Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fires in Town of Marshall

The huge fire in Oriskany Falls in December 2017, destroying a 100+ year old building, brought about thoughts of fires in the past of the Town of Marshall. Most were small and quickly put out; others, as we shall see, did considerable damage.

In 1888, before the fire department was organized, a fire was discovered in the store of Northrup & Smith (on the corner of Routes 12B and 315) in time to prevent a disastrous blaze. The fire caught from the heat of a large tubular lamp which was suspended from the ceiling. Had it made much more headway there would have been nothing else to do but to watch Deansboro go up in smoke.

Therefore, in 1896, the Barton Hose Company in Deansboro was formed as an outgrowth of the Deanboro Water System, first known as the Deansboro Fire Company.  In 1906, David Barton of Waterville, whose family was one of the earliest white settlers in the Town Of Marshall, realized having a fire department was a huge benefit to the community and beyond, witness the way  fires were extinguished quickly and efficiently before they became serious. Fires both small and large were, unfortunately, common back in the 1800s.

Barton was an early benefactor of the fire company, donating money for a fire house; and the name was changed to the Barton Hose Company to honor him. The early equipment consisted of two hand-drawn horse carts, and the alarm for fires was at first the church-bells, then the whistle on the Condensery and finally an electric siren like the one we're used to hearing. Quite a far cry from the sophisticated equipment operated to such good purpose today. Every member of the Barton Hose Company is, then and now, a volunteer.

Although we have been fortunate enough to never have had a 15-alarm fire, as in Oriskany Falls, some of our fires have been pretty spectacular. Most recently, eight fire departments responded to the barn fire at the home of Doug Alberding on Skyline Drive. In that fire in September 2016, the barn and milking station were lost,  although Mr. Alberding and  volunteers were able to save the cattle. Mr. Allberding has started rebuilding on the site of the fire.

Very early in January, 2011, a big fire broke out in the Marshall Town Barn, destroying the barn and all the equipment in it. Firefighters from 10 departments were at the scene all day January 2 and into the night. Because so much equipment was lost (plows, front end loaders, tools), neighboring superintendents of highway departments offered the use of their plows, etc.,  until the Town Of Marshall could get on its feet. The fire was caused an electrical short in one of the parked trucks.  By the summer, plans were drawn for a new building and construction was complete by the next year.

Six fire companies responded to two fires within a week on Bill Edwards' farm on Route 12B toward Clinton (now owned by ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Charles Brubaker)  in 1981. First, the large dairy barn behind the residence was burned to the ground just after milking, so the stock was able to be saved. There was little wind, so the fire did not spread to the house. Then three days later, fire broke out in the tenant house across the road. Two families lived there,  and the family in the front of the house were relocated to a house on  Peck Road owned by the Edwards', while the other family was able to return to their apartment in the back of the house when the fire was extinguished.

A machinery-laden  barn  and  1000 bales  of  hay  were  burned  in November 1952 at the Virgil Eastman farm (now owned by the Blakeleys) on Route 315. The barn was leveled, and Mr. Eastman reported seeing what he called "young boy's tracks in the hay."  Children playing with matches was the cause of the fire on Bush Road, near Deansboro, in 1950. The fire wasn't too serious - just burning a hole in the ceiling of the barn - but it could have spread and been much more serious.

What was a serious fire was the one in 1960 which burned the GLF (Grange League Federation) feed store. The fire was caused by an overheated feed bed filled with brewer's yeast. The fire, fought by four fire companies, practically destroyed the two-story building, and injured two fire-fighters: Gerald McMullen, who was hospitalized after being burned; and Nick Sango, who suffered a cut on his face from falling debris. Although the building was heavily damaged, volunteers were able to bring out many bags of grain and feed due to the "mushrooming"  of the flames through the top of the building.

Just two years later, fire broke out on the corner store, then operated by Steven Congelo and called the Buy-Rite Superette. Damage was confined to the building already damaged by a runaway tractor-trailer truck; if it had spread it would have engulfed half the hamlet of Deanboro. The building was owned by Lida Earl.

A much scarier and more serious fire took place in 1956, when a teen-aged Gail Buell Blau and her family  were driven from their home near Oriskany Falls,  which was destroyed, into sub-zero weather. Although the nearly 50 firemen from four companies were unable to save the house, they managed to keep the fire from spreading, and most of the furniture was saved. The cause of that fire was defective electrical wiring. 

Another family escaped injury when their house on Route 315 was damaged by fire in 1985. Charles Williams, his wife and young child were able to get out of the building safety, as most of the damage was confined to the second floor and roof.

High winds fanned the fire at the then-Milton Wratten homestead (now owned by Ed Gallagher), destroying a large hay barn and adjacent shed in 1961. Luckily, the family wasn't home at the time, but one calf was lost. Seven fire companies responded to that fire.  

