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The Village Fire of Nov. 1861: Replacing the Town Hall and the Village School buildings

Updated: Mar 9

by Bruce R. Tucker, Alfred Historical


George Came Diary: Sunday Nov. 3, 1861: "Great Fire in the village last night. Mr. Stimson’s house [Menelly's 2018] caught fire about 7 o’clock and burned to the ground together with all his outbuildings- then widow Farnum’s house and stable burned [Kusma’s], then the town house and then the school house [in front of cemetery wall]. Most of the furniture was saved. I was in the village and into the house as soon as the door was unlocked, the buildings all burned by 9 o’clock. It was very hard work to save Berry’s Hotel [Dugovic's], widow Lambert’s house [Alix Golden’s] and the houses on that street from taking fire. Some of them caught several times. Sam Hamilton had a bad fainting spell and was completely exhausted from the efforts of labor. I stayed until 3 o’clock, at Mr. Shaw’s [Brickends] with Sam and left there abed."

Fire fighting was very rudimentary in 19th century Alfred- there was no fire fighting apparatus and firemen had no training. Water from the town well on the Green would have been available but that source and other nearby wells, barrels and cisterns would have been quickly emptied in a great fire. Alfred would not get water hydrants or hose carts for another half century. A couple Alfred citizens were appointed fire wards for the town each year. They were tasked with inspecting chimneys and reducing fire hazards but, once the fire began, their duties were focused on getting victims to safety and rescuing as many possessions as possible. The fire wards main objective was preventing the fire from spreading to nearby buildings. In an age where most buildings were made of wood- including tinder dry wooden shingles on the roof- that was no mean feat. Flaming cinders carried by the wind posed the biggest threat to fire spread. Citizens scurried up ladders to nearby rooftops with buckets and wet blankets- it was exhausting work.

After the flurry of fire excitement, Came’s daily routine slipped immediately back into mundane winter farm tasks like hauling manure, wood cutting and keeping fires in his Back Road farmhouse [Larry Greer’s old house]. The big town topic of discussion was the attempt to move the Courts to Saco. Skating on Boggy Marsh behind the church was all the rage until heavy snows fell...but the snow made for marvelous sleighing once the roads were broken out. An astute observer like George Came had no way of knowing the dramatic consequences the approaching Civil War would take on Alfred Village life- drafting soldiers and a bounty system, high taxes, a failed bank and young men sacrificed to preserve the Union. News of the distant war cropped up in newspapers but George commented to his diary, “It is a very quiet war, for so great a one. Should scarcely know that there was a war but for the rise of goods and seeing now and then a man in uniform.” [Feb. 4, 1862] George’s sentiment would soon change dramatically.

But for now, the burning of the Town Hall meant that George Came-Alfred Town clerk- had to carry around the clerk town records to record important town business. His position also gave him an insider’s view of town business as Alfred replaced her town hall and village school house.

THE FIRST TOWN HOUSE - built 1853

Before we discuss the building of the new town hall, I’d like to mention the history of the town hall that burned in 1861. At the annual town meeting held in the Village School House on March 14, 1853 , the citizens of Alfred voted create a committee “to consider the importance of building a town house and to report upon a plan and an estimate of same.” The committee selected for this important work were all leading citizens- lawyer Daniel Goodenow, Dr. Abial Hall and Isreal Chadbourne- a sheriff and president of Alfred’s bank . Prior to this date, the town meetings were held in various buildings around town, anywhere big enough to hold the crowd- the Alfred Academy, the county court house, the Old Brick School House or the Village School House. The town meeting adjourned to two weeks later when the citizenry voted to purchase a lot for the Town House between the Village School and Mrs. Esther Farnums house [Kusmas 2018]. The land was owned by the Conant Heirs and the price stipulated at the meeting was to be $50. The committee was instructed to receive building proposals [bids] for a two story building. The vote to approve the build was immediately called in questions and a recount was taken. The result was 85 votes yeas for a two story building and 62 nay votes- the nays apparently opposed to building any town house at all. Two more citizens were added to the committee- lawyer Nathan Dane and Nathan R. Brooks [1].


