S.B. Dibble arrived in North Adams in 1871 when he accepted a position with E.J. Cary, a lumber dealer based in this city. Three years later in 1874, Mr. Dibble purchased half interest in this business and within one year became its sole proprietor, establishing his business near the old train depot. In 1885, the original property was put up for sale. The S.B. Dibble Lumber Company moved its investment to State Street, about where the Goodwill parking lot is now.
In 1899 the lumber company was incorporated. Unfortunately, shortly after that Mr. Dibble passed away. W.B. Parmelee, who became a partner of Mr. Dibble in 1895, took over the operations. In 1901 the company purchased the Bartlett Lumber property. The plant now occupied about 6 square lots with one mill, two drying sheds, an office building, kilns and various other storage buildings. Over the years an average of 50 people were employed at any one time.
S.B. Dibble was originally from Bergen, NY. He married Frances M. Wells on September 27, 1864 and together they had one daughter, Edith Adele, a graduate of Rye Seminary. She married Harry A. Gallup of North Adams. In 1927, Mr. and Mrs. Dibbles’ grandson Rufus Wells Dibble became president of the company. In 1948, Robert T. Arnold took over the reins of the corporation.
Business continued to be brisk into the early 1950’s when tragedy stuck. On November 10, 1953 one of the worst fires in North Adams leveled all six buildings of the S.B. Dibble Lumber Company. Robert T. Arnold estimated the damage to be around $100,000. Another $50,000 damage impacted the homes in the immediate area.
The cause of the fire was unknown. Fire Chief Arthur A. Girard didn’t think the rubbish fire, that had occurred four days previous, had anything to do with this major event. He sounded a double alarm as soon as he arrived on the scene and he called Adams to ask for assistance form the Alert Hose Company. Chief Arthur Hathaway responded with 45 firemen and a pumper truck.
The fire department was hampered severely by a lack of sufficient hose. Engine 1 from Union Street was sent to Greylock to pump water from the city’s temporary well into the water mains. It was more than 45 minutes before he could recall that truck to the scene. In addition, the fire department had lent 2,000 feet of hose to the Sprague Electric Company to supply the Brown Street plant with water from the Marshall Street well.
When the blaze was brought under control about 8 o’clock, the storage shed at the extreme north of the lumber property was leveled along with the show room, the office building, the former mill shop and two other smaller storage sheds.
In addition, the home of Rudolph Magnani at 160 State Street, adjacent to the lumber company was gutted. Mr. Magnani, his wife and his eight-year-old daughter Jean, were all in bed when the fire was discovered. All escaped uninjured. Across the street, the block at 165 State Street, owned by Miss Carrie Betti, who operates a store on the ground floor and lived on the second floor, ignited several times, but the fire-fighters managed to keep it from breaking into flames. Several other buildings in the area received damage when the asphalt siding on them began to melt as well as many broken windows due to the extreme heat.
A full day’s water supply, 2,500,000 gallons, was poured onto the fire by the vigilant firemen. During the fall of 1953, North Adams was in a drought situation. City Manager Robert H. Harp said, “This fire has been a terrific blow in our water crisis…this means that greater care than ever must be exercised in the use of water.”
Chief Girard praised the work of the North Adams Fire Department and gratefully thanked Alert Hose members for quelling the fire before it could do even more damage.
Adapted from a story for the North Adams Historical Society.