Major Town Fires and Fatalities Since 1840


    1840 - The bobbin factory at the first falls of the Piscassic.   After the fires the business was rebuilt under Mr. LaFayette Hall and became the successful nut & bolt factory.  This building housed a forge and was destroyed three more times by fire in 1876, 1877, and in 1885.  After the last fire, Mr. Hall retired.  The building site reverted to the Town and is occupied by the present Water Treatment and Pump Station.

    1857 – Burning of Mill 2 in the mill yard of the NMCo.

    Great Village Fire of 1866

    Nellie Palmer George was 16 years old at the time of the fire, but she witnessed it and wrote the details in “The Big Fire” in her book Old Newmarket.    Much of her description is here.

    About 10 a.m. on the 6th day of February, 1866, town bells signaled a fire. It turned out to be a disastrous fire destroying a major part of the village. The fire was first discovered in a barn belonging to Lucy Maria Watson, near the Boston and Maine Railroad depot. This barn was surrounded by houses and other outbuildings in close proximity. Although the day was mild with no wind, the fire soon spread by burning wooden shingles tossed by the force of the fire itself, and the spread raged with considerable fury.

    Six dwelling-houses, two barns, a large paint-shop and wood-house, with other out-buildings, were burned here. The fire and cinders were blown to near the center of the village on Water Street, where four stores, containing several tailor-shops and tenements, were destroyed.  After it was determined that the fire had jumped and threatened the whole village, a telegram was sent out for help to Dover, Exeter and Portsmouth. Within 20 minutes a fire company from Dover with a steamer was here from that city, a distance of nine miles.  This town had only two hand engines, and without this quick assistance from Dover a large part of the village would have been completely destroyed. 

    By the end of the fire every building from Tasker Lane to Depot Square and from Water Street to the Brick Creighton Block had been levelled.  The two engines the Tiger No.1 and the Granite had labored all through the night and the crews were exhausted.  Townspeople – men, women, and children formed long lines and continually passed buckets of water to keep the hand-tubs full.

    Darkness came early hastened by the smoke; the only light was from the flares of flames.  The village was crowded with villagers and strangers, most there to help, but some to watch; and some were drunk.  A woman pursued by her drunken husband wielding an axe was protected by the crowd, and the man was forcibly detained until he sobered up.

    When the fire was over, down on the Chapman Wharf jutting over the Lamprey was an empty barrel of rum with the head removed and a tin cup hanging from the rim. This had been accessible to all during the fire.  All night the ashes of the burned-out building set up flares. The streets were patrolled by policemen and watchful citizens.  The origin of the fire was never known.

    1880FATALITY.  Four-year old son of James Woods on Durhamside, burned to death when pajamas caught fire.

    1894 - An oil lamp overturned in an upstairs tenement set the fire, and material stored in Mr. Durgin’s store then exploded. The Block was completely destroyed & then rebuilt, although James W. Caswell retired, and did not rebuild his store.

    1899- Feb 13, Great Blizzard and Tenement Fire on South Street

    * 1899 – On March 26, an unknown ARSONIST struck the large stable in the rear of the Montreal House (AKA Hotel Willey).  This was occupied as a livery stable by John Clements. The hose pung from Kent Stables arrived and laid two lines of hose from the hydrant east of the Town Hall, followed by Tiger Hose laying a third line. The Granite Hose laid 2 lines on Central Street, one to the house of Joseph Dorr, the other to the house of Annie Ryan, both of which had taken fire from the stable and were burning furiously.  In all, six lines of hose were working, there was a high wind and a great cloud of smoke and sparks were showering over the Hotel and down on the surrounding buildings.  The stable and the carriage house (a range of about 150 ft) were destroyed and Mr. Clements had no insurance.  The surrounding property was saved and the damage to Mr. Dorr’s and Miss Ryan’s houses was in all less than $200.

