Hampton Beach Fire of 1915
The Hamptons Union, September 30, 1915
A blaze which is thought to have its origin in a box of rubbish late Thursday afternoon, swept quickly through of a portion of the thickly settled part of Hampton Beach, and destroyed forty-two buildings before it was checked. The loss is estimated at about $150,000, the assessor's valuation of the burned property totaling $108,000, and the personal property fully making up the balance.
Starting in the rear of the cottage of James B. Garland of Manchester, on B Street, the flames were driven northward by a strong wind for a quarter of a mile to Highland Avenue. Five hotels, ten stores, the Episcopal chapel, known as St. Peters by the sea, and dozens of cottages were leveled. The wind drove the conflagration away from the casino, where the social events of the resort, although at one time it was thought this and intervening property would be destroyed.
Soon after L. C. King, chief of the fire department, arriver, he saw that the conflagration was more than the limited number of men in the Hampton service could control and calls were accordingly sent to outside towns, and the response was made by Portsmouth, Amesbury, Salisbury and Exeter, and this aid was of incalculable value in preventing the spread north of Thomas Nudd's.
The principal buildings lost were the Ashworth, Janvrin, Grand, Fair View, and DeLancey hotels; the Olympia and Strand theaters, the Ferncroft Garden dance hall, L.C. Ring block and Jenkins block. The heaviest individual losers were L. C. Ring, chief of the fire department and owner of a block of stores and several cottages which were burned, and George Ashworth, proprietor of the Ashworth House. This was the most pretentious on the beach and was built at a cost of about $60,000 to replace the structure burned two years ago. Mr. Ashworth also lost his bungalow where he made his home. The blaze was discovered by Mrs. M. C. Morse in the rear of the Garland cottage. Chief Ring expressed the belief that boys playing with matches in a dry goods box filled with kindling wood and excelsior started the fire. When Mrs. Morse saw the flames, she ran over and tried to put them out, but the fire quickly leaped up the side of the Garland cottage and fanned by a high southerly wind drove sparks to the Mores cottage. Mrs. Morse was forced to devote her energy to saving her own property and succeeded, although all the other houses in the neighborhood were burned flat.
In less than half an hour the flames were beyond control of the few fire fighters available. Showers of sparks started scores of roof fires far ahead of the main conflagration. A strong effort was made to save the Ashworth House, but the firemen were forced to give it up and retreat behind Nudd's Avenue. Fifteen houses were dynamited in the vicinity, but it is considered doubtful whether this sacrifice would have been of any use if the wind had not shifted to the west and blown the flames out to sea. The main line of the fire reached Highland Avenue. Six or seven cottages beyond this were also damaged but were saved by their owners with buckets and wet blankets.
Some of the guests who still lingered at the hotels reported that they had lost some of their jewelry and all their clothes except what they had on. Among those who were burned out were a few families who lived here all the year. For the benefit of those who had no roof over their heads Frank Callahan gave the use of the Atlantic House of which he is the proprietor. The individual hotel and theatre losses are estimated as follows: Strand Theatre, $13,000: Ashworth Hotel $50.000: Fairview Hotel $10,000: Janvrin Hotel $10,000.
George Mores was injured when he lost his footing while on the roof of his home. After his clothes were burned from his body, Alexander Brown, a volunteer fireman from Haverhill, was rescued from between two blazing buildings on A Street near Ocean Avenue and continued to play a stream on a blaze in front of him until the fire caught the building on either side. He tried to run between the two fires, but the smoke overcame him and he fell. Another fireman dragged him to safety. Wal Godfrey of the Hampton Village Fire Department slipped from a roof and one of his ankles was injured.
Some of the owners of the cottages and loses are: Kit Cat, owned by C. I. Bickum of Haverhill, $2.500, insured for $2,000. Orbega, owned by Miss Georgiana Mills, $1,500. John H. Hamilton of Hampton Falls, $3000, insured for $1,500. Robert C. Ring $1,500. Lynn Villa, owned by A.C. Currier of Amesbury, $2,500. Charles L. Higgins of Haverhill, $1,500. Frank James of Lawrence, $2,500. Edward Gilman of Haverhill $1,500. William Burlingame of Manchester $ 2,000. Fred L. Townsend of Haverhill $2,000. Glendon cottage owned by John A. Janvrin of Hampton lose $1,500. Two cottages owned by L.C. Ring, lose $2,500. Cottages owned by M.C. Morse of Haverhill, $300. Douglas Hunter of Manchester, $1,200. Samuel Suesman of Haverhill, $2,500. Jules Benoit of Haverhill, $1,500.
