Watertown's Great Fire of 1849


R-L;American House, Paddock, Hungerford and Sherman blocks
R-L;American House, Paddock, Hungerford and Sherman blocks
This fire started in Watertown (then still little more than a village) early the morning of Sunday May 13th, 1849 in the American House's stage coach sheds. In a short time it had spread from the rear to the hotel itself, at which point guests began to escape. Once the whole building was engulfed it was able to leap across the street and started Wooster Sherman's bank and the surrounding building on fire. Sherman himself loaded the banks monies and papers into a wheel barrow and escaped.

The fire began to spread even more rapidly down both sides of Court Street, destroying the Safford and Peck block and then Jason Fairbanks' stone block, and up Arsenal Street. It destroyed the Columbia Hotel and a good portion of what was then Woodruff's new Iron Block Building, as well as Arcade Street and most of the north side of Public Square.

Because of Watertown's lack of a good water delivery and storage system the volunteer fire department of Watertown could do little. A spring supplied a cistern on Public Square where the original settlers had built their homes, but this was about all the Watertown fireman had to work with and it eventually gave out.

The old county clerk's office was built of stone, except for the roof which caught fire, and stopped the fire from reaching any further down Court Street in that direction. Coupled with a brisk wind the fire began to burn itself out and later a rain began to fall.

The fire was a devastating loss to the fledging Watertown with almost all the dry goods stores destroyed along with four banks and other important businesses. Only five business blocks were left.

But later fires covering the next three years destroyed much of what was left of the business areas of Watertown, but which resulted in great increases in building to replace those business and an improved water system.

The enormous amounts of rubble cleared after the fire was used to fill in the deep depression that existed between the east and west ends of Public Square, a project which had been in progress since the 1830's. This allowed for the land occupied by the square to be leveled and landscaped in it's current form.


Disasters and Catastrophes, Natural and Otherwise
Public Square History



This page was created by lectrichead & has been edited 6 times. The last modification was made by - AJRII AJRII on Apr 9, 2009 10:17 pm.