Danbury News, July 6, 1889

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Danbury News article detailing the destruction of Meeker's Elevator, Theo. Clark & Co. box factory, and Beers' Ice house by two simultaneous fires on Canal street. McCready, suspected of being the firebug, is arrested.






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Canal Street Again at the Mercy of the Flames.
Meeker’s Elevator, Then, Clark & Co.’s Immense Box Factory and Beers’ Ice House Destroyed.
THE LOSS OVER $50,000.00

Nearly all of that portion of Canal street which escaped destruction in the great conflagration of last summer, was swept away at an early hour this morning.
A daring firebug nearly completed the work of clearing out the industries of that thoroughfare by a well laid plan, and escaped undiscovered. As bold and dastardly an act of incendiarism as was ever committed in Danbury was plainly the cause of the fire. By it thousands of dollars’ worth of property was converted into ashes, and human lives imperiled.
Two buildings, several hundred yards apart, but on the same street, and each in a secluded spot offered a tempting inducement to the fiend whose work resulted so disastrously.
While the firemen arriving earlier on the scene were giving their attention to one fire, the other they were powerless to fight until assistance arrived, and thus, while they were battling with the flames at one end of the street, fire was making its way towards them from the other.
This was the position in which the firemen were placed, for instead of being called to fight a fire, the alarm summoned them to two distinct fires, which threatened to become one in the destruction of the long row of buildings which intervened.
At just five minutes past one the alarm sounded. The number was twenty-seven. This box is located at the corner of Balmforth avenue and White street.
The blowing of a whistle and a cry of fire followed the first sound of the bell, and from Main street a faint glow was visible.
This Officer Tuttle had noticed from near the Danbury and Norwalk station a few minutes before, and he was on his way to make an investigation when the bell struck. From where he stood the fire seemed to be at a great distance.
As moment after moment the flames increased in brilliancy, they appeared to approach, and the faint, red tinge gave way to a ruddy, spark-dotted glow. Such was the view from Main street five minutes after the bell sounded.
The situation was puzzling, for there appeared to be two fires. One was plainly visible, the sparks rising just to the left of the Housatonic round house, while away to the right, half way towards the railway yard, bright flames were shooting upwards and sparks were flying more thickly than to the left.
The first fire company to arrive attached their hose to the hydrant near the corner of White street, and running into Canal street, found the large ice house of the Danbury Ice company, on the left hand side of the street, just below the Housatonic freight house, on fire.
At the opposite end of the street was a wall of flame. The Immense box factory of Theodore Clark & Co. was distinctly outlined against the dark background and playing about the long rows of windows and bursting in all directions, fire seemed to have full possession of the huge structure.


Canal street, running easterly from White street is composed entirely of factories and lumber yards. Beyond Osborne Brothers’ lumber yard, at the corner of White street, is an open lot, and adjoining this is, or rather was, a large ice house, a building recently erected by the Danbury Ice company. Almost adjoining was a small, one-story annex of Meeker’s grain elevator, and then the tall elevator itself. Then comes the long double row of sheds of J.T. Bates’, and his immense lumber yard with carpenter shop and small lumber yards. These run along several hundred feet, and a line of coal sheds and stable nearly connected them with the factory of Clark & Co., probably the largest the largest single structure in the city. Just beyond Clark’s, but across the river, on the line of the Danbury and Norwalk railway, is Berkle & Co.’s main factory.
The opposite side of Canal street is lined with brick and wooden factories and founderies as well as carpenter shops.


