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Great Weirs Fire of 1924 Article

 

GREAT FIRE DEVASTATION SATURDAY NIGHT

Hotel Weirs, Methodist Church, One Veterans’ Building, Speakers’ Stand and Other Structures Wiped Out

Printed in the News and Critic, November 12, 1924

 

All who knew and love Lake Winnipesaukee and the Weirs will be saddened by the terrible disaster which befell it.

The business section and amusement center of the summer resort, representing $350,000 worth of property, were wiped out by a gale-driven fire which raged for six hours before a desperate fight by Laconia firemen under Chief Engineer Arthur W. Spring, brought the flames under control about 5 o’clock Sunday morning.

13 buildings, including the new Hotel Weirs, the Methodist church, two popular summer-time dance halls, the post office and nearly every business block and store are in ruins.

The fire was discovered by Art Brock about 11:30 o’clock Saturday night. He saw flames shooting high in air from the music hall and ran to the fire station to sound the alarm on the hand bell.

But by the time the Fire company of 20 volunteers had gathered at the scene the flames were beyond all control. Fanned by a stiff northwest gale, the fire roared through the music hall on Tower street, while fire waves leaped from the burning structure and went crackling down the street in both directions.

On one side, the casino, owned by Bernice Rines of Laconia, and a two-story building housing a grocery store, restaurant and lodging house, were soon blazing and on the other several frame buildings on what is known as Busy Corner, housing grocery and candy stores, the post office, gift shops and amusement places were enveloped.

Meanwhile a telephone call for help had been sent to Laconia and Chief Engineer Spring and his men responded with two combination engines, the central station crew making a breakneck run of five miles in less than eight minutes. The Elm Street station engine made the run from Lakeport in almost the same time.

Chief Spring took charge on his arrival and is being given credit for saving this town from complete destruction. Under his direction, firefighters from Meredith, the Weirs, Laconia and Lakeport surrounded the blazing area and with water sent up from the lake by the two Laconia pumpers laid down an encircling barrage.

Despite heroic attempts to save it, the four-story Hotel Weirs caught fire and was soon blazing along its entire 250-foot front. The laundry and garage in the rear were also licked up. The hotel has been closed since Labor Day, but none of its contents had been moved to winter storage quarters.

The headquarters building of the New Hampshire Veterans’ Association caught next and a few moments later another fire wave sent the flames leaping into the 3d regiment building. Frank M. Shackford, secretary of the association, headed a group of firemen and volunteers which saved the headquarters building and the priceless records and war relics of the association stored there.

The auditorium in Veterans’ Grove and many of the huge trees there were consumed. The Methodist church, near the Music hall where the fire started, was among the first of the bigger buildings to go.

Light and telephone service failed in some spots as poles were burned through and crashed into the streets. Embers were carried nearly a mile by the stiff wind and scores of roof fires were started. Owners and spectators quenched these smaller fires.

Soon after midnight the first of a crowd of spectators, estimated at 20,000 began to arrive. They brought word that the glare could be seen for miles and that residents in every direction were fearful that a gigantic forest fire was sweeping down on the whole region.

Harry Allard and Capt. Leander Lavalley spent most of the night on the roof of the Boston & Maine railroad station extinguishing fires. The northbound Montreal express, due at the Weirs at midnight, was stalled for two hours behind hose lines on the tracks.

The steamer Mt. Washington which was tied up at her pier at the Weirs was safe through preventing the railroad station from getting on fire.

With the ruins still smoldering, the business men of the resort are already planning to rebuild on a “bigger and better” amusement center line.

The loss caused by the fire is estimated as follows: New Hotel Weirs, owned by Frank H. Green of Boston and leased by Lancaster & Lane of $200,000, partly covered by insurance. Methodist church, loss $8,000, partly covered. Weirs summer ballroom, owned by James R. Irwin of Laconia, loss on building and contents, $18,000, partly covered. Casino, owned by Mrs. Bernice Rines of Laconia, loss $7,000. Building occupied by the Busy Corner, Kenyon lunch, post office and Masseck store, owned by Mrs. Rines, loss on building, $15,000, partly covered. Kenyon lunch, loss $2,000. C.J. Avery, owner of Busy Corner, loss on goods and fixtures, $2,500. Mrs. Clifton Massek, owner of art store, loss $3,000. The 3d regiment building, loss $3,000, partly covered. Auditorium in Veterans’ Grove, together with Civil war cannon stored in basement, $2,500, covered.

Other structures destroyed included the city of Laconia storage building, a small frame building owned by P.A. Green; Weirs Hall Association building and Grange hall, the bandstand and two combination barbershop and poolroom one-story buildings.

The 561, 571, 645, and 662 lines were cut off from service but were spliced and made ready to carry temporary service at 5 o’clock Sunday morning. Lineman Walter Varrell was stationed at the Weirs in reach of the Laconia central office to convey messages in case of emergencies. He also was employed in the capacity of reporter to one of the Boston papers who called the only man accessible for information. The other Weirs lines, 831, 829 and 846, as well as pay station lines were doing traffic duty during the fire.

A large crowd was slow in gathering at the fire due to the fact that the alarm in Laconia was given as an engineer’s call. Several who were one half hour or so tardy in ascertaining where the fire was received a shock when told that the Weirs, the Coney Island of New Hampshire, as described to the press by reporter Sam Hayward of Meredith, was afire.

The telephone office force, under the jurisdiction of Manager Turner, rendered excellent service in notifying property owners and insurance company managers and owners.