Poof Tardiff: 1903 V

Hello fellow Berlinites. On Tuesday, June 4, 1903, the Commercial Block, that stood at 39 Main St., in Berlin, suffered a serious fire. An alarm from box 24 at a little past 12 midnight, called the local fire department to a small blaze in the stable of Joseph Guay. This was soon put out and the men had returned to the Hose House, when the alarm sounded from box 31 at the corner of Main and Green Streets. The time now was 1:30 a.m.

The reception of the alarm indicated a blaze of considerable magnitude ,and those who looked in the direction of Main Street, saw the reflection of a big fire, which was located at the Cote Commercial Block on Main Street.

The fire department could not have received the summons at a more opportunistic moment and were at the scene of the blaze almost before the alarm had finished. Three streams of water were thrown upon the building and more apparatus was sent for, so that seven streams were in working order in a short time.

The Commercial Block was 200 feet long and on Lower Main Street. The fire caught in the boarding house portion and spread so quickly that the whole upper story was burning, when the firemen arrived within a few minutes. The entire block was roofed with tin, which kept the flames from coming through the top, but every window was an egress for the sparks and flames.

By hard work, the fire was driven back into the block and kept from spreading to the buildings up the street. On the end towards Post Office Square (Green Square), the progress had been checked and thus the worst of the fire was confined to the center of the block.

It was here that the fire did its total destruction and burned unchecked, until the roof caved in and gave the firemen an opportunity to get directly at the flames. This was the only part in which the lower story was burnt, though everything was badly damaged by smoke and water.

The occupants of the upper story had barely time to escape with what clothing they could hastily reach, and some had close calls at that. One man in the North end of this block escaped only after the arrival of the firemen. He staggered to the window in a suffocating condition and fell into the arms of those below, who caught him.

There were three sick ladies in this block and they were safely removed to other houses where they were cared for. The firemen and citizens joined in removing contents of the lower floors which were occupied by merchants.

There were many apartments and businesses in the Commercial Block, which was owned by Mr. L. J. Cote. By 1904, Cote had rebuilt this building with brick and called it the Cote Block. This still stands, although empty today, on the same portion of Main Street that this huge fire took place.

By June of 1903, the Berlin Street Railway added a brand-new storage battery to its cars. This new battery, which had been ordered long ago, and finally arrived, would do away with any further delays or annoyances from the lack of power. Before its arrival, people used to get off the trolley as it climbed a grade and get back on at the top.

This battery was running in auxiliary to the power that was already in use and would send the motorcars up Glen Hill at the same speed at which they could go down. Also, the snows of winter would no longer hinder the running time of the cars.

The battery itself showed unmistakably the progress of the times. It was of the storage variety and had been perfected to the point of practical service only within the beginning of the 1900s. This new battery was put into working order during the course of the first week of June, 1903, much to the relief and satisfaction of those who found it necessary to patronize the trolley cars between Berlin and Gorham.

In addition to the supplementary power this one-year-old transit system now had, it added two new handsome open trolley cars to its line. Berlin was certainly growing and moving ahead to the future in the summer of 1903.

The graduating exercises of Berlin High School were held at the Clement Opera House on Thursday evening, June 18, 1903. This had become a very enjoyable annual affair that was well attended by the citizens of this city. Almost all of the graduates, of which there were 11, went on to higher education. Thet were: Wendell Herman Churchill, Margaret Simpson, Roy Everett Lavin, Agnes Belle Davis, William Francis Scammon, Verne J. York, Florence A. Murray, Perley Walter Churchill, Grace Lenora Davis, Louis C. Woods and Lowell Reed.

A couple of accidents took place in Berlin during the month of July, 1903, and one claimed the life of a youthful resident. One of the accidents took place on Upper Main Street and another took place at the Burgess Mill.

On Saturday night, July 25, 1903, just after 6 o’clock in the evening, Claiborne Locke, an employee at the Burgess Sulphite Fiber Mill, was caught in the belt of a dryer machine, where he was at work and was carried between the rollers.

His head was badly crushed and fractures were inflicted which made his recovery uncertain. He did not receive any burns of consequence, as many who were caught in these machines did acquire.

Mr. Locke was trying to throw the pulp into place when the accident occurred. The injured man was pulled from the machine by assistants before being carried down to the cutters. This unfortunate individual was then taken to his home and treated by doctors Lavallee and Whalen. My research showed that Locke did survive his injuries.

Another sad accident occurred at noon on Thursday, July 28, 1903, and caused the death of Gideon Dorval, age 9. Young Dorval fell under the wheels of Joseph Bergeron’s heavy job team on Main Street near the Berlin Mills Company Store. The rear wheel passed directly over the boy’s body, crushing the little fellow to death instantly.

He was picked up and placed in the carriage of G. O. Holt and driven to his home at 188 Main St. Dr. Lavallee was immediately summoned by telephone and arrived at the home almost at the same time as the unfortunate boy. The doctor found a blood vessel that had been ruptured causing internal hemorrhaging and the boy only lived for a few minutes.

The Dorval boy was in the company of several playmates on the street when Joseph Bergeron drove up to the watering tank near the Berlin Mills Store. He had a load of wood in his wagon and the accident occurred just as he left the watering trough.

The first suggestion Bergeron had that there was anything wrong, was when he heard the cries from the rear and looking back, saw the almost lifeless form of the boy in the road directly in the line of his wheel tracks. It is supposed that the child attempted to climb up onto the wagon, lost his hold and fell under the wheel. Such a sad tragedy that took place on this day!

I will continue with the history of the year 1903 in Berlin in my next writing.

Poof Tardiff writes a weekly column for the Berlin Sun. Questions or comments email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, joining the many fans of “Once upon a Berlin Time” on Facebook and guess at the previously posted mystery pictures.

Trolley 1903Trolley 1903

BM Store and watering tankBerlin Mills Store and watering tank

BHS Class of 1903Berlin High School Class of 1903, back row, from left: Wendell Herman Churchill, Margaret Simpson, Roy Everett Lavin, Agnes Belle Davis and William Francis Scammon. Second row: Verne J. York, Florence A. Murray, Perley Walter Churchill, Grace Lenora Davis and Louis C. Woods. Front row: Lowell Reed. Do my readers recognize any relatives?

Area of Commercial BlockArea of Commercial Block