Questions still surround arson case for landmark Royalton restaurant

  • Eaton’s Sugar House in Royalton, Vt., was destroyed by arson on Oct. 31, 2019. The remains of the building were demolished leaving a concrete foundation blanketed in snow on Jan. 16, 2021, and the property is now up for sale. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Eaton’s Sugar House in Royalton, Vt., was destroyed by arson on Oct. 31, 2019. The remains of the building were demolished leaving a concrete foundation blanketed in snow on Jan. 16, 2021, and the property is now up for sale. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/19/2021 9:58:13 PM
Modified: 1/19/2021 9:58:11 PM

ROYALTON — More than a year after a suspicious fire burned through Eaton’s Sugar House on a Halloween night, little remains of the landmark restaurant at the corner of Route 107 and 14, on the banks of the White River.

A large, charred stone fireplace juts out from the ground, and a concrete wall lines part of the land — reminders of the once-bustling and beloved restaurant and gift shop, and an arson investigation that is still open and carries a reward.

“I haven’t heard anything” about the investigation, Connie Poulin, who ran the restaurant with her son Justin for 16 years, said in an interview Monday. “I hope someday I will find out.”

The 10-acre property, which is currently for sale, was home to the popular breakfast and lunch spot for nearly 60 years. But the building burned down on Oct. 31, 2019, in a blaze that was almost immediately deemed suspicious by investigators.

Fire crews first received a call around 7:45 p.m. that night about someone trying to set the steps of the building on fire. A passer-by put out the flames and firefighters responded and then cleared the scene, according to a news release from Vermont State Police at the time.

But less than two hours later, fire crews had to return and found flames engulfing the back of the building and coming through the roof, police said. The fire continued burning for hours, and the building was destroyed.

The fire was classified as arson, and Vermont State Police are still investigating the case, Detective Sgt. Steven Otis of the Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit said in an email Tuesday. He declined to give any further information on the investigation, but said up to a $5,000 reward is being offered by the Vermont Arson Tip Award Program for information leading to an arrest in the case.

For Poulin, the pain of not knowing what started the fire — or who — has made the past year difficult. She said at first she was worried that the incident had been directed at her, which added a sense of fear to her loss.

“I had to let it go because it was driving me insane,” she said.

But, she said, every once in a while she’ll still start to dwell on what happened.

The unresolved investigation has also been painful for Cliff Eaton, who bought the structure in 1963 and transformed it into a sugar house to sell maple syrup, before expanding it to a restaurant. The structure itself dated back to the 1800s, Eaton has said.

“It’s discouraging that nobody has turned up anything,” Eaton said in an interview Monday. “I’m disappointed. They don’t seem to have any leads.”

Still, even without answers about the blaze, Eaton said he’s trying to look forward. He put the property up for sale and said he is currently in talks with two groups who might be interested in purchasing the land or rebuilding the structure, but he declined to go into detail about who is involved or what the property would be used for.

The land was last valued at $177,200, according to Royalton property records from 2019.

“I’m working my way through a couple of possibilities,” Eaton said.

He said that over the past year he’s also received a lot of support from community members of the White River Valley, many of whom have urged him to rebuild the restaurant at the site.

Ryley McKenna West, a Wallingford, Vt. resident who said she used to eat at Eaton’s Sugar House regularly while a student at Vermont Technical College, said she was heartbroken to learn the restaurant had burned down. She’s since moved away from the area but said she hopes the sugar house will reopen someday.

“If it reopened with roughly the same business attitudes and menu, I would definitely make a trip from time to time,” she said. “I would love to see it come back.”

Anyone with information about the fire is asked the call the arson tip line at 1-800-32-ARSON.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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