulfed in flames.
“It’s heartbreaking and heartbreaking,” Marsolan said. “Today I’m just going to sit here and reflect on my life in this building.”
Just before 7 p.m., the store was consumed by a powerful fire that lit up the skies and melted plastic from nearby cars.
Steven Michell, the Covington Fire Department’s deputy fire chief, said fertilizer, insecticide and hay inside the store accelerated the blaze. It took hours for the fire department to bring it under control.
“There is really nothing that can be saved, even the buildings in the back, everything inside is completely gone,” Michell said. “If there’s any kind of silver lining, it happened at 7 p.m. when people were still active, so they were able to call and come here.”
The blaze did not extend beyond the Marsolan building, although adjacent buildings suffered minor heat damage.
“It’s just the amount of heat that comes out of buildings like this that are almost 100 years old,” Michell said. “They’ve been soaked in this kerosene for so many years, so when it comes on it burns really, really fast.”
Harvey Marsolan’s father, Norman, founded Marsolan’s Feed and Seed in 1939. They moved into the building on East Gibson in the mid-1950s after Talley’s, another food store, moved to a new location. Norman Marsolan worked in the store until his death in 2002 at the age of 91, Harvey Marsolan said.
“We’ve been in business since 1939, we’ve had generations of families,” Marsolan said.
As Marsolan watched firefighters drag hoses through the remains on Tuesday morning, longtime customers stopped to offer their condolences. Some brought flowers or food and shared fond memories of time spent in the store.
The facade of the building remained intact, but charred, with a green plastic sign announcing the lawn fertilizer fluttering in the wind. Beyond was a mess of crumbling walls and blackened, unrecognizable inventory.
“It sounds like a complete loss,” Marsolan said.
Her pastor from Faith Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Jason Wood, stood nearby, holding a Bible. Wood said whenever people came from out of town he took them to Marsolan’s to show them the historic North Shore. “It’s old Covington here,” he said. “It’s a shame, a real loss.”
A passerby asked about the cat, Essie, who roamed the neighborhood but was known to sleep and eat at Marsolan’s. Essie was outside at the time of the fire, Marsolan said.
Suzette Hubbell brought Marsolan a flower arrangement and gave him a hug as they remembered. She moved to Folsom with her family in 1977 and comes to Marsolan to feed her chickens, goats and cows. Although she now lives in Old Covington and no longer owns the cattle, she still came to Marsolan often after stopping by the gymnasium across the street to ask Marsolan questions about gardening or animals. “He knows everything,” she said.
“It’s part of Covington, it’s part of history,” she said, recalling the wooden floors and the memories. “It’s like stepping back in time.”
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