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, January 18, 2006

Newspaper Report of the Infamous Vaughan's Livery Stable Fire in North Pelham in 1907

In 1907, a man named Richard L. Vaughan operated a large livery stable on Wolfs Lane. He and his family lived with a housekeeper and a boarder above the stable.

At about 4:00 a.m. on February 5, 1907, a blinding snowstorm accompanied by a forty-five mile gale raged throughout Pelham. An acting police sergeant named Champion was at nearby Police Headquarters when he noticed a reflection on the snow that looked like fire. He ran outside and saw the stables ablaze. He broke open the front door yelling “fire”! He raced to a nearby apartment building known as “the Lyons flats” yelling “fire” and ringing doorbells.

In the apartment above the stables, liveryman Vaughan realized what was unfolding. He woke his wife and child and began pushing them toward the front staircase of the building. Before reaching the staircase, Mrs. Vaughan collapsed from the smoke. As liveryman Vaughan tried to save his wife, child, housekeeper and a boarder named Thomas McKay, he collided with an iron column in the hallway, rendering him partially unconscious.

The entire building was engulfed in flames. Nearby Lyons flats was next. For the first time in the Town’s history, it looked as though the entire business section of Pelham would be wiped out by fire. With the entire downtown at risk, fire fighters from Mount Vernon and New Rochelle joined the battle.

Inside the inferno, Richard Vaughan regained consciousness and searched for his family. As he stumbled about, he fell down the stairs to the first floor where firemen rescued him, though he was badly burned.

Seconds after rescuers carried Vaughan out of the building, the entire structure collapsed in a burning heap. Vaughan’s family, the boarder and the housekeeper perished in the blaze. Thirty horses died in the fire as well.

Ater the building collapsed, the fire was brought under control. The business district was saved. The cause of the fire was never determined.

Research has revealed an extensive account of the Vaughan Livery Stable Fire that appeared in the February 5, 1907 issue of The Daily Argus published in Mount Vernon. The account appears immediately below:


Mount Vernon Sends Four Fire Companies In Terrific Blizzard to the Scene

Vaughans Livery Stable Completely Destroyed --- Mrs. Vaughan, Her Two Year Old Son, Thomas Hickey [sic], A Stableman and a Colored Servant Lose Their Lives --- Three Bodies Had Been Recovered at Noon --- Thirty Horses Burned --- Property Loss Between $10,000 and $15,000


At the heighth [sic] of the terrific blizzard, between three and four o'clock this morning. North Pelham was visited by a holocaust which is without parallel in the history of the section and which, coming so suddenly on the disaster at White Plains, has brought sadness to the entire county. Four persons were burned to death by the destruction of Vaughan's well-known livery stable at North Pelham, several of the firemen were slightly injured, thirty horses were destroyed and the monetary loss impossible to figure accurately at noon today, is variously estimated at between $10,000 and $15,000.

Heartrending scenes were enacted at the conflagration. The grief and horror of Richard Vaughan, who in some miraculous manner made his way from the burning building, and the loss of his wife and son, aged two years, who were in the same room with him at the time the fire broke out, is beyond description. The accounts of the first scenes at the fire are somewhat confused but enough is known to show that the flames spread with such lightning like rapidity, that it seemed within a few minutes after Mr. Vaughan first detected the odor of smoke, the deadly blaze had wrought death and destruction . . . [illegible].

The forty-five mile an hour northwest gale that was prevailing at the time undoubtedly fanned the flames into the terrible fury that they presented. An alarm was turned in promptly and the Pelham department responded on the instant, it seemed. They made a gallant fight against the flames but the elements were so formidable that help from Mount Vernon was summoned and four companies from this city went to Pelham shortly after five o'clock to help their neighbors there.

Heroism such as is read of in books was enacted by the firemen of both towns. When the alarm was sounded in this city people who heard it thought from the reflection of the fire that encompassed almost the entire sky, that a conflagration was ensuing here and a number of citizens turned out. A central alarm had been sounded, however, to assemble the firemen and the four companies assigned by Chief Angevine, who was in command, started, despite the terrific cutting wind and snow, for the scene of the fire.

The harrowing incidents that took place at the conflagration have been related by the many people who rushed to the place from everywhere. Business and professional men hurried from their homes to lend aid. Individual acts of fortitude and suffering in the intense cold have been told of at least a hundred men, and it is probable that the full account and every detail will never be written.

Four persons lost their lives in the fire. They are:

MRS. NELLIE VAUGHAN, 28 years old.
RICHARD VAUGHAN, 2 years old.
THOMAS MICKEY, 35 years old, stableman.
Colored woman, a domestic, name not ascertained.

The bodies have been burned almost beyond recognition. Shortly after eleven o'clock, the body of the child was found. Only the skull of the stableman was found and the body of one woman had been found, but it is beyond recognition.

The origin of the fire is not known. One report was early today, that it had originated from an overheated stove in the office which is below the sleeping quarters, while another report is that this could not be so as there was no fire in the stove at the time. Probably the origin will not be definitely established until the coroner holds an investigation.

The fire was not gotten under control until after six o'clock and then the horror of the conflagration became fully understood. The Mount Vernon firemen worked splendidly at the fire in the Lyon building and Pelham residents heaped unstinted praise upon them for their efforts. Undoubtedly they saved the building from total loss.


The fire started, according to all accounts, between 3:30 and 4 o'clock. It originated in the little room on the ground floor used by Mr. Vaughn [sic] as a livery office. This office fronted on Wolf's Lane, and was about in the middle of the building. Directly over it were the sleeping rooms of the Vaughn family.

In these rooms the proprietor of the stables, Richard L. Vaughan, his wife, Mrs. Nellie Vaughan, and their two-year-old boy, Richard, Jr., were sleeping.

Vaughn was the first to discover that the place was on fire. In some miraculous way he reached the street, his hair and clothes on fire, but Mrs. Vaughn and the child were lost. By the time Vaughn had reached the street, the building was a mass of flames and when he realized that his wife and child were not yet out of the place, it was to [sic] late to go back after them. He became frantic and tried to reenter the place.

About the first person to see Vaughn after he got out was Gerry Walsh, who was responding to the alarm with the hose wagon of the Pelham department. Walsh came upon Vaughn in the street in front of the burning stables. Vaughn had on a pair of trousers and a shirt, and the hair was burned off one side of his face.

Vaughn, according to Walsh, was endeavoring to get into the building again. He afterwards disappeared and later Walsh met him again in the alleyway between the row of wooden tenements which adjoined the burning stables on the south and what was formerly Lyon Hall, a two-story wooden structure purchased by Vaughn and turned into an auxiliary stable.

Vaughn seemed half crazed when Walsh met him in this alleyway. He was muttering to himself and when he saw Walsh, the latter says he exclaimed, 'My God, Gerry, I believe my wife and child are in there,' pointing to the flame-swept building. Some of Vaughn's friends took charge of him, as he was almost beside himself with grief, and had him go to the home of his mother, Mrs. Agnes R. Vaughn, in Sparks avenue, near Wolf's Lane, Pelham Heights.

The stable was a large, two-story wooden structure, and once the fire secured a start, burned like tender. John Smith, who has a grocery store beneath the tenements to the south of the stables, was one of the first to discover the fire outside of Vaughn himself. He noticed it from the cracking of the glass windows in some of the stores, evidently about the same time as shortly before Vaughn discovered it. It had a good start then and was rapidly eating into the tenements which stood close to the stable.

The Pelham firemen were aroused by the ringing of the bell on the fire house on Fifth avenue, North Pelham, and Relief Hook and Ladder Company, followed shortly afterwards by the Hose Company, made all haste in getting to the scene of the blaze. Chief Walter G. Parker was in command, but before long found he was going to have difficulty in saving the tenement houses while it was useless to make any effort to save the stable as that was doomed from the first.

A telephone message was accordingly sent to Mount Vernon as quickly as possible asking for help. The message was received by Sergeant DeVeaugh at police headquarters in this city. The person telephoning informed DeVeaugh there was a big fire in Pelham, which threatened a whole block and asked for immediate assistance. 'Send us help as quickly as you can,' DeVeaugh heard, and then there came a break in the telephone line. The sergeant was unable to re-establish telephone communication, and it developed afterwards that a cable running outside the stables was burned at the moment DeVeaugh was receiving the message. This destroyed telephone communication between Mount Vernon and Pelham as the local operators could not get Pelham afterwards.

