2017-11-01

Bridgewater and area have a history of major fires

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED</p><p>Photograph retained by the Bridgewater Fire Department of the ruins of a Main Street fire in 1899 that destroyed more than 60 businesses.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED</p><p>Photograph retained by the Bridgewater Fire Department of the 1899 fire, considered the town&#8217;s worst.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Aftermath of the Hebbville Motors apartment fire on King Street that left 12 people homeless in 1975.</p>

While the devastation of Sunday's night's fire on King Street and the debris-strewn post-demolition gap is visually shocking, it's something people in the town have experienced before.

Bridgewater buildings have succumbed to a number of major fires over the years. Searching through the archives of this newspaper revealed reports of some of these.

Bridgewater witnessed its worst fire on Jan 12, 1899. At 3:30 a.m. a fire broke out in the Music Hall and swept down both sides of Main Street. Sub-zero temperatures continually froze the firefighters' hose lines, hampering their efforts. Destroying more than 60 buildings, the fire virtually wiped out the town's entire business district. Remarkably, there were no fatalities.

Fourteen years later a fire threatened a number of other businesses in a wooden centre block, including Bridgewater Dry Goods Co., the jeweller, L.B. Moss, barber Thomas Coboon, the dry goods and furnishings business Docoffee Bros., baker E.L. Johnson, and C.N. Crowe funriture. Two residential apartments were also impacted.

"When the fire was at its height it was a grand and impressive sight and its reflection was seen for miles," reported this newspaper, then the Bridgewater Bulletin, on July 15, 1913.

While volunteers helped the business owners remove as much stock as possible, there were still major losses, according to the newspaper.

After a fire razed the Methodist Church on an icy night in March, 1919, the Bridgewater fire department and town officials struck a joint committee to look into the purchase of the department's first motorized hose truck.

In 20 minutes, on July 16, 1925, "the whole mechanical structures of the C.N. Railways in this town were blazing furnaces and the salvage of removal property was an impossibility," we reported. The machine shops, round-house stores, car shops, approximately 10 freight cars, a coach and eight passenger and freight locomotives, with all their equipment were "totally destroyed."

In May, 1955, the entire town of Bridgewater was threatened by a major forest fire that started in Laconia, with flames licking into Hebbville and Wileville.

According to our report, "it took the concerted efforts of eleven fire-departments, hundreds of civilian volunteers, an uncounted number of workers, male and female, who kept the fighters supplied with food and drink, and many others to finally bring the flames under control after three days of exhausting effort."

Ten years later, 15 people scrambled out in their night clothes into freezing temperatures as a three-alarm fire gutted and destroyed the landmark LaHave Hotel on Pleasant Street.

In February, 1975, 12 people were left homeless after fire tore through Hebb Motors apartments on King Street, destroying nine apartments and most of their contents.

And the major town fires have not been restricted to Bridgewater. In 1977, for example, three buildings on Lunenburg's Lincoln Street, and the businesses within them, went up in smoke in what one veteran firefighter told this newspaper was the worst fire he could remember in the Lunenburg area.

Fulton's Drug Store, and Knickle's Photographic Studio were totally destroyed. Decca Marine, next to Knickle's, was left with little else other than walls, room and room dividers.

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