History Lesson #7 - The First "Major" Fire [Cheney Store]

reprinted from the August, 2007 Town of Manchester General Manager's Report

The earliest serious fire in the history of the South Manchester Fire Department occurred in November, 1898.

The Cheney Store was a large, two-story building located at the intersection of Main and Charter Oak Streets. Built in 1871, it was the center of the South Manchester business district at the time of the fire. Contained in the building at the time of the fire was the South Manchester Post Office, C.D. Strickland and Sons grocers and meat dealers, W.B. Cheney drug store, James V. Ferrant barber shop, the South Manchester Social Club, the South Manchester Publishing Company, the Law Office and Library of Judge Bowers, W.H. Cheney and Son dry goods and gent's furnishings, C. Tiffany jeweler, and the Listerated Tooth Powder Company.

At 12:30 a.m., on November 29, 1898, Mrs. Patrick Clune, who lived on Charter Oak Street, was awakened by one of her children. Upon discovering the fire, she woke up her husband who was a charter member of Company #5. Mr. Clune ran to Charter Oak and Main Streets, where the building was located, and turned in an alarm from Box #42. He then ran to George Day's Store on Charter Oak Street, where Company #5's hose cart was stored, and dragged it out. Soon, joined by others, they pulled the hose reel through the deep snow and were the first ones on the scene.

Each of the five companies responded to the alarm. Co. #3's and Co. #4's hose carts were pulled to the fire by hand. Co. #1's hose cart arrived being pulled behind Henry Forbe's horse-drawn sleigh. Co. #2's hose cart was stored in the trolley barn of the Hartford, Manchester and Rockville Tramway Company, which was located behind the present fire headquarters on Center Street. Employees of the Company were at work plowing the trolley tracks with the snowplow. They loaded Co. #2's host cart onto a flat car and transported it down Main Street to the fire.

The fire was not extinguished until 4:30 a.m. and the building sustained heavy damage, never to be fully rebuilt. The loss was approximately $100,000.

Following the fire, businesses began moving north along Main Street, creating what is now the Town's Business District.