Sergeant DeVeaugh telephoned to Chief Angevine at the latter's home. The latter notified fire headquarters giving instructions that an alarm be sent in from box 37, a hundred feet north of the headquarters, as this was the quickest way of assembling the companies and instructing the men where to go. Clinton Hook and Ladder [illegible] Fire Patrol of Chemical Company No. 4 and independent Hose Company responded and made the trip to the village of Pelham, over snow filled roads in not more than ten minutes, a record breaking run. Independent Hose Company was sent home again by Chief Angevine, soon after its arrival.

When the Mount Vernon firemen reached the scene of the fire, the stable had already burned to the ground and it looked as if the tenements were also doomed. Through good work on the part of the Mount Vernon men, however, the greater part of the tenement building was saved, and only the end next to the stable was badly burned. The four families living in the tenement got out safely.

Thomas Mickey, the stableman, who slept in the rear on the second floor, was never seen or heard from after the fire started, and nothing was known about him until his body was found this morning.

Two bodies were recovered this morning from the smoking ruins, one of which is supposed to be that of a woman. The other is that of a man. The first body, that of the woman, was discovered about twenty minutes after 6 o'clock, by a crowd of men, who were working around in the ruins near the rear of the stables. Members of Relief Hook and Ladder Company recovered the body.

The body was lying among the remains of several dead horses and [illegible] was no hope of recognizing it. Practically all the skin was burned off the head, leaving only the whitened skull. About an hour later, Gardner Minard, a member of Relief Hook and Ladder Company, found another body, by stumbling over it not more than ten feet from where the first was discovered. This body was lying between two horses and was also burned to such an extent as to me [sic] unrecognizable. It was carried out and laid beside the other behind the work and covered with blankets.

Up to the middle of the morning, no trace had been found of the child or of its mother, as the front portion of the ruins where the fire started were hot for a long while, and no attempt at searching could be made.

The Pelham firemen and many of the spectators were loud in their praises today of the Mount Vernon department which responded to their appeal for help and made a marvelously quick run through drifted snow was at times over the hubs of the wheels of the apparatus. The Mount Vernon firemen left here at 5:30 o'clock, and some of the apparatus got back about 3 o'clock.

The tender of Engine No. 3 was stalled in Third street near Fourth avenue on the way back, in a deep drift and required a considerable amount of work to get it out. The work of the [illegible] department was responsible for the saving of the tenement house, and the Pelham firefighters today are giving the Mount Vernon department all the credit due it, without reserve.

Chief Barker of the Pelham department, said, at noon, that as soon as an investigation could be made, he might have something to say as to the cause of the blaze, but until then could advance no theory as to its origin. The stable was owned by Mrs. Louise Lyon and was valued at $4,000 or $5,000, without insurance.

Close to the barn stood a two-story modern building, the property of Antonio Orlando. It is located to the south. The flames communicated quickly to this building which housed several facilities and stores, and outside was burning fiercely when John Smith was aroused.

As he opened his eyes, he saw tongues of fire leaping across the front of this building. Half awake he grabbed his wife, threw his overcoat over her and carried her down the stairs. At the same time he grabbed a trunk and pulled it down after him. No sooner had he left the building than the flames had reached his apartments and they were burning.

The fire had been underway only a short time when the other occupants of the flats were aroused from their sleep and left the house as quickly as possible. Mr. and Mrs. Pinney and three children occupied the flats next to those in which Mr. Smith lived. They had only time to escape from the burning building in their night clothes. They were aroused by the shouts of fire. Mr. Pinney and his wife jumped out of bed and rushed for the children. The flames were roaring in the rooms right next to them. Realizing that a moment's delay would mean death to them, they grabbed hold of their three children, Gertrude, Charles and Ray and ran out into the street. They were hurried over the snow to the residence of Col. DeStyak.

The other occupants of the house were Mr. and Mrs. E. Paustaine and Mr. and Mrs. Gustave Lunquist. Mr. Lunquist lived in the extreme West end of the building. Mrs. Lunquist stood outside on the snow in the cold wind thinly clad in her bare feet.

