143 Main Street: The Village Engine House

hot spot map


John Dorman homestead

simpson buck plot

The Stewart Sisters

143 Main Streetertainly no one old enough to remember events in 1968 has forgotten the fire that burned down the fire house. The most vivid image (caught on film and reproduced on the Chronicle's front page) seems to have been the moment when the doors having burned away, the fire truck rolled slowly down the ramp and across the street, engulfed in flame and very nearly involving the buildings on Main Street's west side in the disaster.

The fire, besides destroying the firehouse itself, took out the A&P store adjacent to it on the north, and so heavily damaged the huge Roenke & Rogers store on the south it had to be razed. The little firehouse was the second or even perhaps the third on the site, and before that the site of a residence and millinery shop.

The tailor Simpson Buck apparently built a new house of his own, with his tailor shop on the ground floor, and it's possible this was the same house that the sisters Lydia and Mercy Stewart lived in after they bought this part of Buck's lot in 1835. This was a parcel less than 50 feet 143-145 Main Streetwide at the southern extremity of this northern half of the old Dorman homestead. In 1839 Mercy got married and sold her interest to her sister, and Lydia lived there alone, with her millinery store on the ground floor.

In 1856 the village bought Miss Stewart's lot for the purpose of building an engine house to augment the one on Head Street, since by then many of the businesses that had made the four corners upstreet into the center of village activity had moved down to a new four corners, where Main Street crossed what is now Elm Street (then as now, the part of the street that ran east from the corners had a different name; it was then Jacob Street). Fires were frequent in the settlement, as the buildings were all originally of frame timber construction, sheathed with clapboards. Here and there brick buildings were erected, since after the "Brimstone Row" fire in 1836 the village had required it of new construction, but as late as 1856 there was still no pump engine kept downtown.

Few photographs were ever taken of this original fire house. The best one is probably the one reproduced (above) on this page, which has been cropped from one that also shows the Thiesen & Klube furniture store adjacent on the north, part of Eben Smith's house to the south, and the columns of the Yates County Bank building south of that. The new fire house was eventually dwarfed by the buildings to either side, but it was big enough to house the steam pump engine (named "The Neptune") and the long loops of hose needed to direct water from the Outlet, Jacob's Brook and the Canal onto the fire. Soon after the engine house was built, a bad fire that began on Canal (now Seneca) Street also destroyed at least two buildings on Main Street. The firefighters were commended for their prompt response (then, as now, it was a volunteer force), but the fact remains that they were unable to prevent the fire from spreading from its source, the old Owl's Nest "hotel" on Canal Street next to where Jacob's Brook entered the canal's turning basin behind the Main Street stores. The Owl's Nest itself was considered to be no great loss, since it was in fact what was then called a "bawdy house" that catered to the canal boatmen; its frame was made of timbers salvaged from Abraham Wagener's old 1801 gristmill when it was rebuilt in 1824, after its own fire.

In 1884 the firehouse burned to the ground for the first time. The fire also destroyed the charming little store building to the north, after which the structure that housed the A&P in 1968 was built. The village gave permission to August Klube to rebuild his store in style, greatly enlarging it and lengthening the party wall between them, with the proviso that if the village ever wanted to enlarge the fire house they would have to advance half the cost of Klube's work on the wall. The firehouse too was rebuilt, or at least reconstructed, on the same site, and with the same footprint, as the 1856 building.

The building was again reconstructed in 1916, and this is the version that burned in 1968. It was in fact no bigger than the tiny engine house of 1856, and was built on the same foundations. Pictures show how small it looked between Klube's building (owned at the time the photograph was taken by James W. Davis) and the Roenke & Rogers store (which was the largest ever built on Main Street). It held two fire trucks, however, both of which were destroyed in the fire of 1968. The land that was cleared by this fire became part of an Urban Renewal project, which also cleared out all the buildings behind the row on Main Street and created the present parking lot. The firehouse and the A&P stood where what is now called Jacob Street goes through to this lot, and the two one-story buildings between the corner and Lown's stand where once the massive 137 Main Street was. The fire not only shortened the business block but entirely changed the face of this part of the street.

Top, far right: The facade of the 1856 Engine House, taken sometime before 1884, when the building along with the adjacent Klube furniture store was burned and rebuilt. Theisen & Klube's awning can just be seen at its left (north). To the right was Eben Smith's home, determinedly rural in the middle of the village's commercial district.
      This first Engine House was no smaller than its successor, but looks smaller, perhaps because of its residential or small-store architecture. The firefighter standing in the center doorway gives an idea of the scale. One must remember that the equipment of this era was much smaller than a modern fire truck.

Near right: A view of Main Street about 1935, with 145 Main at the extreme left, and the Engine House next to it. The huge store beyond that was Roenke & Rogers, then Lown's with its high battlements, the northernmost in this row of buildings to survive the fire of 1968. The firehouse itself was dwarfed by its neighbors, still only two stories high and one bay wide, in exactly the same footprint as when its predecessors were built in 1856 and 1884.

People related to this lot and structure:

     David Wagener
     John Dorman
 The Stewarts

Related sites:

   145 Main Street
    357 Main Street

Related history:

   Before the Storm



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