The Methodist Church Fire

1927 was not a particularly good year for North Adams. Rather, it was one of disaster -- first by fire and then by flood. 

At 3:15 in the morning of February 14th, a Monday, William Gomeau, driving a Yellow Cab in downtown North Adams spotted flames in the northeast corner of the Methodist church on North Church Street.  Gomeau alerted Patrolman Thomas F. Meikeljohn who was at the corner of Main and Eagle ringing in his station. Meikeljohn immediately sounded the first alarm from Box 7 located on the same pole as the police box. 

The first-arriving fire personnel sized up the situation as one of disaster proportions and they ordered a general alarm to summon all off-duty firefighters and call men to the scene.  The flames were already through the roof. 

As the second alarm was sounding, the whistle at the Arnold Print Works became stuck and a continuous blast was emitted for three minutes awakening nearly every adult person in the city as well as most dogs and sleeping children. The telephone exchange on Bank Street was overwhelmed with incoming calls from townspeople who could see the towering flames but who were unable to pinpoint the location. Many off-duty operators reported for work to meet this emergency. 

As the relentless flames made rapid passage through the edifice, city officials, realizing that available water would be a problem, ordered valves opened into the high-pressure system from the Mt. Williams reservoir.  This water source had been shut down from the previous week in order to locate the reason for the unpleasant tasting drinking water. 

Fire fighters directed nine streams of water into the doomed church with little effect and they wet down adjoining properties as flames erupted from every window and door fed by the paint and varnished interior. Sparks and embers flew through the night air from the fire storm created by the roof’s collapse. Burning brands reached as far west as Marshall Street and buildings in the downtown area were kept from being set ablaze by heavy snow on the roofs from a storm a few days earlier. 

At about 4:15 a.m. the flames extended into the 163-foot steeple which shed its slates and became a flaming torch. As its framework burned away, the steeple fell full length across North Church Street into a yard behind the First Baptist Church. 

The fire was declared under control as dawn broke. Most of the crowd of spectators, with not much more to see, drifted away. The wet and exhausted fire-fighters were fed breakfast by local restaurants who brought food and drink to the scene. 

It is interesting to note that tons of coal stored in bunkers in the church basement glowed red-hot despite the tons of water played upon it. At 10 a.m., although hot spots continued to flare up throughout the day, fire-fighters prepared to leave the fire scene. 

At the height of the blaze, water was sprayed upon the adjoining parsonage and the Pringle Funeral Home on East Main Street.  Both buildings were scorched, blistered, and had cracked windows but otherwise remained unscathed. 

The rector of the ill-fated church, the Reverend Sherman Rouse, met with his parishioners the next day to plan the rebuilding and it was at that meeting that the suggestion was made, and later carried out, to move the parsonage to the site of the burned church and rebuild a smaller church on the corner of East Main and North Church streets -- the site of the parsonage.  It was at this meeting that the loss from the fire was estimated to be $1,000,000 with insurance of $60,000.  

And so it is, as it appears today, as we enter a new century; the church on the corner and the parsonage, now the Auge San Soucie Simmons Funeral Home next to it. 

The fire-ravaged church was one of the largest -- if not the largest church in Berkshire County and its 163-foot steeple was the highest. The organ, a church memorial was valued at $25,000 and the beautiful stained-glass windows were also memorials. 

Adapted from a story for the North Adams Historical Society.