    Investigation confirmed that the fire was of suspicious origin.  Mr. Clements had closed and locked all doors to the stable at 8 p.m., and the incendiaries gained entrance by breaking a window in the rear side after they had as they supposed “killed” the whole fire alarm system by cutting out the two alarm wires where they entered Dearborn’s drug store to connect with the batteries, but they made a mistake.  There were two telephone wires which entered the drug store just over the fire alarm wires, and they cut, pulled out and twisted the telephone wires, killing the telephone, but leaving the fire alarm system intact, so Box #21 came in all right.  But it was the 1000 feet of reserve hose already loaded on the hose pung that enabled the department to handle the fire successfully.  A 15-minute delay of that reserve hose would have resulted in the destruction of thousands of dollars’ worth of property.  The hook and ladder company rendered invaluable assistance to the hose companies.  

    1899—On Nov. 16, a blaze at the old Durgin Block on Main Street was quickly brought under control in 20 minutes with six stream of water.   The fire started in the rear of the building, which also housed the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) and the Knights of Pythias upstairs.

    1901—a July fire at Filion’s Store was an impetus to install the steel tower and 2,000 pound bell on Zion’s hill (completed in 1902).  Only half the Department had heard the fire alarm rung by the bells in the steeple of the Congregational church.

    1904 – House at the Town Farm, occupied by William Carpenter was totally destroyed.

    1917 – Fire in Mill# 1. Total damages $5,610.

    1922 – Jan 1 – FATALITY.  A one-room cottage on Pine Street owned by Charles Stilson was destroyed; Mr, Stilson burned to death.

    1925 – June 4 – FATALITY. A barn owned by George O. Wood was completely destroyed, Mr. Lyman Quimby, an elderly blind workman burned to death in the barn.

    1930 – Aug 19 – FATALITY. Barn owned by Walter Ham on Bay Road (New Road today) was destroyed; Mr. Ham burned to death.

    1938 – May 19 – FATALITY – William Morrisette, a 45-year-old WW I veteran died in a bungalow fire.

    1943 – March 30 – FATALITY – Four children perish in fire at Channing and Mary Sewell’s on Ash Swamp Road. House, barn and animals were all destroyed.  The parents and two older children escaped.    They moved into the 2nd floor farmhouse of Leroy Batchelder on Ash Swamp Road.  Then six months later, in October the Batchelder barn and top floor of the farmhouse was destroyed in another devasting fire.   The Sewall family lost everything yet again, but luckily no one was home at the time of blaze.

    1948—An early morning gas explosion in the kitchen of Ruthie Lee Restaurant on Main Street. The cook had come in to prepare for the day, and was seriously injured.  The building was completely destroyed, leaving and 40 people homeless as they fled into street in nightclothes.

    1949 - New Year’s Eve at the VFW (the old Baptist Church) on Church Street.  The hill was covered in ice, and firefighters slid down the hill on their rear ends to hook up to hydrants.   

    1968 – Sept 14, the Creighton Block, built in 1828 was a 4-story brick landmark; it was completely destroyed. Suddenly without a home were:

    • Sobey’s Restaurant,
    • American Legion,
    • Redmen’s Club,
    • (Old Grange Hall)
    • Chantre apartment.
    • Rosina’s Beauty Shop.

    1968 — Dec. 16 – FATALITY  —Ralph Silver, WW II veteran died of smoke inhalation in a fire at the Hotel Willey on Main St.  Thirty people were displaced by the fire.

    1969 – February – Fourth arson fire in the downtown area.

    1970 – May 10 – Fifty firefighters battled a 5-alarm fire in the Marelli building on Main Street, completely destroying two businesses in the 2 ½  hour blaze.

    Richard McGoon, a tenant on the second floor, was found unconscious in his smoke-filled apartment and carried out by Mike Malasky, David Duquette, and Richard Butler. He was given oxygen on scene and transported to Exeter Hospital. Several firefighters received minor injuries in the fire.

    1978 - Old Rodrigues Barn totally destroyed in explosive fire on South Main Street, No loss of of life and area homes were saved.  Photo of the Barn fully engulfed.-

    1979 – May 19 FATALITY – Henry H. “Shorty” Smas died in a fire in his home on Dame Road.


    1987 -Sept 19 – Newmarket Town Hall was destroyed by fire.