Eugene R. Wiggins fire

Ron Patch is a Chester native, Chester Historical Society president, and a lifelong antiques dealer. He can be reached at 802-374-0119 or email

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the 1888 fire that destroyed the Central Hotel and Chester Drug Store. In the accompanying photo I drew your attention to Orrick Ball’s livery stable. I pointed out its classic New England rooflines.

Both the Central and drug store were rebuilt. But what became of the livery stable? In the photo with this article you can see the replacement as a large barn. The photo was taken from Cobleigh Field in 1923.

The exact date this barn was built eludes me for now. But it must have been rebuilt within a year of the 1888 fire. I don’t remember E.R. Wiggins or the fire so I asked around.

Ed Spaulding at Cobleigh Field with Yo-Semite hand-pumper. Wiggins barn can be seen on the right circa 1923. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding
Ed Spaulding at Cobleigh Field with Yo-Semite hand-pumper. Wiggins barn can be seen on the right circa 1923. Photo provided by Ted Spaulding

  John Arrison

John contacted me after reading the 1888 article. John remembers the E.R. Wiggins building occupying the same footprint as Orrick Ball’s livery.

John remembered the Wiggins fire. He was at the carnival at the Catholic Church the day of the fire. John was on the Ferris wheel when he noticed smoke uptown. From this vantage you could see much of the village. John went uptown to find E.R. Wiggins ablaze. John said many people left the carnival to witness the fire.

Ted Spaulding

Ted remembers when Wiggins was a building supply store and cabinet shop. They carried supplies builders or homeowners might need, and built custom kitchen cabinets, counters etc. Ted was unsure of the year of the fire but knew it was in the 1950s.

Milan Cook

I called Milan to see if he remembered the fire. He did but wasn’t sure of the year. We thought best to say the early 1950s. Some will remember Herbie Randall. Herbie lived where Milan lives today. Herbie worked as a cabinetmaker for Wiggins building custom kitchen cabinets etc. After the fire, Herbie worked at Wiggins in Springfield.

  The photo

The second building on left background is the Masonic Lodge. The lodge was built in 1922 by E.R. Wiggins. To the right is the Chester Drug Store. This is the building we have today that replaced the drug store lost in the 1888 fire.

Further to the right, you can see the gable end of the Fullerton Hotel. Behind the drug store you can see the lumber shed. At ground level where the barn meets the lumber shed, right in the corner, is a small, attached building. This is the outhouse. The barn has a large cupola on one end. It’s a sizeable structure of two stories.

  Ed Spaulding

Ed Spaulding was Ted’s father. Ed sits on our Yo-Semite Hunneman hand-pumper. I can make out part of the lettering on the tank of the pumper, “SEMITE.” The leather fire buckets can be seen hanging on the engine. The Spaulding horses, Chub and Ted, are trimmed out with Spaulding harnesses. Every year a firemen’s parade with both fire companies participating was held in town. They played baseball after the parade and held a dance at Town Hall that evening.

In our Yo-Semite ledger I see Ed became a fireman at Yosemite in 1916. From Ted’s substantial donations of Chester artifacts are numerous Yosemite photos including the photo with this article. We have Ed’s pocket journals he kept when he was a fireman at Yosemite. We have a 1930s to 1940s Yosemite ledger also from Ted. Here more recent fires are recorded.

Again from Ted are many artifacts from Earl Horton. Earl lived in the house across the street from Smitty’s Chester Market. Earl was the chief at Yosemite for many years.

This coming spring we will publish our book, “History of Chester’s Fire Departments.” This will be a comprehensive book of both Yo-Semite, and the School Street fire departments. We have a tremendous amount of fire artifacts and histories to select from. The above story will be included. If I can find the date of this fire, I’ll search local newspapers for their article and include that as well.

  Instead of an old saying, I offer a ditty I found in a 1925 Carpenter’s Store News:

  “Carpenter’s Store News May 1925


“‘I tell you that I won’t have this room,’ protested the old lady to the bell boy who was conducting her. ‘I ain’t goin’ to pay my good money for a pig-sty with a measly little foldin’ bed in it. If you think that jest because I’m from the country–’

  “Profoundly disgusted, the boy cut her short. ‘Get in mum. Get in. This ain’t your room. This is the elevator.’”

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