1894 Central Street fire, Ipswich MA

Central Street in ashes, January 13, 1894

Three Business Blocks and Three Dwellings Destroyed in Ipswich

January 14, 1894 © The New York Times.

Flames were discovered soon after 1 o'clock this morning in the photograph rooms of George Dexter, in the upper portion of the Jewett Block, on Central Street. The wind was blowing a gale, and the temperature registered nearly at zero. The flames spread rapidly, and help was summoned from Salem, Beverly, Newburyport, Danvers, and Lynn. The fire was under control in about four hours, but not until three blocks and three dwellings had been destroyed.

The buildings burned were the Jewett Block, owned by Isaac Jewett; the Wildes Block and Central Block, both owned by George Wildes; the store of Fred Byron, Isaac Jewett's dwelling, and the Heard Building, owned by the Trustees of the Manning School. The Jewett building was a three-story wooden structure. The lower floor was occupied by John Goodhue, hardware, the second floor by the Chebacco Associates, a branch of the Red Men. George Dexter, photographer, occupied the third floor. The Wildes Block was a two-story building. The lower floor was occupied by George Haskell, grocer, and Everett L. Irving, harness maker. Mr. Irving lived with his family in the second story, and Frank Keyes, dentist, had an office there.

Central St. fire in Ipswich 1894

The Central Block, a three-story building, adjoined. On the lower floor was George Amazeen's billiard parlor and confectionery store. J. B. Itlelanford, barber, also had a place on the street floor. The Ipswich Independent office was on the second floor, with the Ipswich Bicycle Club and Cuspidor Club. John T. Heard Lodge of Freemasons had the entire third floor. The lower floor of the Heard Building was occupied by .Mrs. C. W. Brown, milliner, and the dwelling portion by Dr. George F. McCarthy and Frank Peavey. Market Street and other streets in the vicinity were filled with furniture from the surrounding houses. A panic seemed to pervade the town, and it was at one time thought that the whole village would be burned. A revised estimate places the total loss at $41,600; Insurance, $20,600

The circle in this closeup view from the 1893 Birdseye map shows the section of Central Street that burned. The Victorian house between Wildes court and Hammatt Street is the one in the closeup view above.
1894 Central St. fire Ipswich MA
Photo by George R. Dodge, after much of the debris had been removed.

From Tales of Old Ipswich by Harold Bowen

“Tom’ wake up—the whole town’s afire.”

Those were the words of my Aunt Lucy Hart when she was trying to wake my Uncle Tom Lord, her brother, who was also captain of the old hand-tub Neptune. It was located at Lord’s Square where the antique shop is now. My Uncle Tommy Lord owned the farm and land where the St. Joseph’s Church is now. And it was his horses that used to haul the engine. His sister had heard the church bells and probably the old steam whistle on the mill.

This all happened on the night of Jan. 13, 1894. It was blowing a gale and the temperature was 16 degrees below zero. You could almost read a newspaper in Tom’s back yard. The whole of Central Street was afire. It had started in the Red Men’s Hall and worked its way in both directions. There was little hope of stopping it.

The Barnicoat handtub in front of the first Warren engine house, rear of the larger Warren Engine house and Hose No. 1, and Masconnomet le France Steam fire engine.

At the time, the town owned three hand-tubs, the Neptune in Lord’s Square (now in Newburyport), the Warren located on Warren Street (now in Pepperell, Mass.), and the Torrent in the Candlewood section. There were also several hose-reels. There was great rivalry in those days between the different hand-tub companies. Each would see who could get there first. Of course, the old Torrent was the farthest away and when its company could get to a fire first, the other companies were sure to hear about it.

The Torrent

That night the old Torrent was able to get there first, and its captain, old Mute Brown, about this time was the proudest guy of them all. Everything was going fine until they started to pump. The old tub was frozen solid and was unable to pump a stroke. Now old Mute had a vocabulary all his own, which is not printable. But he used it to its fullest. They were good sports after they had cooled down and all joined hands in helping the other tubs. There still was a job to do and they did it.

There was also a line of hose laid to the mill. They had a steam pump and it did great service that night. Then a call was sent to Salem for a steamer. In those days, there was always a loading platform and flatcar at the railway station for just such an emergency. It is said that in less than 40 minutes a steamer had arrived from Salem and was pumping water on the fire. Hattie Copp, who lived in the house on the bank was a school teacher in Boston and did not come home that night. She heard about it the next morning and came home. The clap boards were all charred, but otherwise the house was not damaged.

Yes, it was a wild night and the only thing about the fire that was good was that it kept the firemen from freezing to death. But, of course, if it hadn’t been for the fire they would not have been out in the cold. The next morning, everything from Tyler’s Corner (not then named) to Hammett Street lay in ruins. The Masons and the Red Men had lost their homes, and many stores were destroyed.

No one ever knew how it started. But there was one thing it did accomplish. For several years they had tried to get town water, without success. The farmers up in Linebrook fought it. It was planned to use Bull Brook. But the farmers said if they did use the brook, they would not be able to let their cows out because the cows would drink all of the water in Bull Brook.

That same year, on April 17, there was another big fire—that of the Damon Block. It also burned to the ground. Those two fires changed the tide. A special town meeting was held and it was voted to install the water system. And for years cows have been drinking from the brook. But the old brook still flows. And all that remains is the memory of that wild night of Jan. 13, 1894–the Central Street fire.

—-HAROLD D. BOWEN, Tales of Olde Ipswich

Central Street in 1892, two years before the fire
Augustine Plouff's store was completely destroyed in the fire..
Augustine Plouff’s store was completely destroyed in the fire.
Goodhue's Store
Goodhue’s store on Central Street was built soon after the fire. The Ipswich House of Pizza is now at this location.
Empty corner after the Central St. fire
“Burdock Park” was the nickname for the corner of Central and Market Streets, the last location to be rebuilt.
Photo from the Ipswich Chronicle , March `972
The Tyler building and trolley tracks, circa 1910. The corner remained deserted for 13 years until the Tyler Block was built in 1906. You can see the trolley tracks in the bottom right corner. The Tyler Block looks much the same today. The Five Corner Cafe and Deli is now located at the corner.

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