The Great Concord Fire of 1812


For the Monitor

Published: 10-21-2023 9:00 AM

Early residents experienced very significant history here in Concord during the year 1812. They witnessed turmoil once again between Great Britain and the United States unfold as President James Madison placed an embargo on trade with the British, and ultimately the beginning of the War of 1812. It was during this war that we find Americans invading Canada at Windsor, Upper Canada and the nickname “Old Ironsides” assigned to the U.S.S. Constitution after a British Cannonball was said to have bounced of the American warship during battle. There were many men from Concord that enlisted once again to preserve the union and defend their country.

While the cloud of war appeared over our great nation there was still the everyday life of the people living in the communities. People dealt with the hardships of providing food, clothing and shelter for their families here in Concord to protect them from the harsh New Hampshire winter. Modern luxuries provided shops down on Main Street to purchase some of the necessities but there was concern for safety, not just the opposing British, but other threats such as the common occurrence of fires within the community.

The early buildings were primarily constructed of wood and very apt to burn if subjected to fire. There were measures taken to control fire prevention as new buildings were constructed in congested areas, distances were kept in case a tall building burned and collapsed. The distance would help to prevent the spread of fire in case a nearby burning building collapsed. Fire Departments were organized with volunteers from the community, though primitive they were very helpful in controlling the spread of flames.

It was in the year 1812 that cabinet maker George Rogers in the north end of Concord experienced a devastating fire that threatened the entire neighborhood. It was mid-February when this fire struck the cabinet shop and soon engulfed the building in flames, much wood and preservatives were stored in the wooden building and flames did spread rather quickly. Within yards of the fire there was a bank, with a large vault containing cash and precious documents in need of protection. As the fire progressed and outbuildings were found to be catching fire, the people of Concord not only feared for the cabinetmakers shop but for their very own lives as cinders reached skyward. The alarm was sounded and word spread quickly as locals left their homes, farms, stores and offices to join together and combat the deadly flames.

Fortunately for the people fighting the fire, there was a brook crossing North Main Street near the bottom of Washington Street. West Brook provided the water needed to douse the flames as more and more people arrived. Soon there was a commotion as a horse drawn Concord Fire Department Company arrived on the scene with a Fire Ward to supervise the battle with the flames.

The first firefighting apparatus to arrive on the scene was the old hand engine “Old Literary No. 1”. This Concord Fire Department Engine Company was originally formed in 1807 and included some prominent volunteers from the community. The “Old Literary No. 1” was stored in a building on Bridge Street when not in use and manned by Abel Hutchins, James Ayer, Bowen Crehore, William Huse and Timothy Butters. The Captain of the company was Daniel Greenleaf. As the fire company arrived a bucket brigade comprised of volunteers formed and brought water from West Brook up to the tub and then hand pumped onto the fire.

This fire was extinguished by the men from the Concord Fire Department with the assistance of many from the community. The very next town meeting addressed a new ordinance to increase fire protection and insurance within Concord, the ordinance was adopted on March 9th, 1813.

There was much praise for the brave men and women who volunteered to save the north end buildings back in 1812.  A card of appreciation was written and signed by Judge Timothy Walker, who just happened to be the President of the bank that was threatened by this fire. The Bank Directors and Stockholders also expressed their gratitude to both the Concord Fire Department and the people from the community that assisted.

It is in our nature to come together during times of need. Fighting a fire, defending our country or just helping a person through a simple deed, the people of Concord continue to provide for the unfortunate to this very day.