Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part II of II)

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Yesterday's Blog posting entitled "The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part I of II)" dealt with a tragic fire that destroyed the mansion that stood where today's Martha Emmons Weihman Memorial Park stands. The posting provided the first half of a newspaper article that appeared the day after the fire in The Pelham Sun giving an account of the fire. Today's posting will provide the second half of that article about the fire.

[To read the first half of the article, click here. The second half follows.]

"The Pelham Manor firemen under command of Deputy Chief Arthur Fawcett, appeared to have the blaze under control the first five minutes. Spectators began to gasp with amazement at the rapidity with which they smothered the column of flames that was pouring out of the center of the roof. It looked as though it would be a short fire, but suddenly the flames shot out of the top floor on the Esplanade side of the building. Several of the volunteers clambered up the fire escape and were nearly trapped near the top floor when the flames spurted out of windows. They could not get the hose stretched on that side fast enough, and the men were forced to back down the escape.

A second alarm brought First Fire District firemen headed by Chief James T. Bollettieri.

A group of members of Pelham Post No. 50, American Legion, headed by past Commanders Elmer Williams and Henry W. G. Cox stretched fire lines to keep back the hordes of spectators. Assisting them was the Rev. Arthur A. Campbell of St. Catherine’s Church. Assistance was offered by members of the New Rochelle Naval Militia unit. In all 28 Legionnaires aided.

At 11 o’clock, the New Rochelle Fire Department brought two engines and a ladder truck, and 18 men led by Chief Oscar Grab. One engine was placed at Hazen street and Pelhamdale avenue and hose stretched along Pelhamdale avenue and around the corner into the Post Road. The other engine was stationed near the Village Center on Pelhamdale avenue.

Five of the New Rochelle fireman [sic] clambered up the fire escape at the rear of the building to the top floor, where a solid sheet of flame was streaming out of the windows of two apartments. As they stretched hose up the fire escape and wired it to the hand railings, a woman strained to break through the fire ine: ‘Why don’t they take my stuff out,’ she wailed, near hysteria. ‘I have so much – why don’t they do it – why don’t they do it? That’s my apartment. All my silver and jewelry are in there.’ She was led away from the scene by consoling friends.

Lieut. Frank Barone and fireman Arthur Spafford of the First Fire District suffered severe glass cuts on their hands. They were treated at New Rochelle Hospital.

Paul McCarthy, 30, Pelham Manor, suffered a fracture of the right ankle when he fell while climbing a ladder. He was removed to New Rochelle Hospital in a private car and treated by Dr. S. J. Hartig.

McCarthy was descending a ladder on the Esplanade side of the building, in the early stages of the fire, when he lost his footing and plunged 8 feet to the ground.

In the absence of Chief John J. Brennan, Deputy Chief Arthur Fawcett was in command. Chief Brennan had left yesterday morning to attend the convention of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs at Saratoga Springs. He is expected back on Sunday.

The three-story frame building was formerly the Reynolds mansion, one of the show places of the nineties. More than 20 years ago, Arthur W. Cole remodeled it into an apartment building. The property is now owned by the Bowery Savings Bank, and is leased by Mr. and Mrs. J. Riley Macon.

The tenants of the building, in the majority were persons of means who had at one time maintained pretentious homes. Furnishings of apartments included many valuable articles of furniture which they had retained. It was impossible to remove any of the contents of the building because of the rapid headway made by the flames. Furniture on the ground floor was protected against further damage by tarpaulins.

The tenants of the building were Mr. and Mrs. J. Sheppard Cabanne, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Burns, Mrs. L. Ogden Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Geddsel, Mr. and Mrs. J. Dudley Peterson, Mrs. H. R. Stobie, Mr. and Mrs. J. Riley Mcaon and Robert L. Davis.

* * * * *

Mayor Will Oppose Reconstruction

Mayor Gause told The Pelham Sun this morning that he would oppose any attempt to reconstruct the building. ‘That type of apartment building is a menace to its tenants. I understand that the building is more than two-thirds gone. We cannot avoid [sic] the risk of having such frame apartments in our village.’

* * * *

A volunteer emergency squad was organized from almost out of nowhere. Chief James Whalen, Lieut. James Romano and six members of the North Pelham Police Department joined with the Pelham Manor Police Department in the task of directing the traffic which was unusually heavy on the Boston Post Road at the time. Sergt. Ellsworth Totten of Pelham Heights was there with four patrolmen. Constable Ferdinand G. Fahrbach joined the traffic squad which routed trucks and buses through the Esplanade and Pelhamdale avenue.

* * * *

Mrs. William Rutledge Bull of the Esplanade opened her home for the accommodation of any of those rendered homeless by the fire.

* * *

Mr. and Mrs. Burns who occupied an apartment on the third floor, have been married only ten days. They lost all their wedding presents in the fire, and carried no insurance. The fire spread so rapidly that they had to make their exit down the fire escape.

* * *

Mrs. L. Ogden Thompson, widow of the former president of Pelham Board of Education and president of Pelham National Bank, lost everything she had, furniture, jewelry and money. She had no insurance.

* * *

Mrs. Macon was much concerned over the fate of a silver loving cup which was given to her great-great grandfather by Lafayette. Two or three individuals tried ineffectually to find it.

* * *

Director of Public Safety of New Rochelle, Philip S. Tilden was on hand directing efforts of firemen inside the building. It was exactly 45 minutes after the start of the fire when Tilden came downstairs and told the firemen, ‘It’s done. We’ve got it.’

* * *

Seven men of the Pelham Manor police who were off duty were called by telephone and were on the scene of the fire within ten minutes.

* * *

The house and grounds constituted a reminder of the rural glories that once were Pelham Manor’s. Every room in the house was furnished with rare old antiques. What can be saved from the water-soaked lower floors could not be learned at the time of going to press. The building is owned by the Bowery Savings Bank and is insured.

* * *

‘A fine piece of fire-fighting,’ said a spectator, who said he was a member of a fire company in Tidioute, Pa., ‘scientifically attacked from the front, driven backward and upward into a corner and then swamped. Good men and plenty of water. You should be proud of them, whatever the name of this town is.’

* * * *

Mayor Edmund C. Gause of Pelham Manor and Trustee Lester W. Du Bois were among the spectators. Mayor Dominic Amato of North Pelham, a former Chief of the First Fire District, donned a rubber coat and worked on a fire line inside of the building.

* * * *

‘What Pelham needs is a salvage corps,’ was the remark of one of the spectators, when he saw the firemen begin work of extinguishing the fire without being able to remove any of the valuable furniture from the building.”

Source: $75,000 Manor Apartment House Fire, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 30, No. 10, Jun. 7, 1940, p. 1, col. 1.

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At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Ellen said...

Thanks for the story. Fireman Arthur Spafford is my grandfather.


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