…that the fire, which swept through Waterbury on a stormy February evening in 1902, would become the worst in its recorded history up to that point.
A February 3, 1902, article in The New York Times reported that the fire began at Reid & Hughes dry goods store on the west side of Bank Street. Despite the cold and wet, the building was quickly engulfed in flames, and soon adjoining buildings ignited.
Eyewitness Charles Somers Miller noted in his journal:
Then a general alarm calling out the entire fire department of the city was sounded but it was to no purpose. The flames spread …, sweeping all before them to South Main street, which it crossed …. They also spread to the Franklin Hotel and burned the long row of blocks along Grand Street to Levenworth street. Chief engineer Snagg and Mayor Kilduff, seeing that the center of the City was likely to be burned out, called on Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Torrington, Naugatuck, and Watertown for help, and they all responded by sending hose pipe and steamers, so at one time we had seven steamers at work. By midnight the fire seemed to be under control and I came home. At 2 a.m. I looked and could see no signs of fire but at 5 the heavens were all aglow, and the wind still blowing.
Perhaps because the fire occurred in the evening, no injuries or fatalities were reported, but property damage to the city’s central business district was estimated by The New York Times to be at least $2 million (about $45 million today). Miller recorded that throngs of visitors came from across the state in the days following the fire to view the ruins.
Contributed by Emma Demar, a Connecticut Explored intern and Trinity College student in 2011, and Elizabeth Normen, the magazine’s publisher.
© Connecticut Explored. All rights reserved. This passage originally appeared as part of the article “What a Disaster!” in Connecticut Explored (formerly Hog River Journal) Vol. 9/ No. 4, Fall 2011.