Just after 4 a.m. Wednesday, the bed and breakfast known as the Magnolia Inn somehow caught fire.
"I heard the fire alarm, and when I ran upstairs I saw the emergency lights on," said owner Mike Eland.
There were guests sleeping in two of the upstairs rooms and Eland ran to get them out.
"One guest was already up and packing his belongings. Our other guest was still asleep, so I was knocking on her door to get her out," he said.
Chester Fire Marshal Jamie Leonard told Eyewitness News that one guest was awakened by the fire alarm and saw something strange in his room.
"He said the fire alarm woke him up. He got up and saw a little bit of smoke and a brown spot on the ceiling," Leonard said.
When firefighters arrived, flames were already rising from the roof of the 5,000-square-foot house. Within 20 minutes, the entire roof was ablaze.
Leonard said the roof is gone and the second floor has significant fire damage. The first floor suffered water damage from the fire hoses.
Eyewitness News first met Marsha and Mike Eland on Thanksgiving Day for a story on holiday shopping. On that day, the Magnolia Inn was decorated with bright Christmas decorations and filled with fine furniture. Reporter Greg Suskin spoke with Marsha Eland about a gift shop she runs downtown a few blocks away and all the work she and her husband did to get the Magnolia Inn ready for guests.
On Wednesday, she was too distraught to say more than a few words, and instead hugged friends and family members who stood with her on the sidewalk outside the house.
Mike Eland said he's glad he installed fire alarms, and put all the safety features in place to protect his guests. He never thought he'd have to rely on them one day.
"You got to have fire alarms. They're worth the cost," he said.
"We're going to save what we can, but a lot of it is pretty much water-logged, damaged," Eland said.
The couple had the necessary insurance and would like to rebuild. However, Wednesday afternoon, it was just too early to think about what's ahead.
"Just got to play it by ear and see how things will work out," Eland said.
The fire marshal said a house of that great age has very old wiring. He suspected an electrical problem could have started the fire, but the investigation is still ongoing.