, Derry, New Hampshire


October 25, 2012

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


The winter wind was constantly blowing cascades of sparks from the Adams Building which were threatening to ignite nearby homes, stores and the sprawling Pillsbury Shoe factory. The “nearly frozen” fire fighting teams risked their lives to extinguish these glowing embers before they could do any damage. It was well into morning before all the flames were extinguished and the firemen could go home and warm-up. In the daylight, the Adams Building looked like a surrealistic ice sculpture with frozen water completely encasing the four sides of the building. The cause of the fire was never determined.

The greatest damaged was to the basement and the opera house on the top floor. These two areas were pretty much guttered and nothing could be saved except for the brick outer walls. The middle floor was spared from the flames but did experience considerable smoke damage. The town’s records had been saved because they were in a brick vault in the basement which was covered with a thick coating of ice. The $13,750 damage to the building was totally covered by insurance.

The town offices, library and Police Department were quickly moved to the newly built Knights of Pythias Hall at 45 East Broadway. By Jan. 31, the library was up and running. The thousand books that had been brought to the Knights of Pythias Hall had to be dried out or repaired before they could be shelved; several hundred other books however were too badly damaged and reluctantly had to be trashed.

A special town meeting was held on Feb. 7 that voted to rebuild the Adams Building. Work went amazingly fast and the building was re-opened less than seven months after the fire. A few changes were made to the building. The original drive through carriage port was made into a room. The opera house’s auditorium was enlarged, with a higher ceiling, better lighting and could now seat 800. A new theater curtain painted with a pastoral scene by local artist James Duffy was hung from the top of the opera house’s stage. It replaced the fire-damaged original curtain by Charlie Bodwell that featured a wedding scene with a shockingly buxom bride.

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