Transcription of Local Newspaper article
which was published the day after this fire.

    NOTE: According to the article titled  “The County Almshouse” 
    in The History of Strafford County New Hampshire and Representative Citizens by John Scales, c. 1914.
    this fire occurred "On the night of March 9, 1893

   NOTE:  The names inscribed on the monument are slightly different.
    Submitted by: Dave Bedard    dbedard@co.strafford.nh.us  
 

CREMATED.

 

Forty Crazed People
Burned to Death.

 

INSANE ASYLUM AT THE
COUNTY FARM BURNED
TO GROUND.

 

Horrible Scenes Enacted in
a Hell of Fire and Smoke.

 

A CALAMITY WITHOUT A PARALLEL
FALLS UPON THE COUNTY OF STRAFFORD.

 

All Attempts to Rescue Doomed Inmates
Prevented by Fierce Blaze and Intense Heat.
Victims Fall Back into the Flames and are Lost.
Complete Story of the
Awful Affair.

 

THURSDAY

 
     The most terrible calamity that has ever fallen upon Strafford county occured [sic] last night.    
     The Insane Asylum at the Strafford County farm was totally destroyed by fire and over 40 out of 44 inmates perished in the flames.
     Today a sickening mass of timber and bones marks the spot where stood the Asylum.  The charred wood and blackened remains of over two score demented unfortunates tell the story of the most terrible conflagration known in New England history.
     Shortly before 10 o'clock last night, Watchman Wilbur Chesley started out on his regular inspection of the building known as the asylum and where were locked up 44 people, all more or less insane.  As he reached the second cell on the first floor, occupied by Mary Fountain, a
 

FLAME OF FIRE

 
burst out into the corridor.  Rushing to the room of Supt. Wm. P. Driscoll of the asylum he shouted fire.  Driscoll hurried out in his night clothes and rushed down the corridor on the first floor, unlocking the cells and shouting to the terrified people to save themselves.  The flames spread through the building, which was of wood and dry as a tinder box, with lightning like rapidity and after unlocking 15 cells Driscoll was driven back.  The flames had cut off his exit by the door however and it was only by smashing a window in his own room out that he could with his wife, escape.  As it was Mrs. Driscoll was dragged through the window nearly suffocated.
     By this time the flames had spread over the entire building.  The cries of the
 

DOOMED PRISONERS

 were heart rending, and curses and hideous laughter mingled with prayers and appeals for help.  Every available man on the farm was put into service by Supt Demeritt and an attempt made to rescue some of the doomed people.  The flames had spread with such rapidity however that the building was  one seething, hissing mass of fire.  It was an impossibility to get near the building although one woman was taken from a second story window by Frank Stark.
   Three Inmate to the fiery furnace were seen to escape.  They were Ruth Sanborn, James Daley and a fellow known as French Frank.  The latter ran out nearly naked and was found after the fire at the house of Ex-Alderman Nat [?] Horse.
     The burning building presented a sight never to be forgotten.  At the window could be seen the tortured faces of the demented inmates, now raging and howling fiends.  Their cries and shouts for help were heart rending indeed as one by one they

SANK OUT OF SIGHT

first in the folds of the devouring and unrelenting flames.  It was a perfect hell of fire.  The dry timbers and the boards of the building cracked and burned like paper.
    While the flames were devouring all in their path a messenger was speeding to this city and shortly after 10:30 the sleeping day received its first notice of the horrible scene being enacted at the farm.
     An alarm was rung in from box 31[?] and the gong sounded.  As quickly as possible the steamer Cocheco 2 was dispatched to the scene of the fire.  Four horses drew the heavy machine through big drifts and over long hills. It was nearly 12 o'clock when the firemen reached the farm.  A line of hose was quickly laid and water directed on the blazing and smoking ruins.  Nothing remained of the two and a half story building but a few standing timbers.    
     Tongues of flame leaped about the skulls and bones of the cremated insane.  Looking into the ruins the skeletons of sixteen victims of the awful slaughter could be seen.  The

ODOR OF CHARRED FLESH

was overpowering and strong men turned away unable to look upon the awful sight.  The fire had done its work quickly and well.  But few had been able to escape his death grip.  Forty terror stricken and demented men had been cremated.  Many of them had not had even time to rise from the bunks, again the mass of debris could be seen the bodies of a number who had been overtaken by the flames and burned as they slept.
     The fire was confined to the asylum only by the most persistent work.  The west end of the main building was only 60 feet or less from the asylum and the intense heat broke every pane of glass in the end of the building and threatened every minute to set it on fire.
     The men at the farm did heroic work.  Pails of water were thrown upon the roof and a stream of water was played upon the west end of the building to prevent the wood work catching.
     City Marshal Fogerty, Ass't Marshal Willand and officer Wilkinson were early at the fire and under their direction the big crowd which had come up from the city, was kept in place.  Under the direction of the marshal the frightened inmates of the pauper house were kept together.
     The REPUBLICAN reporter was early on the spot.  Overseer Driscoll of the asylum was seen and told the following story:
     "I was first made aware of the fire by the shouts of watchman Chesley.  I grabbed my keyes and

UNLOCKED THE CELLS

on the lower floor.  Before I could get back to the door leading to the outside, the corridor was filled with flame and smoke.  With difficulty I groped my way to the room where my wife was.  Our only means of escape was through the window.  I broke the glass and jumped out, dragging my wife after me.  Had that window been barred as were the others, we should have been cremated.
     In this short time the flames had surrounded the building and I saw it was all over.  We made an effort to save some of the inmates, but got only one out.  It was an utter impossibility; I never saw such a burning hell before.  I know of but 3 who escaped and there were 44 in the building when the fire broke out."