1) The Alfred Academy was a private high school located at Wood’s Edge; the Old Brick Schoolhouse was the school maintained by the Alfred Mills school district #1 and sat on Kennebunk Road on the Little League ball fields; the Village School house [Alfred School District #8] was the former home of Daniel Lary that once sat near the stream just past Kallis Garage. When Conant bought Lary’s land he had it moved to the village and at the time of the meetings- and fire- it sat in front of the parish Cemetery Wall. [2018 locations]. Town Meeting refs in Alfred Town Record Book #2, p. 325, 333

On April 23, 1853 at another town meeting in the Village School, the town house committee read their report and it was accepted by the meeting. Nathan R. Brooks immediately asked to be excused from the committee and lumberman Sylvester Littlefield was named in his place. The meeting approved $400 dollars for the building in this fiscal year and to borrow another $1200 to be paid in one to three years. The committee was instructed to draw a contract for construction with Nathan R. Brooks and an unnamed Conant as principals. His role as builder was why Brooks asked to be excused from the committee. He must have recognized the obvious conflict of interest for a committee member to have a vote in awarding the build contract to himself. The committee was also to obtain a deed for the lot selected [2]. As the town house committee report was not made a part of the town meeting report, the details of the build are not known.


2) Alfred Town Record Book #2, p.335

At a later meeting held in the Village School House, George Lambert was named agent to care for the new town house and to hand all rents of the building to the public. It was stipulated that the new Town House was to be offered to the County Fair free of charge. The building was to be insured by the town. The first town meeting held in the new building was March 13, 1854. At that meeting, the town clerk was instructed to handle all building rentals, keep meticulous books and submit all records to the town auditor. At the march 1855 annual meeting the Alfred selectmen were instructed to furnish the town house with settees and other furniture. Some in town felt the Village School House sat too close to their new town hall and in March 1855 meeting placed a proposal on the warrant to have the school moved. The motion was dismissed [3].


3) Alfred Town Record Book #3, p.1,3,5,9

Alas, the new town hall lasted about seven years before tragedy struck with the fire in 1861.

NEW TOWN HOUSE

A town meeting was called the end of January 1862 to appoint a committee for the new town house and discuss whether the building was to be wood or brick and to have one story or two. The matter was settled and George recorded in his diary on Feb. 15th Sat.- “Been to town meeting this afternoon. Voted to build a two story Town House not to exceed in cost $2400. Dr Hall & Usher, Alfred Gore folks and others were in favor of a one story one. Father headed the two story clique. Had to poll the house, about 100 to 60 was the vote.” The town meeting, held at the Academy building, also voted to expand the town house lot by purchasing additional land and to excuse any committee members who wished to bid on construction. The town voted to borrow money for the construction at 6% for 1 to 5 years term. They also set an ambitious completion date of Aug. 1, 1862 [4].


4 Alfred Town Records Book#3, p. 115

The Town Hall Committee had their architectural plans in hand by March 24, 1862 and George stated on April 9 1862 “...The Littlefields [Theo & Hoeg] have taken the Town House to build for $2147, Stimson put in $2194.99, Raymond Whitehouse put in $2591. Some others put in, all in sealed proposals. They open the proposals. They open the proposals for stonework tonight.”

Although unnamed in the record it is strongly suspected that Gridley JF Bryant designed the town hall and the Union school. Bryant had been the architect of the brick additions and belfry on the courthouse, the”old brick” school house that stood on the ball field and- later- the brick jail, so he was familiar with Alfred and York County leaders [5].


5) Gridley James Fox Bryant (August 29, 1816 – June 8, 1899), often referred to as G.J.F. Bryant, was a Boston architect, builder, and industrial engineer. His designs "dominated the profession of architecture in [Boston] and New England”. He was known as one of the most influential architects in the history of New England, and designed custom houses, government buildings, churches, schoolhouses, and private residences across the United States, and was known as being popular among the Boston elite. Bryant worked on Bates College, Fryeburg Academy, Kennebec & Washington Co. jail Androscoggin and Aroostook County buildings and many Boston/ Massachusetts structures. Upon his death his wife assembled all of his books and drawing in his home study and burned down his house, at the request of his will. https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Gridley_J._F._Bryant

Through the spring and summer of 1862, the construction of the Town House and Union School took a back seat in the minds of Alfred citizens to the demands made on her citizens by the war. The demand for troops caused a national draft of soldiers and every town was given a quota of able bodied men to provide. Desperate to not force unwilling citizens to be sent to war, Alfred approved a local bound to be paid to recruits- initially $100- but as competition with other towns intensified, the bounty was raised to $300 by August [$20 to the soldier and $180 to the soldiers wife or parents]. The town borrowed heavily to pay these bounties and also raised money for the support of soldiers families while they fought.

