, Derry, New Hampshire


October 25, 2012

Column: On a bitterly cold night, fire took Derry’s Adams Building

One of the most attractive buildings in Derry is Broadway’s stately Adams Memorial Building. It was build in 1904 with funds from a $10,000 bequest from lumber mill owner Benjamin Adams. The building-designed by architect George Adams (no relation) is intended to impress and was the visible symbol of the town’s growing industrial prosperity. Derry, in 1904, was a town on the make. It deserved a proper town hall and opera house.

Originally, its first floor held all the town offices, the court room, and the library. The basement was home to the Police Department and the town’s jail. It also had a school room to help relieve the overcrowding in the West Derry schools. The top floor was the opera house which became the site of many plays, musicals, political rallies as well as the annual town meeting.

The month of January 1914 was bitterly cold. Schools and factories had to be closed because their furnaces proved unequal to the task. Many home owners awoke in the morning to find their water pipes were frozen because on several occasions the nighttime temperatures fell to a reported 40 degrees below zero.

About 11 o’clock on the night of Jan. 13, 1914, a couple of young men were walking on Broadway when suddenly they heard a loud explosion coming from the Adams Building. They were hit by a shower of flying glass as the building’s windows exploded and immediately flames burst from the building. Within seconds the alarm was sounded and the Fire Department, which was just across the street, rushed to the site.

Soon streams of water were being shot at the burning building from the hand-pumped fire engine. Water splashing from the hoses quickly froze on the clothes, hands and faces of the firemen. Quickly the fire chief realized that there was no saving the building. All his men could hope to do was confine the fire to with in the building’s four walls. A call was soon made to Manchester’s fire department for help. Within a couple hours they had sent, via the B&M railroad, two steam fire engines and a team of burly firemen.

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