Springfield, MA Fire, May 1897




Special Dispatch to the New York Times.

SPRINGFIELD, May 30.---For two hours this afternoon it seemed as though Springfield was to be added to the list of cities destroyed by fire. About two o'clock a fire was discovered in H. M. Conkey's planing mill, on Taylor street. The origin of the fire is unknown, although it is reported that men were at work in the building. The wildest rumors were in circulation about incendiarism, but careful inquiry indicated that it was accidental. About twenty minutes of valuable time was lost before the fire was know, except in the immediate vicinity, where it caused consternation, as the wind was blowing a gale, and in the track of the fire were many frame dwellings.

The sparks carried by the wind had, in five minutes, started three distinct fires in the dwellings around. The spread was so rapid that many of the inmates barely escaped with their lives, and many more saved only a small portion of their household goods. Fifteen feet of the linen hose first laid to the flames was burst at the outset, causing additional delay, and then at length the first water was thrown fully fifteen buildings were in flames. The entire force of the Fire Department was now brought to the spot, and every effort made to check the fire. It soon became apparent that the force on hand was inadequate, and telegraphic requests were sent to West Field, Holyoke, and Chicopee Falls for help. The steamer from Chicopee came almost immediately. A special train followed the dispatched to Westfield and Holyoke and brought the engines back at the rate of a mile a minute, the boxes being fired on one train by the friction. The wires were not working to Hartford and the news was taken by a special train which returned to the city within an hour and, half, making the run of twenty-six miles, each way, in less than half an hour.

Meanwhile the fire had approached so near Main street as to threaten the principal business blocks of the city. At one time the Haynes Hotel was in danger. The crowds were so great as to interfere with the firemen, but the Police were aided by the military, called out by the Mayor, and by policemen from neighboring cities. Many of the townspeople provided lemonade, coffee, biscuit, crackers, and other refreshments for the firemen.

The fire contained to spread until about 5 o'clock, and when it was got under control it has swept over several acres. Had not the Springfield Fire Department been assisted by the companies from other towns, the destruction would have been much wider. Two millions is the highest estimate of the loss, and $500,000 the lowest.

As far as known, only one man lost his life, Stephen Jobson, of No. 124 Worthington street, sprang from a window to escape the flames behind him, and was taken up with a fractured skull. He was carried to the hospital, and since reported dead. Frank Otmer is also reported killed in the same way, and in the same street. A fireman had his leg crushed near the same place.

The furniture was moved from almost every house within a quarter of a mile of the fire, and all along were piled baskets of crockery, beds, sofas, chairs, mattresses, bird cages, and other household goods. Those who were burned out were cared for by their neighbors, and everywhere a disposition was manifested to extend all the help possible to the sufferers.

The Springfield Union issued an extra with a fire editorial, attributing the great destruction to the wooden buildings and the inflammable manufactories in the heart of the city, but draws comfort from the fact that they will be replaced by better buildings. "The city is well rid of them," it says, "and the new building ordinances will prevent the erection of others of the same sort in this place. The loss is lamentably large, especially in these times of general business depression, but it is so much remarks are thankfulness." The cheerful tone of this extract well indicates the feeling in the town.

The efforts to save property resulted in greater damage in some instances than from fire and water. Curtiss Block on Bridge street was threatened and the furniture was hastily removed. It did not take fire, and very little water was thrown on it. On Vernon street, a number of fine residences were consumed. A break in the course of the fire was made by keeping the house of Mr. E. H. Phelps drenched with water. By this the rest of the street was saved. The extreme southerly limit of the fire was Mr. Flag's barn, on the Southern railroad, opposite Trask's brick block, by the river bank. There were several horses and carriages in the barn, which were saved. At the corner of Pynchon and Water streets the flames were checked in that direction. The corner of Court and Water streets was another stopping place, and the last building burned was Shaw's tenement block on Vernon street.

The New York Times, New York, NY 31 May 1875