Photo Archivist's Selection of the Month: Summer 2001
The Old Town Hall and the 1904 Fire
The aesthetic folk might sneer,
Old Town Hall;
But to thousands you were dear,
Old Town Hall.
Even if we must agree
That from 'graft' you were not free,
Yet we mourn Fate's sad decree,
Old Town Hall.
How we miss your cheerful bell,
Old Town Hall!
Ah! It struck its own death knell,
Old Town Hall!
Yes, its finish was sublime, As it tolled its final chime --
Where shall now we look for time,
Old Town Hall!
|Thus mourned Advocate Editor Robert Whittaker in a 12-stanza poem, titled Good-bye, Old Town Hall. Two stanzas are shown above.
Marie Updegraff, in an article for the Stamford Advocate
June 1967, called the structure “[An] elephantine
brick edifice with a mansard roof and a four-sided bulbous bell tower that rose
two stories above the rest of the building at the northeast end. The arched windows
and most of the other architectural details were outlined in light-colored brick,
giving the impression of a giant, busily decorated birthday cake.”
decorated birthday cake." Congregational Church on the left.
View from Atlantic
This article tells
of the building of the town hall in 1870 and the 1904 fire.
Below is another excerpt:
broke out about 7 p.m. No one knew exactly how it started, although there
was speculation that a flame from a bracket gaslight In the drafty second-floor
foyer near the ticket office may have blown against the woodwork, like
a match licking kindling.
only a few persons were above the ground floor when the fire started. Three
officers of the Leeds Council, Order of United American Mechanics, were
busy in their lodge room up under the roof at the south end of the building.
A roaring inferno
blocked the stairs, and they managed to escape through a scuttle in the
ceiling and walk across the roof to another scuttle at the north end. Luckily
it wasn't locked, and they climbed down through the scenery on the stage
of the auditorium and got out of the building.
fire started directly over the post office, postal employees carried out
all the first class mail. The rest of the mail burned. Public officials
were able to salvage considerable quantities of documents from the vaults.
not get an effective stream of water Into the building for half an hour
because the bitter cold weather had frozen the fire hydrants. By the time
they got a second stream going, the whole structure was ablaze.
into the sky and sparks flew in all directions. With no hope of saving
town hall, the firemen concentrated on keeping the fire from spreading.
A wooden building
to the rear was partially destroyed. Sparks caught in the tower of the
wooden Congregational Church across Bank St., and for a time that building
seemed doomed. Using their new extension ladder for the third time, the
firemen snuffed out the steeple flames. The plate glass window in the C.O.
Miller building, then located across the Square, cracked in the heat. At 8 p.m. the
bell In the tower struck the hour and then broke from its moorings and
plummeted to the basement. It had sounded the death knell of town hall.
An hour later,
only the four brick walls were standing, and by midnight the fire had consumed
its way to the basement, where It was still roaring.”
member Chet Buttery recently donated these two photos, which prompted this essay. He told us that his grandfather, George
Keeler, was a mail dispatcher at the post office and remembered the
fire well, not the least because he lost his bicycle, which was stored in
The loss was estimated at $90,000. The fire inspired the insurance agent Frank
B. Gurley to a lively promotional insurance
brochure, mentioning that the Town Hall was “…insured
for $67,500, all of which the town will receive. The Selectmen previous to
fire had been constantly advised by the narrow minded to reduce the insurance
and thus save expense, but their good judgement prevailed and the amount was
kept at the original sum.”
After this fire, and another serious fire in the Opera House Block
on Upper Atlantic Street, the need for improvement and expansion of
the fire department became evident. A modern fire alarm system was
installed. The custom of call firemen was abolished and a system of
permanent firefighters was adopted. Two more fire houses were built,
one on Fairfield Avenue, and the other on Lockwood Avenue. Finally,
motor apparatus was introduced to Stamford in 1910.
Images © Stamford Historical Society
Photo Selection of
the Month: The Old Town Hall II
Stamford Town Halls
Stamford Fire Departments in our Record Groups
Other Photo Archivist Selections of the Month
Photo Collection Information