The Village of Kinderhook's Volunteer Fire Department

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Notable Fires

Of the notable fires the first was that of December 14, 1867, when the Reformed Dutch church built in 1814 was burned. The day (Saturday) was bitterly cold. At eleven o'clock there was a funeral service in the church for Silas Metcalfe, for many years an honored Principal of the Academy and prominent in the social and church life of the village. Through over-heating possibly, or because of an unknown defective flue, fire started beneath the floor and was well under way before noticed at about one o'clock. Within two hours little was left except the bare walls. The pulpit Bible, communion table, sofa, chairs, strips of carpet, and a few hymn books were saved, but beyond these nothing. An oaken chest behind the organ, filled with old letters and other valuable papers, might have been carried out, but in the excitement was forgotten, for which we have not ceased to reproach ourselves. The bell was largely melted before its remnants fell. What of the molten metal could be gathered up was recast into small table bells which were sold for one dollar each at the remarkably successful fair, July 4, 1868.


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The much greater fire of May 9, 1880, originated in a saloon kept by John Tracey, where, for some never explained reason, a light was left burning after closing of the saloon near midnight. Soon thereafter two men who were passing, noticing indications of fire, burst in the door and found the interior all ablaze and the flames uncontrollable by any available means. The fire spread both ways and the entire block, from Bradley's Hotel to and including the late David Van Schaack's law office, then occupied by Mr. W. H. Atwood, was soon a mass of smoldering ruins. It was with difficulty that the building east of the hotel and now owned by Mr. Charles M. Bray, and the home of Mrs. Van Schaack on Broad Street were saved. The roof of Mr. C. Herrick's building (now Lindenwald Hotel) was several times ablaze. As noted in the record of the Trustees of the Village the buildings destroyed were: The Hotel of William Bradley; Store of Jacob Cook, used as a Hat Store and Post Office; Saloon of J. Tracey; Barber Shop of G. Post; Saloon of Hugh Gardner, building owned by Daniel Herrick; Harness Shop of C. E. Covey; Tin Shop of C. Palmer; Barber Shop of A. Bauer; Law Office of W. H. Atwood; Barns, etc. As all know, nearly the whole of the burned district has been rebuilt with a much better class of brick buildings now occupied by the Kinderhook Knitting Co., John Trimper and the Gage Brothers. The Van Schaack Law Office which adjoined A. Bauer's Barber Shop, after which came Palmer's Tin Shop, was not rebuilt.

The next serious fire was the burning of the cotton mill, May 5, '82. It was then owned by Russell Handy and stood about on the site of the present Albany Southern station house. Its destruction was a great loss to our village and especially to the many who had been employed therein. Our most spectacular fire as regards scenic effects was the burning of Canoe (Beaver) mill, Valatie. It was during the memorable blizzard, March 11, 12, 1888, and when the storm was at its height at night. The sky was filled with snowflakes as thickly, and driving as fast and furiously as could be. Only near the doomed building could the fire be definitely located through the blinding snow which so diffused the light of the flames that (with apologies to Shakespeare) it did,

"The multitudinous flakes incarnadine, making the heavens one red"

The separate flakes were of a glowing pink as they fell about our homes two miles away. So vivid was the fiery glow that some, fearing the roofs of their own homes were aflame, rushed out into the storm to see. And there were those who thought that the end of the world was at hand. The burning of that large mill was a great loss to Valatie than was the burning of our own to us.

Of the blizzard we need say but briefly, that while much less severe here than to the south of us, none then living had ever seen its likes before. We remember seeing the snowdrifts concealing the top of the doorframe of the house opposite. We recall crawling as best we could along the top of the fence east of us, and wading far a field when obliged to venture out. We recollect the tunnel over the sidewalk near Jacob Cook's house, though which men passed for several days. How all travel was suspended and we without mails and every other communication with the outside world for three or four days; how the supplies of milk and food began to grow scanty and would have failed except for the resource of canned goods, none who passed through those scenes will ever forget. We do not recall, however, that there was much if any actual suffering here. In due time the storm abated and by slow degrees paths and roads were opened up and mails and travel facilities restored. And when, Thursday afternoon, we had papers to read we found that, compared with many other places, Kinderhook had fared very well through an experience not wholly unwelcome once in a lifetime for its impressiveness not without high moral teaching.

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P.O. Box 191, Kinderhook, NY 12106
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Last modified: 07/12/12