All day on Saturday and Sunday there were hundreds of visitors to the beach, some out of idle curiosity, and others who were burned out in the recent conflagration. The beach was unusually active for so late in the season.
During the past day or two the fire disaster has attained many new phases, which go to show the great looses which have been sustained, and the unusual acts both of presence of mind as well as bravery.
Mrs. Mary Batchelder of Little Boar's Head was instrumental in saving a considerable amount of property for St. Peter's Episcopal Church although the church edifice was totally destroyed. Miss Batchelder, who was active in securing funds for the erection of the church a few years, was out walking in Rye on the afternoon of the fire. She noticed columns of dense smoke arising, and fearing for the safety of St. Peter's By the Sea, ordered her car, the chauffeur, with all speed to the scene of the conflagration. At this time the church was quite remote from the actual fire, but realizing the danger to the edifice, Miss Batchelder sent her car back to Rye, summoning the gardeners and other men employed upon her estate. They were quickly on the scene, and by this time it was plain to all that the church building was doomed. Miss Batchelder personally directed the removing of the seats, the organ, pulpit and other furnishings, these being carted up the beach beyond all danger of destruction. Then with her men she did all that was possible to prevent the spreading of the flames, and when it was seen that the church was certain to go, she had her men climb to the belfry and remove the bell, which was scarcely an hour before had summoned volunteers to fight the blaze back of the Fairview House.
The building cost approximately $3,500, was insured for $1,500, and there was $100 upon the furnishings. Rev. Dr. Tyler is not wholly discouraged, however, and stated that services would be resumed next summer in the Opera House of the Casino which was occupied by the local Episcopal society for a number of years previous to the erection of the church.
Among the heaviest of the individual losers is Bandmaster Charles L. Higgins of Haverhill, Mass., who had an attractive summer home on Nudd's Ave. Mr. Higgins recently sold his summer home in Haverhill, removing all his possessions to his beach house which was totally destroyed last Thursday. In the house were many antiques and a library of music valued at several hundreds of dollars, all of which is a total loss. Mr. Higgins with his wife and daughter, Madeline, the latter a talented singer, have been touring the mountains of New Hampshire since the close of Carnival week, and they had proceeded to Burlington, Vt., when they received news of the terrible catastrophe! They at once commenced the return trip reaching the beach Monday, and finding themselves homeless. Mr. Higgins is not yet decided whether he will rebuild or not. The house was a new one completed only this season, and it was valued at about $3,000, being only partially covered by insurance.
J. H. Hamilton and daughter of Hampton Falls, owned three attractive cottages on B St., all of which were destroyed at the combined loss of about $6,000. One of these, the Althea, was the first to go, the other two catching fire in quick succession. Mr. Hamilton was offered a good price for this property only last week, but decided to secure a larger figure before making a sale. As it is, he had only a partial insurance, and his lose will be quite heavy.
Many of the cottages in the Great Boar's Head neighborhood were several times endangered by the burning firebrands, which were borne along distance by the wind.
On every rooftop men were stationed with pails of water, and several owners got out the garden hose which quickly extinguished the incipient blazes.
Mrs. F.L. Hughes, who was occupying one of the cottages on Nudd's ave., was overcome by the flames and dense smoke while endeavoring to remove articles from her house, which was finally saved after her great exertion.
One after the other she removed articles from the house, carrying them some distance to the edge of the marsh out of the fire zone. During one of these trips back to the house the volumes of smoke overpowered her, and she lost conscientious. Neighbors and volunteers came to her rescue and she was taken to a cottage further up the beach where later she was revived.
Mrs. C. W. Newcomb, who conducted the Boston Dry Goods store on Ocean Ave, had her place of business entirely wiped out. Sunday she rescued from the ruins a quantity of china, which by advice of her friends was put upon sale, being readily purchased by souvenir collectors, quite a little sum being realized by the novel proceeding.
Many cottage owners from the more distant points, those who sustained fire loses, and others who were anxious concerning the safety of their property, have been at the beach during the past day or two, while the big influx of sightseers has resembled one of the busiest seasons of the year.
The first load of lumber to be used in rebuilding the beach has arrived, having been consigned to George Ashworth, who has decided to rebuild his large hotel of that name.
The new Ashworth will be the third of that name upon the same site within a period of as many years, and illustrates the perseverance of its proprietor. The hotel will be constructed along practically the same lines as followed in the former hostelry, and the work will be commenced within a few days.
Mrs. D.A. Munsey will rebuild the Janvrin which was destroyed in Thursday's fire, and it is practically assured that it will be of about the same architecture. Nearly all the other losers on the fire will rebuild and in a few weeks the resort will be busy with the sound of the carpenter's tools.