Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Worst Fire in Hudson History

A few weeks ago, the buildings still missing in the 300 block of Warren Street led Gossips to wonder what happened to them. This curiosity resulted in learning about the "Good Friday Fire" of 1965. Recently, among the old newspaper clippings given to me by Susan Troy, I discovered this item from a Register-Star column called "Kramer's Corner," telling about another memorable fire: the "Gray's Furniture Store Fire." The fire happened in 1902; the article recalling it appeared on March 8, 1972.
DURING HUDSON's long and illustrious history, it has been the scene of some big fires. One of the most destructive broke out early on March 8, 1902. In firemanic circles it is known as the "Gray's Furniture Store Fire."
The 1800's saw a number of conflagrations in Hudson.
One, on Aug. 7, 1838, burned 70 buildings and stores burned to the ground on the site where the Franklin Playground now stands [at the corner of South Front and Ferry streets].
ANOTHER TOOK PLACE seven years later, on June 28, 1844, on the riverfront. The three wharves, a vessel laden with flour, two lumber yards and 34 other buildings on Franklin, Ferry and Water Sts., were consumed with a loss of $175,000, a considerable sum in those days. [Franklin Street ran east of and parallel to Water Street between Broad and Ferry streets.]
SOME OLDER members of our present day fire companies can tell you of several really bad ones--such as the Lincoln Hotel, Oneida Market, Grand Union five-building fire between Fourth and Fifth Sts., on Warren, the First Reformed Church and the four-building fire between Fifth and Sixth. They were all general alarms.
BUT IT IS generally agreed that the "Gray's Fire" was the worst. A newspaper account said: "It was a fire that for fierceness has probably never been equalled in this city."
THE FIRE BROKE out about 5:00 a.m. in the store of Dosenheim & Co. It was disvoered by Miss Hattie Dosenheim, whose apartment was over the store. The flames spread to the building of W. C. Falk's dry goods establishment. At first, it was believed that the firemen had the blaze trapped here, but a sudden wind blew the flames in another direction and from that point on the fire just fanned out.
IT BLAZED INTO the Gray's Furniture Store building. Since there [were] occupants in some buildings set fire, the primary thought was to get them to safety, which was accomplished.
IN ADDITION to Dosenheim's, Falk's and Gray's, Van Tassel's Drug Store, Sheldon's, Booth's Photography Shop, the F & M Herbs' buildings, the Chas. J. Hermance Bicycle Shop and W. H. Crapser estate building were destroyed. 
HUNDREDS OF SPECTATORS were endangered when plate glass windows shattered into the street, and falling electric wires sent sparks shooting. Many firemen were in peril when roofs from which they were directing hoses started to collapse.
DOSENHEIM'S HEAD CLERK almost was trapped when flaming timbers crashed on him as he helped fight the fire. "A cry of horror went up," the newspaper account said, "and there was a rush of men into the debris to rescue him." He was found unconscious, but revived after being carried to safety.
GRAY'S FURNITURE STORE lost over $50,000 in stock, in addition to the building. Van Tassel's Drug Store lost $11,000 and 69,000 prescriptions. The F & M Herbs buildings losses exceeded $30,000 and the other fire-ruined properties were correspondingly high. 
Curious to know what buildings were involved in the Gray's Furniture Store Fire, I went to the History Room at the Hudson Area Library to check the Hudson city directory for 1902 and discovered that the buildings involved were 543 to 553 Warren Street.

  • Dosenheim & Co., dry goods, where the fire started, was located at 545 Warren Street--now Ammi Ribar Antiques & Fine Period Frames.
  • William C. Falk, ladies & gents furnishing goods, where the fire initially spread, was located at 543 Warren Street--now Bodhi.
  • Gray's Furniture, where the fire spread when the wind shifted, was at 547 and 549 Warren Street, and Wm. H. Van Tassel, druggist, was also located at 547 Warren. This location is now Stair Galleries.
  • C. J. Sheldon, dry and fancy goods, house furnishing, notions, etc., and Charles F. Booth, photographer, were both located at 551 Warren Street--now Noonan Antiques and Crawford & Associates. 
  • William J. Crapser, groceries and provisions, was located at 553 Warren Street--now Hudson City Books.
It's not clear where the F & M Herbs buildings were located. The 1902 directory lists F & M Herbs as cigar manufacturers at 620 Warren Street. According to the directory, Charles Hermance lived at 549 Warren Street, but the location of his bicycle shop is not given.

The lost buildings were all rebuilt or replaced, for here is that streetscape today.

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