Hartford, CT Store Fire, Jan 1887



HARTFORD, Conn., Jan. 9.----The most stubborn fire which has occurred in Hartford for many years broke out in the extensive retail furnishing and notion store of George O. Sawyer & Co., on Main-street, at noon to-day. Its first discovery was the issue of smoke from the sidewalk gratings, which was very soon followed by a loud explosion which blew out the heavy plate glass front of the store. The fire spread with rapidity, and the whole fire department was called into service. The churches had just completed their morning services, and great crowds moved from all directions to the scene of the fire, Main-street speedily filling up with thousands of people. Over the store Mrs. Hollister kept a large boarding house, and the inmates had barely time to save their lives. In one part of the building two women appeared who were cut off from escape. Their shrieks at an upper window caused the raising of an extension ladder, and the firemen assisted them down. A little later a woman was discovered at a window, and she was rescued in a like manner.

The fire had barely got under good headway when Thomas R. Laughton, of the city staff of the Hartford Times, entered the front of the building and was pulled out dead in the rear. He had been clerk of the Board of Fire Commissioners for several years, and was formerly a member of the department before he entered upon journalistic work. His desire as a newspaper man to ascertain the cause of the fire, joined to his instincts as a fireman, undoubtedly led him to undertake the perilous task. It was not known to many that he had gone into the building. When 15 minutes later members of the rear windows, heavy gratings were encountered, and these were removed by crushing the brick walls around the sash. Assistant Engineer Krug, entered first and stepped upon his body of Laughton, who was lying flat upon his face. This was the first intimation the firemen had that any one was in the building. Laughton unquestionably found himself cut off from escape by the front entrance and started to get out by the rear, but was blocked by the heavy gratings outside the windows. He had broken the glass of the window where he lay. Finding himself caught he must have thrown himself face down on the floor in the hope of getting below the smoke, but life had departed when his body was taken out. Several physicians used various resuscitating appliances and remedies, thinking possibly the smothered man might revive, but it was too late. Mr. Laughton was greatly esteemed as a newspaper man and gentleman, and was well known to leading firemen all over the country. He was 34 years of age, and leaves a widow is a daughter of Chief Engineer Eaton, of the Fire Department.

The fire communicated from the Sawyer store with the wholesale and retail crockery store of Jacobs & Forbes, on the south and in the same building, and that was soon in flames. The next block south is Fox's large fancy goods establishment, the roof of which caught fire, but a solid brick wall with iron shutters prevented much damage in that direction except by water. North of Sawyer's was Kashman's furnishing store, most of the stock in which was removed, but the fire cleaned it out, and the water thrown at this point ran into the cellar of William H. Post & Co., large carpet dealers, doing considerable damage. The three gutted stores, all in one block, belong to the Averill estate, which is part of an entailed property whose ownership is uncertain, and litigation has already taken place among the heirs, and there is a mortgage upon the property. The building itself, with its annexes, was probably not worth over $20,000, though the percentage of rentals made it much more valuable, the situation being about the most desirable one for retail business in Hartford. The fire was not got under full control until after 6 o'clock, and the firemen were to remain on duty all night.

A serious difficulty occurred in getting water through the windows of the upper story, as there was not force enough to break the glass, but pistol shots were resorted to and streams from the hose were then put through the broken panes. The total loss is estimated as follows: Sawyer & Co., $65,000; Jacobs & Forbes, $15,000; building, $20,000; Mrs. Hollister, $2,000; Fox & Co., $1,000; Kashman, $500; total, $103,000. Sawyer & Co. claim their loss on stock, and also say that in addition they will also lose at least $10,000 by the sacrifice of their lease and much more to get re-established in business, as there is great doubt, from the nature of the interests in the property destroyed, as to rebuilding at present. Jacobs & Forbes have $11,000 insurance, Mrs. Hollister $5,000, and the Pratt-Street Bank holds policies on the building. The others are fully covered by insurance.

The New York Times, New York, NY 10 Jan 1887