$40,000 Fire at State Farm at Niantic

Old Dormitory Destroyed; None Lost, Injured

[New London Day, 28 Dec 1937]


Fenwick Hall, oldest of the dormitories and one of the four frame structures at the State Farm for Women at Niantic, was in ruins today following a fire that swept through it last night. The building was a long, two story affair. The second floor was completely destroyed and the first floor was gutted to such an extent that Miss Elizabeth Munger, the superintendent, said the structure could not be rebuilt. She estimated the loss at $40,000 and said it is covered by insurance.


fit it fit it


Fortunately the fire broke out at an early hour, 7:45 p.m., at which time all of the 30 inmates were on the ground floor and it was a comparatively simple matter to escort them all to safety. Miss Munger said if it had happened in the middle of the night, it might have exacted a toll of human life.


Two Matrons Collapse

Two of the matrons collapsed from the excitement and were treated by institution physicians, but none of the firemen or other persons were injured.

The fire apparently started around a chimney in the upper story and Miss Munger said no time was lost in telephoning an alarm to the Niantic fire company.

"I hastened to the building as soon as I had been informed of the fire," she said, "and found the entire roof ablaze. The girls were still inside, going upstairs to get some of their belongings and they were successful in saving many of them. As the fire spread rapidly, however, further access to the upper floor was barred to them and they were quickly assembled and escorted from the building and allotted to the other dormitories to spend the night. They behaved very well and the evacuation of the building was accomplished without the slightest disorder."


Waterford Apparatus Aid

When the Niantic firemen reached the scene the flames were sweeping through the entire second story and they readily realized they would be wholly unable to cope with the situation and the Waterford fire department was appealed to for assistance. The Jordan and Oswegatchie companies responded with full crews and the Niagara engine company was despatched from this city to stand by at the Jordan station at Jordan village, Waterford, to cover that section in the event a fire should occur there.

Fortunately, the blazing dormitory was only about six or seven hundred feet from Bride lake so that an ample supply of water was available. The Niantic company's apparatus took up a position at the shore of the lake and pumped water through four lines of hose. The two Waterford companies also went into action pumping water from the lake and, in all, seven or eight streams of water were directed onto the flames. The fire was attacked from all four sides, both from ladders and from the ground.

Fireman, assisted by employees of the institution and volunteers entered into the building in the early stages of the fire and succeeded in removing a considerable part of the furniture, bedding, clothing, etc.


Under Control at Midnight

The timbers of the 17-year-old building were as tinder, however, and the flames fed on them with great rapidity, so that by the time the Waterford fire companies arrived, the fire had mushroomed through the entire building. Tons of water was poured onto the flames and the fire was finally brought under control at 12 o'clock. It was not until 4:30 o'clock this morning, however, that the Niantic Fire Co. picked up its equipment and returned to its station. A detail of firemen was left to go over the debris extinguishing smoldering fires and, this forenoon such fires were still burning in various parts of the ruins.

At its height the fire was spectacular and it attracted a large crowd of spectators, so that it required the services of state policemen to keep traffic from becoming blocked on the roads about the institution. The sparks flew upwards in a golden cascade and the flames illuminated the sky so that the reflection could be seen from a considerable distance.


First Dormitory

Fenwick hall, erected in 1920, was the first dormitory at the farm and, previous to that time, inmates had been housed in the old farm building itself. Miss Munger said today that for the past ten years she had informed the general assembly that the building was a firetrap and had recommended it be abandoned as a dormitory in favor of a fireproof structure. The last session of the legislature appropriated money for a new building but the project has not been started yet.

The superintendent also said that the three other frame buildings at the farm are worse fire traps than the one destroyed last night, and pointed out that they are far removed from Bride lake, so that the problem of a water supply will be acute in the event fire breaks out in one of them.


Acute Housing Problem

Miss Munger was loud in her praise of the conduct of the inmates of the dormitory and termed as "wonderful" the efficient work of the matrons, other institution officials and employees, and the members of the Niantic and Waterford fire departments.

The superintendent today was engaged in a study of the acute housing problem resulting from the fire. She said sleeping accomodations for those driven from Fenwick hall were available only because some others had been allowed to go home over the holidays and even then it was necessary for the inmates to "double up" in many instances.

"We are so greatly overcrowded," Miss Munger said, "that we haven't had room for a single new admission, and now we must devise temporary means of providing sleeping accomodations for the women and girls from Fenwick hall. Just how we will do it is not evident at this time."