Hartford, CT Park Central Hotel Collapse and Fire, Feb 1889
The Park Central was built about 15 years ago by Jerry Hastings. It was built by day's work under Mr. Hastings's supervision, instead of by contract, but the work was by no means thorough, as the foundation soil was insecure, for within a short time after it was finished there were cracks and other signs of weakness. The hotel and furniture cost $120,000.
Business increasing, Mr. Hastings built the annex two or three years later. Then he had financial troubles and the hotel passed to the proprietorship of Jasper H. Bolton, who was an old hotel keeper. He came from Stafford, and was a State Senator from 1863 to 1864, and Sheriff of Tolland County from 1854 to 1857. Business improved under his management, and the hotel came to be popular with the drummer element, and with residents, who became permanent guests. About five years ago Mr. Bolton sold out to Mr. Ketchum, and he had just completed refitting the house with new furniture, carpeting, wall paper, &c., so that the hotel throughout was in good shape. It had steam heat, electric bells, electric lights, and many other modern conveniences. The business has of late been heavy, not only in transient but in permanent patronage.
Thus during the 15 years that the building has been erected, there has been neither an official nor private attempt to ascertain the comparative safety of a notoriously-unsafe building. Politics has to do with this, and it is due to it alone that so many lives were scarified this morning. For some years the honest citizens of Hartford have been laboring before the Aldermen to have Fire Marshal Otto Klepp take supervision of the construction and the proper maintenance of the buildings of the city. He was to have, in great degree, the same power as that exercised by the Superintendent of Buildings in New-York. The Park Centre Hotel would have come at once within its jurisdiction. But a notorious politician in this city had fought against this praiseworthy measure tooth and nail. His servants in the Board of Aldermen have followed his suggestions without a murmur or without the slightest care for the public safety. Thus the supervision of unsafe or new buildings still remains with the Fire Department Committee of the Board of Aldermen, composed of Alderman McGhovern as Chairman and three Common Councilmen.
After the fashion of Aldermanic committee this one does very little work and has entirely disregarded the Park Central Hotel. Because of this negligence the hotel acquired a certain sort of reputation for safety, and it is only this which has retained its clientage. The weigh of testimony seems to be in favor of the destruction of the building because of its inadequate construction. Its foundations were shaky, its walls were ridiculously thin, and its mortar was so poor that to-night a TIMES correspondent, taking a piece from the ruins, easily crumbles it between his fingers like so much sand. The probabilities seem to be that the wall at the level of the engine room gave way and so precipitated the upper part of the building upon the boilers and furnace, thus smashing the gas pipes. The flow of gas was ignited and caused the explosion which did so much damage and which was so quickly followed by the out burst of the flames. The theory of the exploding boiler being the primal cause of the accident has not been supported by the discovery of any portion of its metal work in the ruins. It was discovered late to-night, apparently intact, away down beneath the refuse. The State Boiler Inspector, Frank Allen, said that the boiler was only six years old and had been rigidly inspected last August. At that time it was all right in every particular. A law requires the engineer of any boiler to notify the Inspector of any irregularities in the working of the boiler. No such word had been sent to the inspector. The boiler was built by Pitkin Brothers and the pressure was limited to 70 pounds. It was a 54-inch horizontal tubular boiler, and was set parallel with Allyn-street. The cellar of the structure was unusually deep, and it is because of this that the ruins of the hotel do not show much larger than the level of its site area of 2,400 square feet.
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