On July 2, 1862 George finally proclaimed “...They are raising the town house.” The raising of the town hall was not without mishap. July 12, 1862 “...John Whitten fell yesterday from the staging around the Town House, hurt his ankle and head so that I understood he had to be carried home on a bed. Father was there at the time.” The Whitten family apparently had some bad juju with public buildings as John’s cousin Henry Whitten had been severely injured when the town hall burned. Feb. 9, 1862 George Came recorded ...”Henry Whitten got hurt at the burning of the Town House about 14 weeks ago and had has to keep his bed most of the time since. He is now able to set up a little. It is his leg and ancle that was hurt.


Henry would suffer from his leg injury the rest of his life and frequently worked as George Came’s hired man [6] - as did two of Henry Whitten’s sons, Isaiah and Charles. Charles would join the 8th Maine Regiment and fight in the malarial swamps of South Carolina and the vicious trench warfare of the Petersburg Campaign. Isaiah would join Chamberlain’s famous 20th Maine Regiment , survive Little Round Top at Gettysburg but die of infected wounds in a Long Island Hospital. Henry Whitten could not afford to have his son’s body shipped back to Maine so Ike is buried in New York.


6) Came Diary Aug. 10, 1863- "Grand hay day...Henry Whitten has also been helping us, he is very lame and cannot mow."

The town meeting of Sept. 8, 1862 was held in the newly rebuilt Town House [7]. The completion of the Town Hall construction was a big deal and Alfred put on the dog to celebrate. George Came wrote: Dec 23, 1862”...I attended the dedication ball at the new Town Hall last evening with Miss Hattie B. Shaw...there were about 20 couples. Supper at Berry’s Hotel. Tickets $2.50. Three pieces of music by Pike. Danced until about 3 o’clock. It is quite a pleasant evening, rather bad wheeling. Several were up from Saco.


7) Alfred Town Record Books #3, p. 128

The Town Hall was immediately put to use as a public space and hosted dancing classes for children and adults with live music, school orations, lectures and a wildly popular annual Christmas party- with bachelor diarist George Came as Santa. One of the more interesting events was a birthday party attended by Came, “this afternoon Sarah and I have been over to the Town Hall where the relatives of old Mr. Goodwin of this town celebrated the anniversary of his 100th birthday. They had a dinner, they met about 10 o’clock and had a dinner about 2. The old man sat at the head of the table and his nearest relatives next in order. They sat as many as five tables, seated about 40. The old man helped himself and ate hearty then went home. It has been a pleasant day, the sleighing is icy and good.” [Feb. 16, 1863] [8]


8) Amaziah Goodwin died June 22, 1863 age 100 years 4 mos 6 days- Rev war vet guarded Maj Andre. http://www.thenegoodwinproject.com/pdf-books/danielgoodwin-kittery.pdf p.84

While the town hall was being built, citizens took the opportunity to spruce up the center village. George Came’s diary reports- Nov 19, 1862 “Father is getting up a subscription to get a walk and a grate to the burying ground by the Town House.

Replacing the school house

According to the History of York County, the school house that burned in 1861 was the former residence of Daniel Lary, a tanner who had tan vats on the brook just beyond Kallis Garage [2018]. Lary was an early settler and his house was considered the first frame dwelling in Alfred. In 1783 Nathaniel Conant purchased Lary’s land and from that purchase purportedly donated a portion of the 60 acres for a Parish Lot where the church was built. Lary’s house was eventually moved to the Parish Lot and used as a school house after Lary removed to the Conway NH area by 1784 [9].


9) History of York County, Maine: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches ... By W. Woodford Clayton p. 262 Deed Ref Daniel Lary to Nathaniel Conant- YCRD 80/13, 3-26-1783, paid 60 pounds.

When the school house adjacent to the Town Hall burned in the fire, the responsibility and cost of replacing it fell upon the citizens who lived in the school district and not on the town per se. The school committee was responsible for planning and paying for the new school- borrowing money if necessary To spread the cost over more households- and maybe to run a little more efficiently- the Village school district #8 agreed to join with the district #1 in Alfred Mills and build a school house that would accommodate students from both areas of town [10]. Thus, the combined districts built a “union” school.


