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December 13, 2012

Chief presents fire department history at library program

The fire that would be eventually known as the Great Fire of 1862 started around 10:30 the night of April 10 in a cabinet shop owned by Edward Edwards. Edwards' shop was about halfway between Chestnut and Pioneer on the north side of what is now known as Main Street.

“That fire was of such magnitude that as a fire chief you hope you never encounter anything of its size,” Cooperstown Fire Chief Jim Tallman said recently.

Tallman was giving a talk  in the village office meeting room about the history of Cooperstown fires. The lecture was part of the Afternoon Programs put on by the Friends of the Village Library.

At first, the Great Fire of 1862 appeared to be contained to two buildings, Edwards' cabinet shop and the bakery next door to the west, and things appeared to be getting under control. What the fire companies didn’t know was that, while they were pouring water on the front of the building, fire was shooting out the back. It had caught several sheds and barns on fire by the time anyone noticed. At 2 in the morning, the fire jumped across Main Street and caught the Eagle Hotel on fire.

“It actually stuck out onto the road, instead of being in line with all the other buildings,” Tallman pointed out. “That was how the fire crossed the street.”

The winds shifted and allowed the fire to grab hold of the Eagle Hotel. By the time the fire was finally put out at 5:30 a.m., 57 building were gone — 12 stores, four hotels, the saloon, two houses and 38 outbuildings.

The village of Cooperstown was settled in the spring of 1786. Its first known fire took place on Nov. 20, 1795, but a fire department wasn’t actually formed until May 21, 1813. Early ordinances required people to have one leather bucket for every two fireplaces and to be fined $1 if they refused to help fight a fire after being ordered to by a town trustee.

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