As soon as the firemen arrived they directed their efforts on the apartment house. The flames were burning out from the roof and windows of the north wing when the Mount Vernon firemen arrived. Great tongues of flames leaped skyward and lit up the surrounding districts so that it was as light as day. The fire ate its way about half way through the apartment house when it was brought under control.

Outside of Mr. Vaughn and those who had horses and vehicles in the livery stable, the heaviest losers were John Smith and Charles A. Pinney. As before stated, Mr. Smith had a large grocery store which occupied a part of the north section of this block. His living apartments were directly over the store. He said this morning that he lost everything, both in the store and in his home. He was unable to estimate his loss. It will however figure up into the thousands. He is partially insured.

Mr. Pinney who lived next door also lost everything. What was not destroyed by the flames was finished by the water. He lost all of his furniture and all of the clothing belonging to his family. He also had a valuable library of about a thousand volumes which he prized very much. He thinks that a thousand dollars will cover his loss with no insurance. 'While our loss is heavy' Mrs. Pinney said, 'we have our children.'

E. Paustain who owned a butcher shop on the first floor directly underneath his own home and that of Mr. Pinney says that he thinks that his [illegible] although it is badly damaged by water. The flames did not reach very far into his home. He places his loss at about $500 with no insurance. Mr. Paustian [sic] was able to rescue his wife's mother who is a cripple.

Directly beneath the Lundquist flats are located the headquarters of the Pelham Police department and the real estate office of Jules Nelson. The damage that was done there was caused by water.

The building is the property of Antonio [illegible]. The principal loss is confined within the northern half of the building which is badly burned.

Mr. and Mrs. John Stofeney had a narrow escape from being burned to death. He is one of the workmen employed by Mr. Vaughn and occupied rooms in the left of the barn. He said this morning that he escaped from the burning building by rushing to the rear of the loft and jumping out of a window.

There are a number of contradictory stories as to how Mrs. Vaughan lost her life. One story as told by Mr. Vaughn himself to a friend is that he did not get through work until 1 o'clock this morning and he accordingly did not take off his clothing. He laid down on the bed a while and had been asleep but a short time when his wife aroused him and told him that there must be a fire somewhere. He jumped up and ran downstairs. When he reached the first floor he found it ablaze and rushed back upstairs and took hold of his wife and child and led them to the rear of the building with the intention of dropping them out of the window. The barn was rapidly filliing with smoke and he could not see very well. On the way he lost his wife. He ran back and came across a woman whom he supposed was his sife. He picked this woman up and running to the rear of the building dropped her out of the window. He said that this woman was a Mrs. Stofany. How he lost his wife he cannot tell.

Another story is that Vaughn was leading his wife down the stairs to the street when he struck his head against a post. He then lost his wife and she ran to the rear of the building. She was never seen again.

It is said that Thomas Mickey lost his life in an attempt to save the horses. He had already reached the street and went back into the barn to get some of the horses. He was caught in the flames.

Mr. Vaughn said that he had in the barn some twenty-eight horses and many valuable carriages and vehicles. They [sic] were also valuable carriages and horses belonging to President Jacques of the Village of Pelham. John Butler, Ex-president Albert R. Searles, W. F. C. Tichborne and Mrs. Alexander Church Ward. Mrs. Ward had furniture stored in the barn which was insured for $2,500. Mr. Tichborne lost a 'roustabout' which he valued at $2,500. Mr. Vaughn said that the property of the barn was valued at about $15,000, and there was an insurance on the property estimated at $7,000. Five horses belonging to him and several vehicles were saved.

One man was injured in the person of Joseph Ciarecover, who was standing on a ladder which was leaning against the block when he slipped and fell to the ground a distance of some twenty feet. He was assisted to his home on the corner of Fourth avenue and Fourth street.

The body of the child was found burned to a crisp in the rear of the barn lying among the horses shortly before noon. The three bodes were brought to the morgue of Durr Davis & Son in Mount Vernon.

The ruins of the barn were smoldering this morning and one stream of water was directed by the firemen of North Pelham. The fire broke out afresh in the store of John Smith at about 10:50, but was quickly extinguished. Details of firemen were about the ruins all day to keep watch lest the fire should break out afresh, and a search was [illegible] body."

Source: Four Burned To Death At North Pelham, The Daily Argus, Feb. 5, 1907, pp. 1, 4.

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