AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The call came in to Smithville Mayor Scott Saunders around 2 a.m. Sunday.
"We got a call that there was smoke coming out of chamber of commerce building," Saunders said. "Me being a first responder I actually got here before the tones finished going off, because I only live a couple blocks away. I went quickly and got a fire truck."
He said by the time they got back with the truck, a beloved building was fully engulfed.
The Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce is set up in the building at 100 NW 1st St, but it was also home to a cherished railroad museum full of historical artifacts.
"We were able to get a lot of the priceless artifacts out but as far as the desk, picture, programs the chamber had, and computers it's all gone," said Saunders.
Saunders says the building itself is a total loss. The artifacts that were spared will need to be restored.
" A lot of the firefighters were crying and emotional because they know how much this building means to the community," said Saunders.
Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce executive director April Daniels said she had so many come and tell her they and other Vietnam veteran volunteers had built the building with their own hands.
"It was really shocking to me that someone would go against their interest of their community and burn down a building that means so much to the community," Daniels said.
Smithville police and the state fire marshal are investigating, and they are not ruling out arson. They are taking a close look at surveillance video captured outside the building that shows a possible suspect Saunders said was sitting outside on one of the rocking chairs in the video.
"He sat for a couple minutes making sure the coast was clear, and as soon as he felt safe enough, he used a crowbar he carried with him, opened the window, entered into the building, started the fire and immediately left,” said Saunders.
Now Smithville needs the help of the community. Donations can be used help restore artifacts, and maybe bring some peace to a city that had a piece of its identity taken away
"It's sad that it's a loss but we are going to rebuild and keep going," said Saunders.
A GoFundMe has been set up to rebuild the Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce along with the Visitor Center and Railroad Museum. At 7 p.m., the campaign had reached $1,950 of its $10,000 goal.
According to the campaign's page, donations can also be made at the First National Bank in Smithville.