In 1933, Fire of unknown cause destroyed three buildings at the Condensery, at that time owned by Claude Hinman.  A shop, a garage and an ice house were burned. Commentary in the Waterville Times stated, "The local fire department did good work in saving the Condensery building located nearby."

Firefighters from three villages fought for more than three hours, but were unable to save two large barns on the Stewart Hinman farm on the north just outside of Deansboro, but they were able to save the house and three other buildings threatened by the wind-driven flames. In February 1955, fire broke out at the Donald Hinman L-shaped barn, destroying it. However, despite being hampered by freezing water lines, quick action by  firefighters from Deansboro and Oriskany Falls were able to save the rest of the farm buildings and rescue 25 head of cattle.

McConnell's Farm and Home Store on Route 315 was destroyed by fire in April of 1982. A shed and some tools and machinery were saved, but fighting the fire was problematic because of the combustible materials inside the structure and the high heat of the fire. That heat melted part of the siding of the house which was adjacent to the store, and oxygen was administered those firemen affected by the heat intensity. Marilyn and Louis Spina live there now.

Many remember the suspicious fire in 1981, which destroyed the former Macabee Hall in Deansboro.  The fire was reportedly sparked by an explosion in the early hours of the morning. Because the building, which at the time of the fire was  owned by A.R. D'Agostino of Clnton, and operated as JR's Tavern, was fully involved by the time the fire department arrived , firefighters concentrated on saving the house next to the 84-year-old structure. The Boro is in that location. 

Another suspicious fire is the one which burned the Cheese Factory near Oriskany Creek in 1891.
In 1961, a farm garage and shop, as well as an automobile, two tractors, a welder and a number of tools, were destroyed by fire before it was brought under control. The buildings were part of the Harry G. Goodson and Robert Lloyd farms. Firefighters were able to keep the flames from a house and a large barn of either side of the burning building.

In February 1931, the Deansboro Union Free School building, located on West Hill Road - Ruia's own the property now - was completely destroyed by fire. It was believed that the fire, which started in the early hours of the morning, was caused by the stove overheating. The structure contained six rooms.

Fire and smoke heavily damaged the Music Box Restaurant in January, 1968, now known as Kristen's Kountry Kafe. The fire began in the kitchen and the firemen were successful in preventing it from spreading, although the interior was heavily damaged by smoke and water.

Back in 1920, fire destroyed the saw and cider mill and a barn owned by Julius Waterman on Route 315, about one-half mile from Deansboro, practically wiping out his business. An automobile and two trucks were burned. The house, which was located nearby, was saved by the help of neighbors who gathered at the scene by the hundreds. A bucket brigade was formed and the house was saved. Some lumber and wood and about 200 barrels of cider and a lot of apples  were burned. The mills were among the largest of the kind at that time, as well as among the oldest. They were formerly owned by Charles Brooks. It is possible lanterns caused the blaze.

An electrical fire in January, 1999, leveled the large main barn on the Melvin Durant farm on Lewis Road. Although 22 heifers were lost, 60 heifers and 80 cows plus one bull were saved and subsequently sold. Later in the year, a hay barn was built on the site of the fire, and as well as a small barn to house about 20-25 heifers.

In 1961, a fire destroyed the barn next to where I lived as a teenager, which was rented by Norm Ingersoll to shelter the tractor trailers for his business, Glenor Carting. We had to evacuate but thanks to the firemen who concentrated on keeping the fire from spreading to our house and the Ingersoll's house across the street, we were able to go back to bed, although the firemen continued to keep watch during for flare-ups. We will forever be grateful for their presence. The metal-clad pole barn put up in the barn's place is now rented by L&F Custom Builders.

There have been more fires in the Town of Marshall; perhaps you readers remember some. If so, I would be grateful if you contact me at

It's obvious that we owe all volunteer fire departments in the area a huge debt. They are fighting to save our homes under what can be excruciating conditions: freezing weather; bitter cold; hot, humid temperatures (with all that gear!); or brisk wind, all at any hour of the day and night. And we can't forget the fact that the firefighters are often hampered by sightseers, drivers who refuse to move when they know there is a fire truck behind them, equipment which sometimes doesn't cooperate. Firefighters always go to the scene of a fire with the expectation they may be injured, either at the scene itself, or on their way to assist. For example, when the former CCC camp on Route 315 by Oriskany Creek, then a migrant camp, burned in 1951, a man on his way to help battle the flames was hit by a car and badly injured. Firefighting is serious work and every volunteer department in the area has won our deep gratitude. We can return the favor by supporting them in their various endeavors (chicken barbecues, ham dinner, fish fries), and give what you can to their annual fund drives.

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