Devastating Chester fire

Stearns block fire. Today this is Chester Hardware. Photo provided by the Chester Historical Society

Below is a 1904 newspaper clipping. Today this is the site of Chester Hardware. The Harris place is Dakin’s.


Bellows Falls Times, Thursday, March 31, 1904

Chester Hard Hit—Five Buildings Destroyed. Excellent Work of Fire Department


The night of March 26 will be long remembered. Not since the big hotel fire in 1887 when the three blocks were burned to the ground has there been such loss. At about 8:30 Saturday evening fire was discovered near the finishing room of Walker’s furniture store. The fire was under such headway before being seen that nothing could stop it.

This building was a large one of some 40×70 feet, two stories. It was what is known as a balloon frame of small timber and it was consumed like a box of kindlings, making one of the hottest fires ever encountered. The second floor of this building front was the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Walker was at the home of her sister in Ludlow, going there on the afternoon train. None of the household goods or clothing were rescued.

On this floor were the undertaking goods in a large quantity. The stock of furniture, stoves, carpets, etc., filled the rest of the building except the front, which was devoted to Mrs. Walker’s millinery and fancy goods. Besides the stock usually kept on hand she had received that morning some $400 worth of new spring goods which had not been unpacked.

The fire, however, was so hot that but few trips could be made inside the building and the only things of value rescued were the typewriter and the drawers of papers from Mr. Walker’s desk, while none of the millenary stock could be saved.

The horse, automobile and delivery sleigh were taken from the barn but everything else was burned. The only theory as to the cause of the fire was a defective chimney.

There was a strong wind at the time and the work of the firemen, which cannot receive enough praise, was of no avail in saving the buildings on either side. The residence of D.H. Cutler was the first to catch fire and very soon after this the Stearns block was in flames. From the Cutler house, which was also the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Austin, most of the household goods were rescued.

Mr. Stearns was able to save scarcely anything, the children were taken out in their night clothes and none of the other clothing was saved. In this building the second floor was used as a residence and the lower floor front contained a large assortment of 5 and 10 cent goods.

The rear of the building was devoted to the Stearns Manufacturing company, and the contents of the office were all destroyed, among these being a complete printers outfit, press etc., which was in constant use by Mr. Stearns in his advertising.

He had on hand a large stock of pulleys ready for shipment and these were all burned with several piles of lumber, in all many thousand feet. A building in the rear of the ell contained a large gasoline engine and other machinery. He also owned the large building on Grafton street known as the old tannery. This was also a victim of the fire.

Mr. Walker will rebuild at once and intends placing a smaller building on the old site and will build a separate residence, probably near the new house recently built by him. Mr. Stearns says he shall probably not rebuild. The Cutler house was one of the most desirable sites in town.

The water system received a hard trial but proved satisfactory in every way. Six streams from the hydrants were in constant play upon the fire, while the homes near were protected by the individual hose, and probably the safety of the Richardson house was due to this as they played upon the barn with their hose constantly. The large plate glass window in the front of the residence of F.H. Harris was broken and the paint blistered by the heat, while fire caught several times in different places but was at once put out.

The Baldwin place was also blistered and caught fire, while the residence of Mr. Ainley on Grafton street, the old parsonage, then new parsonage occupied by Rev. Henry Crocker, the Peabody house and the home of A.L. Ware were all on fire at different times…


This week’s old saying was heard in Maine. It means taking time to organize: “I’m on a tidy.”


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