Waterbury Burns – Today in History: February 2
High Winds Whipped Waterbury Fire
On the evening of February 2, 1902, and into the morning of February 3, nearly all of Waterbury’s downtown district was destroyed by one of the worst fires in the city’s recorded history. The fire started in the upholstery department on the third floor of the Reid & Hughes Dry Goods Company at 108-112 Bank Street around 6:30 p.m. and, because of extremely high winds, spread quickly from that building to many others in the downtown area.
According to an article in the New York Times dated February 3, 1902, “…The first building to catch from the Reid & Hughes store was a tall structure to the rear and westward, occupied by the Salvation Army Barracks and a Turkish bath. A moment or two later the flames leaped back to the eastward across Bank Street and wiped out the Ryan & Fitzmaurice Block, Cannon & Webster’s drugstore, Davis’s cigar store, and the store of J.B. Mullings and Sons. They burned rapidly through to South Main Street, and jumped across the street, shriveling the buildings like paper.” By the time the fire was extinguished, 42 buildings had been destroyed with damages estimated at more than $2 million.
Today, Waterbury’s downtown district is an eclectic mix of building styles from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although survivors from before the fire remain. The district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Main Street Waterbury, an organization that promotes the Main Street movement in downtown Waterbury, has walking tours of the area in brochure and MP3 form that you can download from their website, as well as promotional materials for the district.
Waterbury, also known as the Brass City, is Connecticut’s fifth largest city and has a rich, vibrant history.