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Fire Destroys Five Hartford Store Buildings
Hartford, Michigan
February 22, 1968

The Day Spring
Wednesday, February 28, 1968

HARTFORD - Fire destroyed the center of the south side of Main St. here Thursday, the fifth time in 90 years that this section of the town has been hit by a serious fire. 

Three firemen were hospitalized and a fourth was treated and released as a result of the blaze.

Demolition of the few walls that remain standing is expected to start today.  Those with the responsibility are too numb from the effects of the fire to advance plans for rebuilding.

The City Council Monday night accepted a bid from Yerington Construction Co., Benton Harbor, to demolish the remains of the burnt-out buildings, which is expected to take about a week.  Cost of the work will be charged to the properties involved.
      Firemen from six departments fought the blaze for many hours, and it was not until late in the second day that the last hoses were removed.

The fire was the worst in Hartford's history from the standpoint of duration and area covered.  Damage was estimated at several hundred thousand dollars, but side effects, such as water damage to the Main St. pavement will be high to the toll.

Heroic action by a number of high school students saved the majority of merchandise in the stores which eventually were destroyed by the flames.

Cause of the fire, according to Fire Chief Harold Walker, Sr., and Det. William Rucinski of the fire marshal's division of the state police, was a mattress set afire by a five-year-old boy playing with a cigarette lighter.  The blaze started in an apartment above the Hartford Floor Covering store.

First fireman to be hospitalized with smoke inhalation was David Sinclair.  He was followed to Community hospital by Fireman Larry Weber and Fire Capt. Harold Walker, Jr.  All three were released at noon the next day.  Fireman Elwood Jones was treated and released.

Destroyed in the blaze were, from west to east, the floor covering store, Rose Drug Store, Main Tavern, Nona's 5 and 10-cent store warehouse, Disbrow Barber Shop, and Hitchcock Hardware, along with a vacant building adjoining the floor covering store on the west. 

Fire departments from Lawrence, Paw Paw, South Haven, Covert, and Keeler came to assist the Hartford department as the County firemen's association automatic moveup system was put into operation.  Last out-of-town department to leave was Lawrence, which spent 10 1/2 hours fighting the blaze.  In addition, firemen from Watervliet, Kalamazoo, and Sawyer helped as individuals.

Firemen were in action at the scene until Friday night before the last of the fire was extinguished.

Nurses who work at Community hospital went on volunteer duty in the council chambers at the City hall to give oxygen to firemen and treat their nearly-frozen feet. Red Cross and other volunteers served coffee and sandwiches to tired fighters throughout the blaze, and provided dry socks and gloves.

Firemen and merchants were high in their praise of Hartford high school students, who worked feverishly to remove merchandise to safety from all of the stores involved.  Estimates of their efforts ranged from 50 to 90 percent of store stocks that were carried to safety.

More than half a million gallons of water were poured on the fire according to Clarence Pomeroy, Jr., superintendent of public works.  At the same time the fire was using 553,000 gallons of water, regular city consumption totaled 344,000 gallons, posing a strain on the city's three wells, which pumped to capacity for several hours.

The buildings where were destroyed in last week's fire were built to replace buildings leveled in an 1877 blaze.  At that time, the young village had no fire department
The same buildings lost last week were heavily damaged in a fire on Dec. 18, 1946.  Serious fires in the same block also occurred in 1915 and about 10 years ago, but none since 1877 had the devastating effects of last week's blaze.

Both Main St. and the south alley have been blocked off since the fire because of the danger that remaining walls might fall.  Police have maintained a 24-hour guard on the scene since the blaze.

Publicity received by the fire attracted a throng of sight-seers to Hartford Sunday, creating a traffic volume seldom seen in the city.


The following photos were contributed by Pat Empson Bachman, July 6, 2003.

The Day Spring story was provided by John Witt (HHS 1978) in February, 2001. The story was retypeset as it originally appeared in the February 28, 1968 edition of the Day Spring.  Due to natural newspaper aging, the original photos could not be reproduced clearly and have been replace by the photos above. 

Original photos in story provided by Mary Thornburg (HHS 1982-Adult Ed) in January, 2003.
Photos immediately above submitted by Pat Empson Bachman (HHS 1959) on July 6, 2003. 

Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.

Revised: March 02, 2015