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‘Suspicious' Fire Damages Historic Former New Haven Home of Walter Camp

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New Haven police and firefighters are investigating what fire officials described as a suspicious fire at a historic Victorian home on Chapel Street Wednesday.

The landmark home of Walter Camp went up in flames Christmas morning, tearing through the top floor of the historic building at 1303 Chapel St.

“It’s still under investigation so it’s going to be some time,” said Terrence Roundtree, New Haven Fire Department Battalion Chief. “We do believe it’s suspicious because it was vacant, boarded up.”

They say no one was inside the home at the time and no injuries were reported. The house, built in 1865, had been recently purchased by a developer and was under renovation, according to Fire Chief John Alston.

The third floor of the New Haven house collapsed in the blaze. A representative for the owners said they closed on the house a month. She said renovations by a previous owner were stopped prior to the sale, and the new owners had not yet begun on their own renovations.

The building was the one-time home of Yale legend and "Father of American Football," Walter Camp, according to several publications on the property.

As captain of Yale’s rugby team, Walter Camp tweaked the rules of the English game, introducing concepts such as the line of scrimmage and the quarterback position. Camp was born in New Britain.

He also established American football’s system of downs and points, the number of players per side, tackling below the waist and other now familiar rules.

He died in 1925. A monument at Yale’s football stadium commemorates Camp’s contributions to sports.

Camp also helped create what is today the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or the NCAA, which governs college sports.

Camp's New Haven home later served as an AIDS interfaith home run by the Colfield family.

Fire officials said from their perspective the historic building is only damaged, not a total loss, but said insurance will likely determine what happens to it.

"It also depends on the company insurance, they’re going to determine if it’s a loss, if it’s worth rebuilding," Battalion Chief Terrance Roundtree said.

The Friends of Dwight Historic District president Olivia Martson said the group plans on fighting to save the building. Materson said if the new owners abandon it, they’ll work to get a non-profit to rehab it, possibly for senior housing.

NBC Connecticut reached out to the owners who declined our request for an interview.

The fire is under investigation by the New Haven Fire Department and New Haven Police Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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