Bradford's First City Hall

On the Corner of Congress and Corydon Streets

The year was 1883, and the townspeople were clamoring for a new city hall. The City Council had been meeting above a building on Pine Street, but everyone agreed that the time had come to build an impressive structure that would show that Bradford, just recently incorporated, had "come of age". Debate went on for months, but finally in May of that year, the bids were sent out, the project awarded, and construction began.

Excavations for the new City Hall began in June, and The Bradford Era promised that the actual work of erection would soon begin. By July, the second story timbers were up in the new building, and the outer facade of brick was scheduled. The completion date seemed just ahead. By fall, the work was finished, and the new City Hall was opened. The mayor was located in the first office on the left; and the city treasurer, the first office on the right. The Johnson Hose Company was quartered on the second floor, and the Era Hook and Ladder Co. was in the rear. The City of Bradford, had at last, its own City Hall.

But tragedy lay ahead. On June 15, 1894, just eleven years after its completion, Bradford's first City Hall was destroyed by fire. How it happened is a story in itself.

The Bradford Era was on hand to report the following: "Fire was discovered in the bunk room of the Johnson Hose Company on the second floor of the city building about 3 o'clock this morning. An alarm was turned in, and was promptly responded to by several companies. The structure, being brick veneered, it was extremely difficult for the firemen to fight the blaze. The building is two stories in height, and was occupied by the Johnson Hose Company, the Era Hook and Ladder Company, Council Chambers, the lockup, and the offices of the Mayor, City Clerk, City Engineer, City Treasurer, City Solicitor, etc.

The upper portion of the building was completely gutted and the whole structure was flooded with water. The loss is estimated at between $6,000 and $8,000.

Chief Stanton was in his office when the fire was discovered, and he ran out to box 13 to send in an alarm. The box refused to work, and to call assistance, he fired his gun four times. This summoned officers from their beats, and one of them repaired to the Riddell House and sent in a general alarm from that box. All of this meant delay, so that when the hose companies reached the scene, the fire had been given time to get a good headway in the inflammable structure.

From the first, the hose companies labored under a disadvantage. The brick veneering of the structure and its cornice made a beautiful breastwork to shield the fire, and the lack of ladders to scale the roof and attack the flames from an accessible place, put the framework of the roof at the mercy of the fire. Water was poured on to the roof, and the ceilings to the best advantage possible, but the affair was taken by all spectators as a gigantic and expensive object lesson showing the value of a good set of ladders.

Two prisoners were in the lockup at the time the fire broke out. They were the crazy Italian and a common drunk. Both were released for want of something else to do with them.

The records from most of the offices were removed in a more or less damaged condition from water, disarrangement, and loss.

By the time the fire was checked, the inside of the building was pretty thoroughly gutted, particularly the roof and the upper portion. The lower floor was so submerged that it suffered only from water.

The high rates of insurance had kept the building uninsured". (The Bradford Era, June 15, 1894)

An investigation that followed found that the fire was due to a faulty gas jet in the Johnson Hose Company quarters. People living in close proximity to the building reported that shortly before the alarm was given, a loud explosion was heard, and a few moments later a sheet of flame was seen issuing from the hose tower, which was at least 50 feet high.

Once again, Bradford was without a city hall. It would be four more years before another City Hall was erected - this time on the corner of Kennedy and Boylston Streets. This building is still standing, and is a well-known landmark in the city. But it would not have ever been built, if the first city hall had not burned to the ground during those exciting early morning hours of June, 1894.

After the burned remains were cleared away, the lot remained empty for nearly six years. The city owned the lot, and at one time even considered building the central fire station there. Eventually, however, the lot was given for a token sum to the Carnegie Library, which constructed Bradford's first library building there in 1901. Luckier than its predecessor, the library still stands, and today has been converted to a restaurant.