The First "Big One" Sunday, January 13, 1918 Hamden Plains Methodist Church Dixwell Avenue and Church Street
From 1898 Booklet
In late 1984, The Hamden Chronicle ran a story about some of Hamden's great fires. At the end of the article, Editor Steve McCarthy inserted a paragraph asking readers with photos, news articles or related memorabilia about old Hamden fires to contact the training division at fire headquarters.
A few days later a letter was received from Lester Hintz, a lifelong parishioner at the Hamden Plains Methodist Church. Mr. Hintz's letter included a handwritten account (printed below) of Hamden's first notable fire of the 20th century, written many years earlier by an eyewitness whose identity is not given.
The photos on this page, courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society, were scanned from the 1920 dedication program for the new church, which still stands today at Dixwell Avenue and Church Street. They are the oldest known photos of a Hamden fire.
January 13, 1918
From a Handwritten Account by an Unidentified Eyewitness:
On January 13, 1918 the church building caught fire. It started in the library from a defective chimney where the mortar had crumbled away.
In those days church services were from 10:30 to 12 noon and Sunday School from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. The fire started at about 1:30 p.m. The sexton, John Maute, lived on Beacon Street. He saw the smoke and rushed back to the church and rang the bell to give an alarm.
He was a veteran of the Civil War, and being true to the tradition of a soldier, rushed into the Sunday School room and rescued a silk American flag which was a gift from the Ladies Aid Society to the Sunday School. The flames soon got up into a blind attic underneath a tin roof. A strong southwest wind pushed the fire from the rear of the church across to the front of Dixwell Avenue.
Three volunteer fire companies from Hamden and one paid company from New Haven fought the fire and kept it from completely destroying the building. While the firemen were trying to get at the fire in the upper part of the church, people were taking out hymnals, library books, chairs and everything that was movable.
The pulpit had a gaslight on it, and the gas pipe went through the pulpit, so it could not be carried out. The wind that day was averaging between 19 and 22 miles per hour, with gusts up to 30. The temperature was 13 degrees above zero. These readings were all taken at the Weather Bureau in New Haven at the post office. Out here in Hamden the temperature is about 5 degrees lower than in New Haven and the wind velocity is higher.
Fortunately, there were no injuries to firemen, but some were overcome with smoke. Some of them had on ordinary overcoats which soon got wet and then froze. They were so stiff they had to be pulled off while the firemen struggled to get out. It was nearly dark when the firemen began to pick up their equipment and leave.
After the fire, the Humphrey Volunteer Fire Association offered the use of its meeting room for church services, as did the Whitneyville Congregational Church.
According to the 1920 dedication program of the new church, "When it was discovered, in the early afternoon, the fire had gained fearful headway; and, upon arrival, the Humphrey, Whitneyville, and Highwood volunteer fire companies, reinforced by an engine from the New Haven Fire Department, a fight with this relentless foe and modern fire apparatus began in earnest, until nearly dark."
Whitneyville would have responded with motorized apparatus. The engine company from New Haven was most likely Engine 6 out of Dixwell Avenue. New Haven still had some horse drawn apparatus in 1918, but Engine 6 was motorized.
The Hamden Plains Methodist Church fire was probably the driving force behind the purchases of two 1918 Stewart chemical trucks for the Highwood and Mt. Carmel fire companies, and a 1919 Seagrave 750 GPM pumper, affectionately dubbed "Big Bertha," for Humphrey.