Local History Articles

Thank you to the Bloomfield Journal for letting us reprint this ninth article in a series
published in Volume 33, Issue 3
Friday, January 16, 2009

JULY 25, 1912: GABB WAREHOUSE BURNS

“Our telephone rang persistently about 2:00 AM.  Central was calling to report a fire at the Gabb tobacco warehouse. With 8 to 10 parties on the line, it was the quickest way to inform the farmers,” remembered Jessica Weiant Duncan who at that time lived across from Mountain View Cemetery in the house later owned by Dr. Eugene Bestor.  “We could feel the heat sitting out on our lawn watching.”  The George H. Gabb warehouse was in “the heart of Bloomfield center,” about 75 feet north of the town hall and library building.  The Hartford Courant described it as “one of the worst fires since the burning of the old Bloomfield Hotel” (also known as the Brown and Griffin Tavern) some 35 years before. The warehouse was also about the same distance from the home of Eugene K. Pitney and the Masonic Hall Corporation’s combination of a store, tenement and lodge rooms.  The Courant reported, “For an hour or so the wildest excitement prevailed among the owners and occupants of these buildings, as it seemed to be a sure thing that all the surrounding buildings would be swept away, a general conflagration being feared.”

Town Hall and Gabb�s Leaf Tobacco Company before the fire

Town Hall & Gabb Warehouse

Bloomfield had no fire protection and no water system at that time.  Nearly 200 people responded to the alarm. To try to save the surrounding buildings, the men formed a bucket-brigade from Wash Brook at the rear of the property. The Courant article continues: “Men were stationed on the roofs of the buildings on the north and by hard and persistent work succeeded in keeping the roofs from catching fire from the sparks.  The town hall building was also in great danger and it was with the greatest difficulty that it was saved, as the woodwork of the large structure took fire many times in many places.”  Fortunately, there was no wind. The warehouse burned to the ground.

Mr. Gabb called the Hartford Fire Department a few hours after the fire started to see if an “apparatus would be sent in case of danger from the burning tobacco in the ruins.”  A deputy came out by auto and determined it was not necessary to send an apparatus at that time although one was sent later in the day to soak the embers.

The Gabb family had been in the tobacco packing business since after the Civil War.  They built this warehouse in 1892 but at the time of the fire it was leased to Starr Brothers, tobacco dealers of New York.  About 2000 cases of tobacco had been stored in the warehouse.  The loss was estimated to have been between $75,000 and $100,000 and was partially covered by insurance.

The Masons built a new lodge hall on the site of the Gabb warehouse in 1923.

by Ralph Schmoll
Wintonbury Historical Society

A news item from the July 26, 1912 Hartford Courant provided information for this article.
Jessica Weiant Duncan’s recollection is from her “Memories of Family and Friends” in The Good Old Days, published by the Wintonbury Historical Society

ANSWERS TO TRIVIA QUESTIONS
1. Rev. Hezekiah Bissell
2. 1957
3. The Methodist Church Meeting House
4. Jerome Burr
5. East Granby and Simsbury

PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THE SERIES

Eighth in the Series – WINTONBURY TAVERNS
Seventh in the Series – SUGAR MAPLES, CIDER BRANDY . . .
Sixth in the Series – THE OLD FARM SCHOOL
Fifth in the Series – EDUCATION IN WINTONBURY
Fourth in the Series – SIMSBURY ROAD’S HISTORIC MILE
Third in the Series – GILLET OR GILLETT OR GILLETTE?
Second in the Series – THREE HIGH HILLS
First in the Series – WINTONBURY TO BLOOMFIELD