|The East Village fire of 1912: remains. Photo taken from behind today's Peter & Polly Park. Look for the bell tower of the church, toward the right rear in the card.|
So this postcard became one of our Big Finds for 2015. It is what's called a "real photo postcard" -- someone photographed an actual scene and event, and had the picture made into cards. Three things alerted us to excitement here: the scene, which is after a disastrous fire; the postmark and hardwritten date, August 26 (25), 1912, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont; and the writer, L. D. Weston, who notes that he's writing to "Dear" Mrs. F. Weston, in Marbleton, Quebec, Canada.
We were wrong in almost all of our early assumptions about the card, though! The name "Weston" immediately rang a bell for us, as we know there's a household including that name in East St. Johnbury today. We wondered whether it was connected to today's family, and whether the image showed a farm fire.
Each of us -- Dave and I -- investigated in different directions. Soon we learned that today's Weston family didn't have a record of someone of that name in East St. Johnsbury (then known as "East Village") in 1912; then we found that L. D. Weston had lived in Lyndonville but was employed for a while by the railroad in St. Johnsbury. Finally Dave used the Library of Congress archives to unearth newspaper coverage of the 1912 fire -- which, oddly enough, turned out to have happened in East Village after all! I typed the news report up, and circled back to Edward Lee's "East St. Johnsbury Vermont" (1984) booklet to confirm the story from another direction. Lee's account makes it clear that the devastation of the East Village fire on August 7, 1912, had three contributing factors: no firefighting system in the village beyond the traditional "bucket brigade"; the fact that when the first motor-powered firetruck in St. Johnsbury itself (some 5+ miles away) tried to reach the fire, it was interrupted (according to the newspaper, three times!) by frightened teams of horses along the route; and a delay in getting a hand pumper from the Fairbanks Scale factory (about 6 miles way) to the fire via the railroad -- the pumper was placed on a flat car for transport along the rail line that linked the two villages, but had to wait for the passenger train from Portland, Maine, to arrive first.
Lee's account also includes the intriguing mention that firefighting villagers considered dynamiting the Moulton house next door to the church to stop the fire from traveling as far as the church! It appears this was a last resort that didn't actually happen.
A final note from Lee's accounts: By 1928 the East Village had its own fire station, next to the large store built a century earlier by Silas Hibbard. Perhaps one of today's readers can tell us when firefighting left East Village again, to be focused in "downtown" St. Johnsbury instead.
Here is the promised newspaper article: