Rahway, NJ Opera House Fire, Apr 1885

Rahway NJ Masonic Temple and Theatre.jpg Rahway NJ Opera House Burned 1885.jpg



The village of Rahway, N.J., suffered considerably from the fire which raged there yesterday morning. Nearly the entire block fronting of Urban street north of Elizabeth avenue was consumed, and but for a heavy rainstorm the whole of the central portion of the village would undoubtedly have been destroyed. The flames lit up the country for miles around, and many persons from Elizabeth and other villages drove down to witness the sight. The local fire department, consisting of a truck, three hose carts, and a rickety old hand power engine, was on hand promptly, and for a time seemed likely to gain control of the flames, but the water mains proved too weak for the necessary pressure. A main bursted in a neighboring street, and the result was disastrous.
The fire started in a large two-story brick building, owned and occupied by JOHN FREEMAN as a carriage factory. There was a high wind blowing, and, with the decrease in the supply of water, the flames quickly enveloped the whole building and a small saw mill adjoining it. Then help was telegraphed for to Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Newark, and Jersey City, and all but the last named placed engines and trucks on flat cars ready to go to the rescue. So much time was lost, however, that their coming would have been of no use, and the appeal was countermanded.
Within 20 feet of the burning saw mill stood the Rahway Opera House, a large brick structure. It was soon burning with the other buildings. Streams were played on the walls from the roof of an adjoining three-story frame dwelling, but in less than 15 minutes the building had been gutted and a portion of the crumbling wall fell among the firemen, tearing a hole through the roof and breaking its way from floor to floor until it landed in the basement. Only one fireman was injured, and he not seriously. The house belonged to the owner of the carriage factory, who lived in it with his famiily. In their descent to the cellar the bricks passed directly through MRS. FREEMAN'S bedroom, where she was lying ill, expecting hourly to be confined. It is feared the shock to her system will prove fatal. She was taken to the Episcopal church near by. The carriage factory of HATFIELD & JACKSON, across the street from the opera house, had its front badly scorched, and a small frame cottage back of the FREEMAN factory was burned, with almost everything it contained. Scarcely anything was saved from the opera house, but a dozen or more carriages were taken uninjured from the factory.
The opera house was erected in 1874 by the late G. P. GORDON, and cost, exclusive of fittings, $41,000. With its contents the building was worth about $50,000. The insurance was only $10,000. It belonged to the GORDON estate. MR. FREEMAN estimates the loss on his factory and saw mill at $40,000. His dwelling was damaged about $2,000. His insurance is $17,500. The cottage in the rear of his factory was owned by JOHN HELM. It was worth about $1,000, and was fully insured. The opera house will be rebuilt.

The New York Times New York 1885-04-30