Before it was big enough to house the labourers who built early Canberra, Queanbeyan's European settlers lived near the river at "Cantle's Flat".
William Cantle bought the land in 1892 and built a cottage two years later. It survived floods and fires and vandals, before burning to a scorched black shell on Tuesday evening.
Historians are angry because Cantle's Cottage, which belongs now to Queanbeyan Golf Club, was left for so long unsecured and prone to repeated vandal attacks.
"It was just a little weatherboard cottage but it is in that particular early part of town that has disappeared," Queanbeyan historian Gillian Kelly said.
"That is where the town originally started from before it was a town," she said.
"To lose it because of neglect . . . it is the end of the story. There is nothing left of the mill, nothing left of the original mill house that was meant for the manager of the mill. All that was left of that story was Cantle's Cottage."
Historian Nichole Overall, who rang triple zero after seeing smoke rising from Booth Street about 7.30pm, and who fought for years to secure the property, delivered her own fiery blast on Wednesday.
"I find it very disrespectful of the past, and family members who still live here. It is very sad to see," Mrs Overall said.
"I don't understand that mentality or the need to cause such havoc, and I hope people learn from this, particularly young people. It is their past too, and it is their future. And their children, they won't be able to show properties like this any more. I hope they wake up."
Queanbeyan Golf Club abandoned plans in 2005 to redevelop the property into units because it is in a flood zone. The club's general manager Glen Lloyd said: "We have been reluctant to let anyone in there. Often kids get in there. There are syringes – it is a genuine safety concern.
"[The club] nearly went into administration 12 months ago. We are just keeping our head above water. The club and council are discussing other opportunities for redevelopment, or turning it into a pro shop or half-way house."
William Cantle came to Queanbeyan in the 1860s, managed John Wright's Mill (formerly Severn Mill) and was active in civic life.
Mrs Overall said Mr Cantle had a sad life. His wife died when she was only 33, leaving him with three children, and his youngest daughter died when she was 18.
Outside the steaming ruins on Wednesday morning, Irene Bateup, the granddaughter of his son, also named William, said her earliest memory of the cottage was as a two-year-old. She was near Queanbeyan River pleading with her aunt not to cross the new suspension bridge, replaced after a flood had swept away the earlier one.
Many years later Mrs Bateup brought her mother down to look at the cottage. "We had to hold her hand and help her. We couldn't go in because she couldn't walk on her own," she said.
Seeing news of the fire shocked her. "I thought, 'Oh no'. We were a large family, always kept together."
NSW Fire and Rescue inspector John Paull did a preliminary investigation on Wednesday, while awaiting to accompany police investigators, who will look for the fire's origins, the last time the cottage was occupied, power connection and other utilities.
Mayor Tim Overall said while Cantle's Cottage was on the local environmental plan it was not on the State Heritage Register, which made it harder to attract funding.
Restoring homes could be costly, he said. One of Queanbeyan's main heritage assets, Rusten House, would need $500,000 to be restored to usable status.