Melrose Inn burns down in suspected electrical fire

Published 2:28 pm Thursday, September 6, 2018

Community quickly rallies to support innkeeper

TRYON — A Tryon business owner has lost everything — while the community as a whole lost one of its longest standing institutions — following a calamitous blaze that erupted on Melrose Avenue Thursday.

The historic Melrose Inn — known in recent years as Marilyn’s Melrose Inn Bed and Breakfast — burned down that morning in what authorities believe was an electrical fire. Officials believe the blaze began on the first floor of the inn around 9:30 a.m., with the flames quickly consuming the entire structure in just a matter of hours.

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While the Melrose Inn’s owner, Marilyn Doheny, and the two other occupants of the building quickly escaped the structure without injury, the fire completely destroyed the structure, according to Tryon Fire Chief Geoffrey Tennant.

Firefighters with several local departments respond to a fire at Tryon’s Melrose Inn Thursday morning. The nearly 130-year-old building was destroyed in the blaze, which is believed to have been caused by a faulty electrical outlet. (Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

Firefighters with the Tryon, Saluda, Landrum and Columbus fire departments initially responded to the fire, with crews from Mill Spring, Green Creek and Sunny View departments joining them later. Crews with the Polk County EMS also responded to the scene.

Doheny said she called 911 about the fire shortly before 9:30 a.m. that morning, after noticing an 8 to 10-inch flame jetting out of an unused electrical socket in the inn’s first-floor fireplace room. She quickly warned the two other occupants of the building — one of her employees and a long-term resident — about the danger, with all three fleeing the building as the fire began to consume the structure.

No one was injured in the fire, though the inn’s owner, Marilyn Doheny, and three of long-term residents of the building lost their possessions to the flames. (Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

Jen Bates was working on the second floor of the inn at the time, when she heard her boss yell “fire,” the woman said Thursday, as she watched her workplace burn away just several yards in front of her.

“It literally took seconds,” Bates said. “As I was running down the stairs, [the flames] started crawling up the wall.”

Bates said she was devastated to see the historic inn’s destruction.

“I have worked here for the past four years,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “I love my job.”

Doheny was among the dozens gathered outside the Melrose Inn to witness the conflagration that morning, openly weeping as her home and business — which was built in 1889 — was consumed in flames, with the sounds of gushing water and splintering wood filling the air.

(Photo by Ted Yoakum/Tryon Daily Bulletin)

“I’ve lost everything I own, except for what I’m wearing now,” Doheny said, as one of her friends pulled her in for a comforting embrace.

In addition to her personal belongings, the innkeeper also lost her collection of 100 quilts she has created over her career as a contemporary quilting artist, as well as thousands of copies of the quilting books she authored, which she sold and shipped to customers across the country. The three long-term residents of the inn also lost their possessions in the fire, she said.

Doheny, an artist and chef who moved to Tryon from Seattle, has owned the Melrose Inn for almost nine years, transforming the nearly 130-year-old building into a bed and breakfast, as well as a retreat for quilters.

“My daughter and granddaughter just recently visited for the first time,” she said. “They were so excited to see the legacy they would inherit one day. This is a phone call I’m not looking forward to making [to them].”

While Doheny is worried about what lies ahead for her future — especially as the inn was booked up for the World Equestrian Games, which begin at Tryon International Equestrian Center next week — many of her friends and neighbors came forward within minutes of hearing about the loss of her business, offering to help her get off her feet. One person arrived outside the inn with a suitcase full of clothes Doheny could have, while another gave her the shoes off her feet for the innkeeper to wear instead of the flip-flops she was wearing after fleeing the inn.

A GoFundMe page for Doheny has been set up at In addition, Huckleberry’s Tryon has offered to host the inn’s weekend luncheons, while Washburn Law is looking to hold a benefit for the innkeeper in the coming weeks.