By the time the first stream was in readiness, the fire had reached the roof of the ice house, on the side nearest the elevator, and was rapidly spreading in all directions. The small annex of the latter building was burning fiercely.
As the hose companies came up the men took various positions, the greater efforts being directed towards Clark’s factory.
The people began to arrive in crowds, and the fire police had difficulty in keeping them outside the limits. The fire did more in this direction than anything else, as the heat was so intense that it was impossible to approach within a considerable distance of the ice house. Beyond this point the heat from the burning box factory was sufficient to hold on at a respectable distance.
It was evident that the firemen had their hands full, and that the fire would prove one most difficult to fight.
As the flames mounted the ice house they communicated to the tall elevator, and the single stream at this point was insufficient to form even the slightest barrier. The fire ate away its sides, and in a remarkably short space of time half of the building was in a partial state of destruction, while the remainder was, to all appearances, unharmed.
Then came a struggle. There was but one stream to protect the entire building, and that was all which stood between Bates’ lumber yard. From the New England tracks the smoke could be seen rolling out from beneath the cars. Little tongues of flame darted out from under the clapboards, but they were quickly drowned out by the vigilant men at the nozzle of the hose. The best they could do was to leave the burning end to itself, and confine themselves to saving the other. To accomplish this meant the saving of the lumber yard, worth many thousands of dollars. To fall meant the total destruction of all the property along that side of the street.
The crowd watched the operations with interest as the flames were overcome in place after place. A red glow appeared at the little gable window, and a moment or two after a long flame shot out, almost across the space which intervened between the Bates property. There was a crash as the water struck the window, and a volume of thick, black smoke succeeded the flame. Then the fire burst out from the roof, and all along under the cornice facing the lumber yard. It appeared as if all was to be lost.
The streams fed by the hydrant fell just short of where the flames were at their height, and the water rebounded to the ground, drenching the plucky firemen.
Just as it seemed as if they must give up, a gang of pipemen rushed up, and as there came a cry of “Look out!” a stream of water burst from the nozzle which they held, rising far up above the elevator and nearly twice as high as the first stream.
The steamer had arrived, and this was its first stream. A successful stream it was too, for with its aid the flames which in a few moments more would have been among the dry piles of lumber, were beaten and drowned out, and the danger in a great measure averted. In less than a half hour the fire in this portion of the street was entirely extinguished.


When the firemen first arrived at Theo. Clark & Co.’s factory there were not a dozen people in sight, and though they made such quick time the flames had already gained a headway that threatened the very worst. They seemed to entirely wrap the eastern portion of the building and the boiler room and presented a barrier of fire that only the most strenuous efforts would prevent from communicating its destruction to other near buildings.
The fire company lost no time in attaching its hose to a hydrant, and getting a stream on the burning structure. The stream, however, amounted to but little, as there was such an extent of burning surface to cover and the wooden building furnished such fuel for the flames.
They gained rapidly, and in a short time the firemen were compelled to recede several feet on account of the heat which was great.
In the meantime a reel of hose on the shed near the railway track belonging to the factory was brought out and made use of, and then two streams played on the building. If there had been six or even more it have been impossible to stay the fire as it was burning with such fury.
On the boiler room was a huge iron smoke stack fifty feet high. This fell with a crash and the crowd scattered right and left. Tillerman Warner had a narrow escape from being crushed by it as it fell. One of the lengths of the stack grazed his arm and tore the sleeve off his coat.
In fifteen minutes after the time the firemen were on the scene an immense crowd of people had gathered. The factory was now given up as lost. The heat was increasing and had already gained an intensity that endangered buildings one hundred feet away. The firemen’s efforts, it was certain, would be futile if directed towards the factory, so their attention was given to the shed which extends from the main building to the track. This shed was filled with piles of lumber and used by the company in making their boxes. The end of it was but a few feet from Bates’ lumber yard, and if the fire had worked its way through it to the lumber stored there, a much larger conflagration must have ensued.
The flames were already eating the timber in this shed. Now the firemen turned the streams into the structure simply to prevent its gaining a foot hold and communicating to the lumber yard. Here they met with success. A stream was also turned into the building north of the factory belonging to Charles Richardson, in which were stored sixty car loads of hay. It was saved.
The boiler had evidently exploded, making a loud report. It blew off three times before the report was heard, and each time the noise of the escaping steam made the crowd stand back. Today, however, after an examination, it is found that the boiler did not burst. It is probable that some chemicals near the boiler room were exploded, and thus caused the report that was so plainly heard.
All this time the heat was intense. The crowd, which at first took a position near the building, and on the freight cars but a few feet from it, gradually fell back, till when it was the hottest, they were a good distance away. The flames leaped high in the air, and threw out a shower of sparks that fell thick and fast all over that section. Each time that some part of the factory fell there would be a burst of flame and a swell of heat that almost scorched those first in the lines of the onlookers.
In an hour after the flames started the building was level with the ground. Starting at the east end they had rapidly spread to the west end of the factory, and as rapidly consumed everything in their path. What at a quarter past one o’clock was one of the largest factories in the city, at a quarter past two was obliterated, and only a mass of charred timbers and ashes. The work of the fire had been complete in every particular. It had made futile all the endeavors of the fire department on this one building by its heat, which was so great that the water from the hose was almost evaporated when it descended upon it.
A small house belonging to Mrs. Julia Connor stands just back of the burned factory. It is only about twenty feet away and it is a wonder it was not destroyed. The wall of the house next to the fire was burned through and articles in the rooms were badly scorched. A hen and a number of chickens were lying dead in the yard. Mrs. Connor estimates her loss at $1000.
Late in the morning volumes of smoke ascended from the sheds containing the lumber, and the firemen were at work with hooks and hose trying to subdue the flames and root out the cause.