HOW IT CAUGHT.

     The fire originated in the cell occupied by a crazy French woman: From what cause cannot be definitely stated.  The woman was a great smoker and it is probably that she had in some way got hold of some matches and set her bunk on fire.  Other suppositions are advanced but this appears to be the most reasonable.

SCENES OF TERROR

     During the progress of the fire there were many heart-rending scenes, such as are seldom witnessed in a lifetime.  The blaze seemed to fill many of the demented people with ghoulish ideas, and women were seen to stand before the windows and make the most hideous faces, even while the flames tipped their cheeks.  Some with brute instinct rushed back into the flames after their cell doors had been opened.
     As the fire died down and only flickering flames illumined  the scene, a most sickening scene was disclosed.  The charred and blackened skeletons of the cremated unfortunates stood out in bold relief,

     GHASTLY REMINDERS

of the terrible slaughter wrought by the fire fiend.  At the back of the burnt building and lying, against the half-burned high board fence, lay the partly burned remains of what was apparently a woman.  She had evidently been caught by the flames, while trying to escape over the fence and was burned to death in the effort.
     Others were in heaps, seemingly meeting death in a last embrace.

A BLINDING SNOW-STORM

had set in, making the scene even more terrible, and the work of those who could work more difficult.  Never did snow fall on such a horrible and sickening sight.  Crowds of people from the city were early at the fire and the grounds were dotted with teams.
     It was about 2 o'clock when the firemen quenched the last bit of flame and darkness fell on the fated spot.  The men had done all that could be done until daybreak and gradually the crowd faded away.
     The excitement was intense and many affecting scenes were witnessed.  Men and women were seeking information as to the fate of friends of relatives.  It was impossible to tell who got burned and who had not and the uncertainty was awful.

THE BURNED BUILDING

was of wood, two and a half stories high.  The two floors and attic were filled with cells, which were occupied by the insane.  The building was under the supervision of Wm. P. Driscoll.  It was located about 60 feet to the west of the main building and was dry as a tinderbox, making excellent food for the flames.

HOW ONE ESCAPED

     One of the inmates, Daly, who escaped with his clothing on fire, was seen by the REPUBLICAN reporter and was able to converse quite well on the fire.  He said he heard someone shout "Fire!" and then the lock turn.  He rushed out into the corridor,  which was a sheet of flame.  He dashed through it, his clothing catching as he ran.  When he emerged into the open air he was blackened and singed.

THE DEAD

     Those who perished in the flames were:
Sarah McClintock Great Falls
Addie Otis Great Falls
Julia Sullivan Dover
Fannie Slottery    "
A. McDermott    "
Katie Duffy    "
Sarah Hutchins    "
Julia Reed    "
Mary Cog[ley?]    "
Kate Nealley    "
Ann Rothwell    "
Mary McClintock    "
Martha Kinney    "
Frank S[c]riggin[s?]    "
Edw. Cassidy    " 
Henry Kimb[a?]ll    "
Michael C[ass?]    "
Kate Raitt    "
Mary Maloney    " 
Sarah Swe[tt?] Rochester
Laura Ellis    "
Frank Page    "
Frank Nutter    "
Lizzie Larvin Salmon Falls
Michael Dionne     "
Elizabeth Hickey Strafford
Lizzie E[l?]lis Biddleford, Me
Maggie White Great Falls
Wm. Twombly    "
Sam'l Johnson    "
Chas. Lib    "
Orrin Neally    "
Frank K[a?]ne    "
Mary La Fountaine    "
Ann McCann Rollinsford
Mary Nutter Farmington
Della Jones    "
Lester Jones    "
Wm. Ches[l?]dy Durham
Nora Frindle Milton Mills
 Mrs. Roberts Gt. Falls
 
     The inmates who escaped with their lives were Jas. Daly of this city, Ruth Sanborn and a French fellow called Big Frank.

IDENTIFICATION IMPOSSIBLE

     A visit to the farm this morning by the REPUBLICAN reporter revealed a wretched scene.  The ruins were still smoking and the 41 victims of the horror stood revealed in all their grimness.
     As yet no attempt has been made to take the remains from the ruins, which are still very hot.  Identification is impossible and only the merest guess work can be used.
     The County Commissioners arrived early this morning and are doing everything in their power to assist the superintendent.
     Large  crowds of people have visited the place today, many of whom ell remember the fire which destroyed the main building in January, 1881, by which thirteen people lost their lives.
     Big Frank, who escaped the flames, was found this morning in Rochester and brought back to the farm.

THE BOYS DID NOBLY

     The firemen from this city rendered efficient service.  Steamer 2 drawn by four horses and the 2 horse hose wagon with 1500 feet of hose arrived at the farm at 12:15.  The brigade was in charge of assistant engineer, Geo. A. Webster with assistant Michael McGuinness next in command.  Water was played on the ruins until 6 o'clock this morning.  Hot coffee, crackers and salt fish were served to the firemen.
     The news of the fire caused great excitement in the city and has been the sole topic of conversation on the street today.  Newspaper men from Boston have wired big stories to their respective papers.  No such an appalling loss of life has ever before occurred in New England
     The only figure which bore any resemblance to a human being was that of Mary La Fountaine.  The flames had left a portion of the dress by some miracle and by this were the remains of the unfortunate woman identified.
    The calamity is by far the worst ever recorded in this section and will go on record as one of the greatest holocausts in the history of the country.
 

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