Bennington, VT Margolin Block Fire, Dec 1961

North Street Building Is Destroyed By Stubborn, Wind-Whipped Fire

$75,000 Loss Is Estimated In Night Blaze


Bennington's second downtown fire in as many months, whipped by high winds late last night and early this morning, gnawed through a two-story, brick front building on North Street, doing an estimated $75,000 damage.

Fire spokesmen said they believed the blaze started in a cellar fuse box. The statement marked a departure from the initial judgment that the fire was started by a boiler located toward the middle of the building and near the fuse box.

The building, owned by Mrs. Samuel Margolin, was occupied by the Montgomery Ward branch store and Plante Jewelers--and was deemed a total loss by fire officials. The second story was unoccupied.

The first alarm was rung at about 8:40 p.m. Village of Bennington firemen rushed to the scene, located the source of the fire in the basement, but were unable to restrict it at is point of general origin.

Flames raced through partitions in the north wall and spread between tin partitions in the first floor ceiling. While firemen attempted to get ahead of the flames in these partitions, the fire spread upward, again in air spaces between wall partitions, and broke through the recently resurfaced roof.

A stairway separating Saul's Department Store and the Margolin owned building was chopped away by firemen and water was poured into the basement. Other wall and ceiling partitions were hacked open and flooded with water and by 10:15 p.m., the fire was under control. Firemen began to roll up hose and the release was sounded at 10:45 p.m.

An inspection revealed that considerable damage--an estimate $30,000--was done to the building and its contents. Most of it was centralized in the forward part of Montgomery Wards. There stock was completely water soaked and partitions had been ripped open. The stairway to the basement, located forward on the north wall, was virtually hacked apart and the basement was flooded with about two feet of water. Holes had been chopped in the building's roof.

Most of the stock of Plante Jewelers, located next door to Montgomery Wards, was removed during the initial fire. Firemen, by-standers and friends, with whom owner Henry J. Plante had been bowling when the fire broke out, helped carry loaded show cases from the store and transported them to the Plante home on Coulter Street.

Standby Crew Spots Fire

After the release sounded, a crew of firemen took wet hose to the Williamstown (Mass.) Fire Department where they planned to use drying facilities made available by the Massachusetts fire company.

A member of this crew was Steve T. Wassick, who said he answered a telephone call from a Bennington fireman notifying him that the fire had broken out anew. "I thought he was joking," Wassick said later. He was assured of the legitimacy of the call and the crew gathered together hose and sped back to Bennington.

The second outbreak of the fire was first noticed by a standby crew of firemen scheduled to remain at the scene until morning. Fire Chief Henry White, who was going through the building to inspect damage with several firemen, said a "crackling" noise was heard and fire spotted on the south wall of Montgomery Wards, near the molding. This discovery was made at about 11:15 p.m., and hoses were brought into the store to extinguish the flames.