That the fires were of incendiary origin cannot be doubted. There is no more favorable spot for the work of an incendiary in the city limits, and the fact that the two fires were discovered simultaneously would be sufficient to point to incendiarism.
When the firemen reached the icehouse the fire was evidently in the vicinity of the roof, and it was first thought that an engine spark might have caused the damage, but the story of J.H. Brownley the night watchman at Meeker’s factory shows that such was not the case.
Mr. Brownley in making his usual 1 o’clock round, and looking in the direction of the elevator, discovered the fire. He procured a fire alarm key and ran out into the street crying “fire”. Going to box 27, he found Officer Bradley already there, the officer having seen the light from his post on White street.
Telling the officer that he thought there were men asleep in the ice house, he ran back to the fire, which he found to be entirely in the little one-story building attached to the elevator. This building was filled with hay, and in that the fire gained a good headway before it was discovered. The little building was well screened from view and was the most favorable place for the starting of a fire, unless, possibly, the center of Bates’ lumber yard had been chosen.
As Mr. Brownley was engaged about the elevator his attention was attracted to the fire at Clark’s factory, which he had not before noticed, but which was burning well at that time.
Clark’s factory was certainly set on fire. The first persons to arrive noticed the fire as it was spreading at the front of the building. A moment after a light appeared at the rear, just on the edge of the brook, and there too, the flames sprang up. There had been no fire in or about the factory or boiler room during the two preceding days.


Watchman Brownley, after noticing the location of the fires ran to the opposite side of the ice house, where he believed that two men were sleeping. He had noticed them going in that direction late the evening before. He was joined by two of the early arrivers at the fire, and after considerable difficulty succeeded in forcing an entrance to the house through a small door. The place was filled with smoke, and was being fast destroyed by the fire which had already a good start. Lying on a pile of loose straw, their shoes and coats off, were two men, sound asleep, and in great danger of suffocation. They were aroused, and taken out, and turned over to Officers Bradley and Foley, who took them to the station house. They were William Walton, a man well known about town, and rather a hard character, and a fellow giving his name as John McEwen and his residence as Orange, N.J. They were locked up. Had not Mr. Brownley noticed them as they passed his factory on their way to the ice house, they would undoubtedly have been suffocated by the stifling smoke from the burning damp straw with which the place was filled, and their bodies would have been found in the ruins.


Shortly after the arrival of the hook and ladder truck, Chief Meyers ordered out the steam fire engine. Driver Lewis was dispatched with his horses, and although the engine was at the Boughton street house, he succeeded in arriving at the fire with it at twenty minutes of two. Engineer Stevens was in charge and when the engine reached Canal street, the gauge registered eighteen pounds of steam. Seven minutes later two streams of water were being thrown by the aid of the steamer.
The engine saved many times its value last night, and had it reached the fire at once upon sounding of the alarm, all or the greater portion of the elevator could, and undoubtedly would have been saved. The engine was enclosed with a rope in order to keep back the crowds which watched with interest its workings. The pump at the factory of Berkerle & Co. did good service, and several streams of water were thrown on Clark’s factory by its aid. As the pumps started up the factory whistle was blown several times. This brought a crowd around through the Danbury and Norwalk yard, many thinking that this factory was also on fire.


The principle loss was upon the factory occupied by Theodore Clark & Co., which was totally destroyed, hardly a board being left. The loss falls heavily upon the firm, who say it is in the neighborhood of $40,000. They had an insurance of $16,000.
The building was owned by Isaac W. Ives, who estimates his loss at $10,000 with an insurance of $7,000.
O.H. Meeker, the proprietor of the elevator, owned also the building which he occupied. This, with its contents was so damaged as to be practically valueless, only a portion of the walls standing. His loss is $15,000, with an insurance of $9,000. The loss of the building of the Danbury Ice company, which was empty, will not exceed $400, and was well insured.
The total loss is said is about $65,000, according to the most reliable estimates to be obtained.


