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.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

An Account of the Tragic Vaughan Livery Stable Fire in Pelhamville in 1907

A terrible blizzard raged across Pelham that night.  The winds were blowing furiously as the brutal cold and heavy snow pounded the little town.  Even the local police were hunkered down in their offices when, according to one newspaper account, the telephone rang.  A woman's voice on the other end of the line shrieked:

"Please send help quick.  The house is burning up.  I cannot get out.  Oh, for God's sake do something!"

One of the worst fires ever to rage across Pelham had begun.  Within a short time, according to various accounts, "it was feared that the whole town would be destroyed by fire" as gale force winds began carrying burning debris high into the air and depositing the flaming torches throughout the Village of Pelham and the Village of North Pelham where wooden frame residences and structures seemed like kindling.  By the time the fire was over, the woman who made the sad telephone call to the police and three others were dead.  Additionally, about thirty horses died in the fire.

I have written about this tragic fire before.  See Wed., Jan. 18, 2006:  Newspaper Report of the Infamous Vaughan's Livery Stable Fire in North Pelham in 1907.  

Known as the Vaughan Livery Fire of 1907, the tragedy frightened local taxpayers into finally passing a bond referendum to update their antiquated fire-fighting force.  Indeed, the Vaughan Livery Fire of 1907 was such a wakeup call that taxpayers voted a bond issue to build the fire station that preceded today's station (on essentially the same site).  The new firehouse included a large apparatus room and five stalls for horses on the first floor as well as a 40 x 70 feet hall above for entertainments that came to be known as "Firemen's Hall."  The tiny old fire building was moved to the rear of the same lot and attached to the new firehouse. Once the old building was attached to the new firehouse, it was used for company rooms upstairs.  On the first floor below were the Fire Commissioners' office and a room for the fire alarm system and motors.  The bond issue also furnished a steam fire engine and team of horses as well as a horse-drawn hook and ladder truck.  The two fire companies were enlarged to fifty members each.

The fire began in a livery stable owned by a man named Richard L. Vaughan.  It was a large livery stable located on Wolfs Lane roughly at today's 105 Wolfs Lane where famed Pelham restaurant "Rockwells American Restaurant" is located (see map detail below).  Vaughan and his family lived with a housekeeper and a boarder above the stable. 

Detail from Map Published in 1899 Showing Location
of the Livery Stable on Wolfs Lane in Lower Left Corner.
Source:  Fairchild, John F., Atlas of the City of Mount
Vernon and the Town of Pelham, Plate 21 (Mount Vernon,
NY:  John F. Fairchild, 1899).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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 livery 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 (a tiny wooden apartment building) 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 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.  Some reports indicate that three people perished in the fire.  Others say it was four.  It appears that four died.  

The firefighters suffered brutal conditions that night.  Their water froze.  They were covered in ice in the midst of the brutal storm.  Nevertheless, after the building collapsed, the fire was brought under control. The business district was saved. The cause of the fire was never determined.

Livery Stable Fire in the Early 20th Century, Though
Not a Photograph of the Vaughan Livery Stable Fire
in 1907.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is an account of the Vaughan Livery Fire of 1907 that appeared in a local newspaper published in the Scarsdale Inquirer on February 7, 1907.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Fire at North Pelham Tuesday Morning Destroys A Whole Block

In a mysterious fire which destroyed the large livery stable of Richard Vaughan, and an adjoining flat house at North Pelham near Mount Vernon, early Tuesday morning, Mrs. Vaughan the wife of the liveryman, their two-year old son and a hostler, who was asleep in the stable were burned to death.  At first it was feared that the whole town would be destroyed by the fire as there was a blizzard in full blast and big firey torches were carried by the wind for a long distance.

The firemen had a hard time fighting the flames as the water froze and the volunteer firemen became covered with ice and snow and suffered greatly from the cold.

It is believed Mrs. Vaughan died while calling over the telephone in her room for help.  It is definitely known that she called up the police station and shrieked over the wire 'Please send help quick.  The house is burning up.  I cannot get out.  Oh, for God's sake do something!'

The body of Mrs. Vaughan was recovered from the ruins but the bodies of the baby and the hostler could not be found.  Twenty-eight horses belonging to Mr. Vaughan were also burned."

Source:  THREE BURNED TO DEATH -- Fire at North Pelham Tuesday Morning Destroys A Whole Block, Scarsdale Inquirer [Scarsdale, NY], Feb. 7, 1907, p. 3, col. 3.

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