February 1908 Kurn Hattin fire

Ruins of the 1908 Kurn Hattin building. Photo provided by Ron Patch

A while back, I bought a real photo postcard of the 1908 fire at Kurn Hattin. Wanting to know more, I went to the book, “Kurn Hattin, The Story of Home,” by John L. Hurd, 1989. Below is what I learned:

“…At about three o’clock in the afternoon, we boys were all in the schoolroom on the top floor of the building. We had finished our recitations and were preparing to spend the last half-hour writing steamer letters, which were given to Mr. and Mrs. Bishop to read on their voyage. We were startled to see smoke coming in volume from the chimney and basement windows.

“As the fire was low, we knew that something was wrong, so one of the boys raised his hand to see if he could go downstairs and find out what was the matter. Just as he started, the back door to the room was opened and one of the helpers called to the boys to leave the room as soon as they could, for Mr. Bishop had called, ‘Get the boys!’

”We were down two flights of stairs and out-of-doors as quickly as possible. The halls were so full of smoke that the smaller boys found it quite difficult to pass through.

“The first thing we did was to find out what part of the building was on fire. We found it was the old southwest annex, under the laundry, in the basement woodpile.

“We tried to enter here by the basement door, but the smoke prevented. A pile of clothes was already on fire in the laundry; we put out the flames and then we worked with water and chemicals on the woodpile, but it was of no avail. The flames soon burst through the windows.

“Then we started to save what we could. We began, of course in Mr. Bishop’s office, which was near the fire, and contained valuable papers and materials belonging to the Homes. This was cleared of nearly everything.

“Mr. and Mrs. Judd, the farmer and laundress, lost the most of anybody, as their room was on the third floor on the end where the fire started, and it was impossible to stay there on account of the smoke.

“Much of the furniture and equipment on the first and second floors were saved, but all of the boy’s belongings on the third floor were gone. The basement contained all of our vegetables, preserves, and several tons of coal. Nothing could be saved here, or in the dormitory, schoolroom, library, reception room, guest room, or hospital room.

“The building that burned was about 100 feet long by 30 feet wide, with two ells of about 30 by 40 feet and contained between 35 and 40 rooms. It was turned to smoldering rubble in about two hours.

“There were acts of heroism on the part of the boys, the staff, and village people; and comedy in noting some of the things which were saved, a basket of eggs, a hand mirror, kerosene lamp chimneys, a box of nails, and a bottle of smelling salts, while valuables were lost.

“It was noted, ‘Baked potatoes are very nice. Ours were all baked at one time – 260 bushels! Apples were served with them – six or seven barrels. But even with our family it is wasteful to cook in such large quantities… Perhaps someone has extra ones they would like to send us. We could use them.’

“No one was injured in the fire, but it is sobering what might have happened if it had occurred in the middle of the night. As soon as the excitement died down, the boys… wet, cold, shivering, crying, frightened and weary, were taken to Town Hall. The good people of Westminster gave quilts, coats, and horse blankets to keep them warm. The ladies cooked and prepared a good supper. The boys never tired of telling how good it tasted, and, when they were dried and warm, they lay down on the benches to sleep.”

From Steve Harrison, Executive Director, Kurn Hattin Homes:

“Kurn Hattin, founded in 1894 by Reverend Charles Dickinson, provided a rural refuge for needy children whose family lives did not provide adequately for them. This mission of children’s care remains the same today throughout the Northeast. KHH is a small, professional, caring home and K-8 school. Financial means are not required.”

The next meeting of Chester Historical Society is Thursday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. at the Academy Building.


This week’s old saying: “A monkey dressed in silk is still a monkey.”


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