by Doug Welch,
Town of Manchester Fire Department Historian and Retired Firefighter

The first major fire in South Manchester to which Company No. 4's auto pumping engine responded was a fire in the Highland Park mill of the Case Brothers' Paper Company. A fire was discovered in the largest of the buildings at about 8:00 PM on March 13, 1915. There had been two previous fires at the mill. The first fire was in the early 1860's which destroyed the small wooden mill shortly after it began operation. This mill was replaced by a larger wooden one which was destroyed by fire around 1890. The third mill began as a one-story brick structure which was added to many times creating the rambling complex of buildings involved in the 1915 fire. The latest addition even had a sprinkler system installed, although the water main feeding the system was only two inches in diameter and not of much use.

Although the mill complex was beyond the boundaries of the South Manchester Fire District, a call was placed to Hose and Ladder Co. No. 1 for assistance. A call to Company No. 3 was placed shortly after and both companies started for the fire. By the time the hose wagon of Company No. 1 arrived it was evident the building was doomed. Company No. 4 had the only pumping engine in the Fire District at the time and members of the company, observing the smoke, had begun to gather at the fire station waiting for a call for assistance, but the fire had put the phone system in the area of the mill out of commission following the call to Company No. 3. Company 4's pump finally started for the fire without being called. On their way to the fire, they encountered the auto hose wagon of Company No. 3 which had broken down on the Highland Street hill. They stopped and loaded all the hose from the disabled truck onto the rear of their pumper before proceeding to the fire.

By the time Company No. 4 reached the mill, the fire was at its peak. It had broken through the roof and spread into other buildings where tons of paper was stored. Company No. 4 brought their pumper to a nearby pond and drafted enough water to supply three hose lines. These lines were in operation for about two hours when the hose line of Company No. 2 burned through, allowing the water to escape. The pump was shut down while the remaining hose lines were repositioned and then fed those two lines until after midnight.

By 10:30 PM, the roofs and walls of the buildings had collapsed. The finishing mill, the shipping mill and the office were all lost and efforts were directed towards saving the adjacent wet mill. By 11 o'clock it was evident the wet mill would be saved, but the rest was lost. The firemen worked into the following day putting out small fires. Seven men worked through the night at the fire and received five dollars compensation each from Company No. 4. They were General Foreman William H. Burke, William Boyle, John Crawford, Thomas Blevins, P. E. McVey, Arthur Gardiner and William Taylor.

The loss to the Case's was approximately $200,000, but the new fire pump of Company No. 4 proved its worth beyond question. Case Brothers sent a $500 check to the South Manchester Fire Department for their work at the fire.

February, 2015