Realizing that the fires were of an incendiary origin, the police at once set out to find a clue which would lead to the discovery of the guilty party. The crowd and the surroundings were carefully searched. This morning Daniel McCready, a character well known about town, was placed under arrest, and taken to the station house, where he is still confined. The arrest was purely on suspicion, as the man is supposed to have a mania in the direction of incendiarism, although he has never been convicted of such an act. Several stories of McCready’s whereabouts were investigated, and varied widely. It is principally on the strength of these that he is held.


Captain Keating discovered several startling facts this morning, and among them one which shows a third attempt at incendiarism.
A party of four while passing through Canal street, about the time of the breaking out of the fire, saw a man pouring something upon the old wooden building adjoining the brick machine factory, now unoccupied. He held something in his hand covered with what appeared to be a newspaper.
As the party told the story the Captain carefully noted the facts, and going to the spot indicated found the side of the building thoroughly saturated with what appeared to be and smelled like kerosene oil.
The man fled at the approach of the party, and disappeared in the darkness before they could recognize him. James Lovelace passed him shortly after, as he was running across the small foot bridge crossing the river, back of Canal street.
The fellow was running away from the fire, and was vigorously wiping and rubbing his hands. Mr. Lovelace could not recognize him as he passed.
It is said that the same man was seen to board a New England freight train, west bound, later, and enter an empty box car.


Clark & Co. will resume work Monday in a portion of the Rundle box shop, River street.

The old machine factory opposite the elevator caught fire several times.
The work of the fire police was fully appreciated by neighboring property owners, last night.
Assistant Engineer Fitzsimmons was not in town last evening, and the entire duties developed upon Chief Meyers.
Abijah Abbott this morning very kindly tendered the Clark Bros. the use of his shop to complete orders on hand.
There was a meeting of the common council this afternoon at 3 o’clock, to take some action on Incendiarism in Danbury.
There were many cars in danger on the sidings in the Housatonic freight yard and back alongside Clark’s factory, but all were gotten out in safety.
The value of the steam fire engine was illustrated last evening, and the property it was instrumental in saving is worth many times the value of the machine.
Just seven minutes after the first stroke of the alarm, the hook and ladder truck was at the fire, and the horses unhitched ready to return for the steamer.
The surprise pictured upon the face of each new-comer at the fire last night was something amusing to behold, as he would look first at one fire and then at the other.
The total loss, while no doubt somewhat exaggerated by the owners of the property, is far greater than even the figures given represent, as damage to business and income is no small matter.
Thomas Warner is receiving congratulations on all sides to-day on account of his lucky escape. A few inches nearer the falling stack and city would have been obliged to secure a new hook and ladder tillerman.
Dexter’s factory was at one time thought to be in danger, as large pieces of burning board and paper lighted on all parts of the roof. It was with difficulty that men stationed upon the roof, saved the building.
Isaac W. Ives seems to have met with hard luck with his Canal street property. The Clark factory, of which he was owner, will prove a heavy loss. But even such drawbacks do not discourage Mr. Ives’ enterprise.
A most fortunate thing was absence of wind. A slight breeze would have carried the flames through the dry piles of lumber and timber, and swept away all of the recently rebuilt portion of the street which suffered in the other fire.
From expressions which dropped from the lips of firemen and citizens, the position of the firebug will be anything but pleasant if he is caught at his work. Said an officer this morning: “If I ever see that man in the hands of a mob I will turn my back and wish him God speed.”
The suggestion that the steamer be run to all fires is a timely one, and seems to meet with general favor, especially among manufacturers. A team of horses, and other requirements will be necessary for a complete service, and arrangements will probably be made for these as soon as it is transferred to Ives street.
The Danbury fire department never did better work at a fire, and Chief Meyers is to be congratulated on his success in contesting against so great odds. A great deal of that wild flurry which so often characterizes a volunteer department was missing, and things were taken coolly and quietly. To save the lumber yards and adjoining sheds was a praiseworthy task.


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“Danbury News, July 6, 1889.” WCSU Archives, 9 July 2019. Accessed on the Web: 18 Feb. 2020.


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