10) Alfred Town Records Book #3, p.111

Jan 28, 1862 Tuesday- “...I attended school meeting at the old “Brick” [brick school sat on Kennebunk Rd. where ball field is 2018]. Chose committee to “determine the location, amt. of tax to be raised etc. to report to an adjourned meeting held Feb 8. On motion of Lyman Littlefield that the name of the District be called Dist #1- Mr Webber moved to add Union...voted to call it Union District #1.” Came Diary

On Feb. 22, the school committee, “Voted to build a house not to exceed $2750 including lot, fencing, cellar, furnace and all, agreed to give Col. Jotham Allen $250 for one acre of land across the street from the Brick School House.” [site of the Alfred Fire barn]. The one acre parcel had 10 rods frontage on Kennebunk Rd and ran 16 rods deep and the school district was required to fence the yard securely. The school building was to be 40’X60’, two stories and the committee was to secure plans [the architect was never named in school Committee records]. The building was scheduled to be completed by Oct. 1, 1862. The surrounding fence dimensions were specified to have slats 4 1⁄2 long and tight enough that “a small child cannot get under”. The fencing cost $200.The school aspired to having a graded system with both a grammar school and a higher school demanded by Alfred’s “enlightened Public sentiment” for advanced education opportunities. The school committee was tasked with classifying and grading scholars based on abilities.

June 27, 1862 Friday “...They are raising the new school house and I believe have commenced the new town house.” Came Diary

When the committee factored in the cost of the land, cellar, well, fencing, finish work, furniture, seats for students, privy, furnace and grading the lot, the money approved was jumped to $3000 and an additional $1150- on a ten year note- was approved on Sept. 13, 1862.

Dec 6, 1862 “...The new school house is about completed and the “old brick” that stood this side of the road in the corner is taken down. Ivory Day was to have the proceeds of any useable materials salvaged from the Old Brick and the fire ravaged structure of the School District 8 that burned in the town hall fire as compensation for grading the new school lot. The Committee and Day were still haggling over the grading in March 1864. Meanwhile, I’m sure small children were crawling under the fence and running wild."

On Dec 29, 1862 the Union School committee met in the new school for the first time.

Jan 14, 1863 “...The school commenced at the new school house today, for the first time. John Moore is teacher of the higher and Miss Kidder is of the lower department.” Prominent Alfred residents,or former residents, rallied round the school to provide school amenities. Alvah Conant donated a school bell; Edwin Parsons $100 for school apparatus {?}; Daniel Lewis 2 clocks; Stillman B. Allen a large Bible for the grammer school; Edward Sands a large bible for the high School; Henry Farnum donated 2 unabridged dictionaries and David Hall kicked in a world globe.

Rebuild

Unfortunately, the Union school met a sad... but familiar...fate. On Sept. 30, 1904 the Union school and all the books it contained was burned to the ground. The fire began in the upper front of the building but was attributed to a malfunction in the furnace in the rear of basement. There was a lot of confusion about the fire’s origin and it should be recalled there were several suspicious fires in Alfred in the early 1900’s- including a disastrous fire at the Shakers [11]. The building was insured for $3500 and a meeting was called Oct 8 to discuss a rebuild of the school. Meanwhile, the 75 Alfred students attended classes in the town hall- which was struck by another mysterious fire on Oct. 4, 1904 that caused $600-$700 damage. Architectural plans for the Union School rebuild were received from architect FH Fasset [12] by mid November [13].

11) On August 2, 1901, the 1795 Dwelling House, one of the most perfect examples of Shaker architecture, was destroyed in a fire that began in a defective chimney. The fire spread to the Meeting House and Ministry's Shop across the road with similarly devastating results. Out of the ashes was built a new dwelling complete with its Edwardian adornments and fenestration. On June 23, 1913, it, too, burned to the ground. This time the culprit was a teen-aged girl who had recently been taken in by the community. The Third Dwelling House blended the contrasting architectural styles with its two predecessors. Although extensively remodeled, the Third Dwelling House still stands at Alfred. https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/6748 12) Francis H. Fassett 1823-1908 of Bath Me. He was indentured to Isaac D. Cole, a leading carpenter and builder, to learn the trade. He began drafting architecture in Boston in 1850, Fassett moved to Portland in 1863 age 40 emerged as the foremost Portland architect after the fire of 1866. His designs for the city include the original Maine General Hospital Building, Alms House, Second Parish Church, the parish house for the Cathedral of St. Luke, and the former city hall, which itself would burn in 1908 and be replaced by the present building. He also designed numerous residences, many in the fashionable West End. During the 1870s, Fassett was the leading architect in both the city and state. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_H._Fassett 13) Sanford Tribune p.5 Sept 30, 1904- [Fire @ Union School]; 10-4-1904, p8 Sanford Tribune-[ Fire @ Town house]; 11- 18-1904Sanford Trib p.2- [plans for new high school]

It was the Fassett rebuild of the Alfred Union school that we recall [2018]. That school was burned in the 1980’s by the fire department to make way for their fire barn.

