Carlisle History

A living history of Carlisle, PA

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Carlisle’s Historical Fires

Taken by the author, courtesy of the Union Fire Company

 

– Dave Weaver

 

Interview with Dave Weaver Interview with John Sheaffer

The History of the Carlisle Fire Department    The Union Fire Company

The Cumberland County Historical Society

There are quite a few notable fires in Carlisle’s past. The first was the Woolworth, Haverstick, and Berg fire of 1924 which destroyed the businesses mentioned. Kronenberg’s, a clothing store, replaced the space left by these businesses, only to burn down in 1929. [1]

Courtesy of Union Fire Company - Carlisle, PA

The Kronenberg Fire – 1929

The Kronenberg fire occurred before Christmas, destroying the merchandise the store was carrying for the season. Volunteers from the Carlisle Barracks and Mechanicsburg helped put out the fire, and three firefighters were injured while fighting the blaze.[2] Ironically, the Bowman’s building sustained smoke damage. In 1962 the exact opposite would occur, with Bowman’s burning down and Kronenberg’s only sustaining smoke damage. The firewall between the buildings prevented both buildings from burning down in both instances. Other buildings survived due to the snow on the roofs, which prevented sparks from igniting them. [3]

The Bowman’s Fire – 1962

According to articles in The Evening Sentinel in December 1962, it appeared that the Bowman’s fire was sparked by a burglary, although the fire erased most of the evidence of a break-in. [4] Torch-made holes were found in two of the stores’ safes, and money was missing. Both Bowman’s and an adjacent store were lost. [5] An editorial in The Evening Sentinel lauded the volunteer firefighters as “Worth Their Salt.” [6 ]

Courtesy of Union Fire Company - Carlisle, PA

Allison Memorial Methodist Church – 1954

In January 1954, the Allison Memorial Methodist Church was destroyed by a fire that started in the furnace. [7] No longer located at the corner of High and West Streets next to the President’s House of Dickinson College, the building has completely vanished from the neighborhood. The fire caused the roof to collapse and went out of control when gases in the church ignited. The President’s House was a mere fifteen feet from the church and was, along with the Weiss Building, also at risk of being destroyed. [8] Church services were temporarily held in Dickinson’s Bosler Hall. [9] Although devastating, the fire allowed the department to utilize some new firefighting technology, including the Empire Hook and Ladder Company’s new truck, and new smoke masks, which protected firefighters from injury. [10]

Courtesy of Union Fire Company - Carlisle, PA

The Orpheum – 1939 and The Strand Theatre – 1972

In November of 1939, the Orpheum theatre was destroyed and five people were sent to the hospital. [11] However, this fire was only covered for one day due to the coverage of World War Two. [12]In August of 1972 the Strand Theatre was destroyed by a case of arson. [13] Fifteen people were left homeless and 2 people were killed: one from the fire and one from jumping from the building. [14]

The Pomfret Street Fire – 1999

The most recent devastating fire occurred on Pomfret Street before Christmas in 1999. Five businesses were put out of business, 58 people were left homeless, and two historical buildings were destroyed. [15] It was later determined to be an act of arson. [16] Twenty-five area fire companies and 200 firefighters were required to stop the fire. [17] The historic Carlisle Theatre, which was next to the burning buildings, was saved by its firewall. However, Carlisle recovered, and in 2004 the buildings had been rebuilt and new businesses, such as a Subway and Casa Mani, moved into the downtown. [18 ]

Taken by the author, courtesy of the Union Fire CompanyTaken by the author, courtesy of the Union Fire CompanyTaken by the author, courtesy of the Union Fire Company

Cumberland Fire Company Fire and Fire Truck Accident

The Carlisle Fire Department has lost a few of its own over the years, including two volunteers in a fire at the Cumberland Company firehouse on June 27, 1974 [19 ]. One man suffered a heart attack while the other never exited the building. Another man was lost in the 1960s when a fire truck was involved in a motor vehicle accident. [20] The audio clip below is John Sheaffer’s retelling of the fire truck accident. It must be remembered that those who volunteer their time and energy to protect the town do so with potential risks, and there have been those who have given their lives in the line of duty.

The fires may not caused permanent economic damage, but each of these fires changed the landscape of downtown in some way. Whether they were rebuilt or not, each building was never the same. The lives of those who worked and lived in those buildings and those who were hurt or lost their lives in the fires were never the same.

Interview with Dave Weaver Interview with John Sheaffer

The History of the Carlisle Fire Department   The Union Fire Company

The Cumberland County Historical Society

 

[1] “Fire Razes Two Hanover St. Stores.” The Evening Sentinel. Dec. 10, 1962.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Police Pushing Search to Find Burglary Clues: Second Safe in Office of Bowman’s Found Burned Open By Torch; Kronenberg Smoke Damage Heavy.” The Evening Sentinel. Dec. 12, 1962.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Firemen ‘Worth Their Salt’.” The Evening Sentinel. Dec. 11, 1962.
[7] “Fire Razes Methodist Church: High St. Building Swept By Flames; Loss is $300,000.” The Evening Sentinel. Jan. 21, 1954.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] “Fifty Routed at Night By Fire.” The Evening Sentinel Nov. 30, 1939.
[12] Ibid.
[13] “Fire at Strand.” The Evening Sentinel. Aug. 29, 1972.
[14] Ibid.
[15] John Hilton and Jennifer Vogelsong. “Fire leaves 58 homeless: 2 historic district buildings ravaged in 5-alarm blaze.” The Sentinel. Dec. 19, 1999.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] David Blymire. “Up from the Ashes… Tenants soon will move to site of a devastating fire.” The Sentinel. April 18, 2004.
[19] John Sheaffer. Interview with the author. Nov. 1, 2007.
[20] Ibid.