Fires

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Following is a summary list of some of the major fires which have occurred in Wakefield:

1872 (November 9) - Wakefield assisted the city of Boston during the Great Boston Fire. Wakefield firefighters pulled their equipment by hand the entire ten miles to Boston in 2 hours and 20 minutes.

1881 (March 12) - Eight buildings and one home were destroyed at the Wakefield Rattan Factory complex on Water Street. The blaze caused $190,000 in damage.

1898 (May 4) - A suspicious fire completely destroyed the Montrose Fire Station on Salem Street opposite Lowell Street.

1899 (October 23) - The Hathaway Stable fire destroyed 18 buildings on Mechanic (now Princess), Crescent and Lincoln streets, including the fire station. 39 horses also perished in the blaze.

1900 (July 21) - The fire at the Old Rink Building, at the rear of 390 Main Street, burned the Wakefield Reed Chair factory, as well as the Wright & Dennis tennis factory which occupied the top floor of the building. Known as the 'Old Rink Building' it was once home to a roller skating rink.

1907 (March 5) - George H. Taylor store destroyed. South corner of Main and Princess Streets.

1908 (April 12) - Wakefield assisted the city of Chelsea in containing the first of two huge fires in its history. The 1908 fire destroyed approximately one fifth of the city.

1909 (February 21) - First Parish Congregational Church on the Common destroyed.

1911 (July 6) - The Cutler Brothers Grocery and Grain fire started because of a lightning strike in an electrical storm. The fire destroyed the grocery store at the corner of Main and Water Streets, as well as the Wakefield Paper Box Manufacturing Company (occupants of the third floor), and Godfrey & Barnard's Quannapowitt Bowling Alley and Pool Hall (in the basement). Minor damage was also sustained at the Town Hall, Evans Shoe Factory, and Miller Piano Company.

1926 (September 26) - The Porter-Milton Ice Company on Church Street near North Avenue sustained $50,000 in damage due to a fire that destroyed ten large ice houses.

1950 (December 12) - A fire started in rubbish stored under the stairs in the basement of the Wakefield Town Hall at the corner of Main and Water Streets. While the building was not destroyed, it was decided after several years of study and debate that the cost of repairing the structure was too great and Town Hall was demolished on October 20, 1958. The site has since been used as a municipal parking lot.

1957 (February 11) - A fire in the Red Men's Hall at 33 West Water Street claimed the life of Fire Captain Robert P. MacDonald, who was due to retire a few months later.

1957 (June 19) - Lightning caused a spectacular fire at Curley's grain elevator at the corner of Main Street and North Avenue.

1963 (September 20) - Saint Joseph's Catholic Church on the corner of Albion and Tuttle Streets damaged by fire. Serious water damage.

1964 (January 1) - Major fire in commercial building at 406-412 Main Street, between Lincoln and Princess Streets. $250,000 damage and hazardous ice conditions due to cold temperatures.

1971 (March 25) - The first of a series of suspicious fires over a period of thirteen months caused moderate damage to the Olde Theatre Block at 423-431 Main Street. Police officer Earl J. Lawson was later arrested and charged with arson for several of the fires.

1971 (April 1) - Two simultaneous fire were reported at the vacant Pleasure Island Amusement Park. The old Greenwood train station, which had been moved to the park ten years earlier, was destroyed.

1971 (April 24) - A suspicious fire caused heavy damage to the rear section of the Mystic Industries building at 474 Main Street, opposite Armory Street.

1971 (June 8) - Another suspicious fire destroyed sheds at 26 Chestnut Street, and caused heavy damage to the attached house.

1971 (July 30) - A suspicious fire destroyed the Armor Fence Company building at 116 Foundry Street.

1971 (August 28) - A suspicious fire destroyed the vacant Colonial Inn rooming house at 7 Richardson Avenue.

1971 (October 24) - A suspicious fire caused heavy damage to the vacant home at 15 Morningside Road (the former Cowdrey estate). Containers of gasoline were found inside the building.

1971 (December 12) - The Atwell Building of Wakefield High School (485 Main Street) was destroyed by a suspicious major fire which caused almost $4 million in damages.

1972 (January 18) - A suspicious fire caused heavy damage to the old G.A.R. Hall at 7 Foster Street.

1972 (February 5) - The R.S. Robie Industrial Park at 134 Water Street was victim of another suspicious fire which destroyed seven buildings and damaged several others. The complex was originally the home of Cyrus Wakefield's rattan business.

1972 (March 12) - A fire damaged the business block at 419-421 Main Street including the Diskay discount store, at the corner of Richardson Avenue. This building was adjacent to the Olde Theatre Block which burned in the first suspicious fire 13 months earlier.

1972 (April 16) - Fire destroyed the Hazelwood Cottage Restaurant at 348 Main Street (opposite Avon Street) and damaged the adjacent building at 350 Main Street, which housed Johnson's Dress Shop.

1972 (April 29) - Police officer Walter K. Freeman, Jr. observed Earl J. Lawson, another Wakefield police officer, acting suspiciously inside the Ames Drug Store building at 381 Main Street. Lawson was arrested and later admitted to setting six of the past year's 22 suspicious fires.

1973 (October 14) - Wakefield was one of 95 communities that assisted the city of Chelsea in containing a huge fire that destroyed 18 blocks of that city.

1974 (March 11) - A fire destroyed the building at 381-385 Main Street (at the corner of Albion Street) which housed Ames Drug Store, Florence's Corset Shop, and Ray Parker's Men's Store. Fire Lieutenant Robert T. Sullivan died at the fire.

1974 (March 30) - A fire destroyed the home at 226 Vernon Street (at the corner of Aborn Avenue) killing three teenagers: Robert Bedford (17), Gregory Bedford (17), and Ellen Smith (16). The fire was determined to be caused by careless smoking.

1974 (October 5) - A spectacular fire destroyed the vacant Castle Clare (Hoag's Castle) on Acorn Avenue. The cause was attributed to vandalism.

1974 (December 17) - A suspicious fire destroyed a laundromat and cleaner in the former Upper Depot train station at 25-29 Tuttle Street. Despite the heavy damage the 1889 building was later renovated.

1977 (March 24) - Saint Joseph's Catholic Church on the corner of Albion and Tuttle Streets completely destroyed by a fire that started at the rear of the building. Loss was estimated at $2 million.

1981 (November 28) - Wakefield assisted the city of Lynn in containing a fire that destroyed 18 industrial buildings in Lynn and damaged 17 others.

1991 (December 21) - A suspicious fire destroyed the building at 29-31 Albion Street, which housed Greer's Real Estate Office, a shoe repair shop, and several apartments.

1997 (January 24) - A major fire gutted the 1898 Odd Fellows' Building at the corner of Main and Avon Streets. The fire was believed to have started in a second floor office of the building, which was occupied by North Shore Numismatics, Web Head Enterprises, and New Boston Mortgage. The building was subsequently renovated and the brick exterior shell was restored and occupied by The Savings Bank of Wakefield.

References

  • Wakefield : 350 years by the lake : an anniversary history / compiled by the Wakefield 350 Writing Committee ; edited by Nancy Bertrand, 1994, p261-277.
  • Young, L. Murray, Iron men and iron machines : Wakefield Fire Department, Wakefield, Mass., c1976.
  • Rowland, Ken, "Local man arrested as arsonist, pleads guilty to six charges," Wakefield Daily Item, Monday, May 1, 1972, p.1