NOTES

UNION SCHOOL TIMELINE

Feb. 27, 1862 Thursday- “...They had another school meeting today. .. They voted to raise $3000 to be paid in 1 to ten years. Sylvester Littlefield , James L. Emerson and myself were made a committee to affect the loan.”

June 27, 1862 Friday "...They are raising the new school house and I believe have commenced the new town house."

Aug. 24, 1862- “...This afternoon, I was down to the new school house with Bill Hen Conant. .."


Sept. 13, 1862 Saturday- “Had a school meeting today, chose a new finance committee- Wm G. Conant, Forest Eaton, and Silas Derby and voted to raise $1150 more to complete the school house I did not attend. I was over the corner this evening. Stimson and I had quite a dispute about school house matters.”

Dec 6, 1862 “...The new school house is about completed and the “old brick” that stood this side of the road in the corner is taken down."

Jan 14, 1863 “...The school commenced at the new school house today, for the first time. John Moore is teacher of the higher and Miss Kidder is of the lower department.”

Sanf Trib p.5 Sept 30, 1904- Union School- high school, grammar & intermediate- burn completely w/ books, insured $3500, 75 students in attendance, fire in furnace? But began upper front of building, no ladders, fire escape or apparatus, meeting Oct 8 on warrant to rebuild.

11-18-1904 Trib p.2- plans for new high school in hand by selectmen- architect Fassett of Portland assures good design, usefulness.

10-4-1904, p8 Tribune- Fire @ Town house where school being held, - no apparatus, chem assist requested from Sanf & Springvale canceled early, bad fire,$ 6-700 damage.

TOWN HALL TIMELINE

Sunday Nov. 3, 1861- Fire

Jan 28, 1862...Tomorrow is to be town meeting to see about building a townhouse to be held at the Academy.


Jan 29, 1862 Wed.- ...Forest Eaton, George H. Came, James O. McIntire, Paul Webber Jr., NR Brooks were chose a committee to estimate cost, dimensions etc. of both a brick and wooden also a one story and a two story townhouse and that they report on an adjourned meeting on Saturday Feb. 15th. [G. Came reporting meetings in town books.]

Jan 31, 1862 "Father [George H. Came] has gone over to the village to the Committee meeting on the Town House."

Feb 1, 1862 Saturday "...Father has been off to see what bricks can be obtained for, for the Town House."

Feb. 9, 1862 Sunday...”Henry Whitten got hurt at the burning of the Town House about 14 weeks ago and had has to keep his bed most of the time since. He is now able to set up a little. It is his leg and ancle that was hurt.

Feb. 15th Sat.- "Been to town meeting this afternoon. Voted to build a two story Town House not to exceed in cost $2400. Dr Hall & Usher, Alfred Gore folks and others were in favor of a one story one. Father headed the two story clique. Had to poll the house, about 100 to 60 was the vote.”

Feb 28, 1862 "...The Town House Committee met this afternoon at the bank."

March 24, 1862 Monday”...Father has been over to the Village this afternoon. The plan of the Town House has come, the Committee have been consulting in reference to it.

April 9 1862 “...The Littlefields [Theo & Hoeg] have taken the Town House to build for $2147, Stimson put in $2194.99, Raymond Whitehouse put in $2591. Some others put in, all in sealed proposals. They open the proposals. They open the proposals for stonework tonight.

June 27, 1862 Friday "...They are raising the new school house and I believe have commenced the new town house."

July 2, 1862 “...They are raising the town house.”

July 12, 1862 “...John Whitten fell yesterday from the staging around the Town House, hurt his ankle and head so that I understood he had to be carried home on a bed. Father was there at the time.”

Sept 28, 1862- "Was into Stimson’s new house...”; 12-12-62 Stimson painters from Portland;


Oct 2, 1862 "...The Town House is about finished and is a nice building.” Nov 19, 1862 “Father is getting up a subscription to get a walk and a grate to the burying ground by the Town House.”

Dec 23, 1862 ”...I attended the dedication ball at the new Town Hall last evening with Miss Hattie B. Shaw...there were about 20 couples. Supper at Berry’s Hotel. Tickets $2.50. Three pieces of music by Pike. Danced until about 3 o’clock. It is quite a pleasant evening, rather bad wheeling. Several were up from Saco.

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