This second update of 2016 focuses on this week 75 years ago, when two massive blazes destroyed two area school buildings, and a third fire seriously damaged another - all within five days.
The day after a two-alarm fire forced 250 grammar school kids from New Haven's Hamilton Street School, the Hamden Fire Department and several other surrounding departments responded mutual aid to Cheshire, when it became apparent that a fire in Cheshire Academy's Horton Hall was well beyond the capabilities of any one fire department.
Three days later, Hamden firefighters had their own hands full when the Old Peck School on Hillfield Road lit up the night sky in West Woods.
What apparatus were in Hamden's firefighting arsenal that week? We have the answer.
75 Years Ago
A Tough Week for Three Area School Buildings
Wednesday, January 8, 1941
Hamden Responds to Massive Cheshire Academy Fire
The New Haven Evening Register, Thursday, January 9, 1941
When the fire was reported about 9 PM, firefighters thought they would be able to handle the volume of fire. But shortly after Cheshire firefighters arrived on the scene strong winds began pushing the fire through the building, resulting in the need for additional fire companies from out of town.
When mutual aid was requested by Cheshire Fire Chief Richard Williams, Hamden sent Engine 5 from Mt. Carmel, the 1930 Maxim 600 GPM, and the 1938 Diamond-T Emergency Squad out of Headquarters in Centerville. Apparatus also responded from the neighboring departments of Meriden, Waterbury and Wallingford. Southington sent additional firefighters.
In a vain attempt to bolster minimal water supply, fire officials ordered shutting off water service to private homes.
Valuable paintings being displayed in the fire building were saved through the efforts of firefighters and other town residents. Sadly, many other irreplacable items were destroyed, including school records dating back to 1796 and a collection of valuable antiques on loan from a private party. The building was eventually razed.
The New Haven Evening Register, Thursday, January 9, 1941 (From the collection of the late G. Donald Steele)
4 Days Later
Sunday, January 12, 1941
Midnight Fire Guts the "Old Peck School" on Hillfield Road
(Photo courtesy of Local 2687)
The Hillfield School, referred to by locals as the "Old Peck School," was a private girls' school that opened in 1916, when Miss Florence Peck moved the school from its original location in Wallingford. The building was located atop a hill on the left hand side of Hillfield Road, where Hillfield makes a hard right and Johnson Road goes straight ahead.
On Sunday morning, January 12, 1941, a fire of suspicious origin was discovered shortly after midnight, destroying the building which had been vacant for several years. This was fifteen years before the Westwoods Volunteer Fire Co. was organized, so the nearest fire companies were Companies 5 and 7.
Miss Alice Peck, sister of Florence, also taught at the school. She would later teach at the town's last one-room schoolhouse on the corner of Johnson and Still Hill. That school closed in June 1954 and would later serve as quarters for the Westwoods fire company. In September 1954, a new elementary school was erected on the north side of Hillfield at the corner of Shepard Avenue and was named for Miss Alice Peck.
Originally posted 3/23/12
The headline below should have read "Spectacular Fire Levels School in West Woods." This building was not the Mt. Carmel School, which was located on Woodruff Street - and demolished in 1981.
New Haven Journal-Courier, Monday, January 13, 1941 (Steele Collection)
New Haven Evening Register, Sunday, January 12, 1941 (Steele Collection)
The "Old Peck School," which stood atop the hill near the corner of Hillfield and Johnson Roads (Photo courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society)
CLICK to enlarge
The 1934 aerial photo at left, from the State of Connecticut digital collection, shows the Old Peck School in context with Hillfield and Johnson Roads, seven years before it burned down and long before the building boom of the 1950s. The MapQuest photo at right shows the approximate spot today where the Old Peck School stood. Ironically, it is not a Hillfield Road address, but #100 Johnson Road.
And it all started in New Haven on
Tuesday, January 7, 1941
155 Hamilton Street - Hamilton St. School
New Haven Evening Register, Tuesday, January 7, 1941 (Steele Collection)
Six engine companies and three truck companies responded on the two alarms. Effective fire alarm drills ensured that all kids would get out in an orderly and safely manner. Damages to the building amounted to $15,000 in 1941 dollars. The truck in the news photo is red. This was two years before NHFD began painting its apparatus white.
The Hamilton Street School building at #155 was razed more than fifty years ago. It stood north of the New Haven Clock Company building at 133 Hamilton Street, which still stands today. The school was situated on the east side of the street, between the Blue Derby Restaurant at #143 and Vito's Restaurant (no kidding!) at #157.