Cranford, NJ Opera House Block Fire, Feb 1912





The main business block of Cranford, N. J., was destroyed early yesterday morning by a fire which caused a loss of between $125,000 and $140,000. Of the Opera House Building, which sheltered a cluster of stores and offices, as well as the town's chief auditorium, only the blackened walls were standing at daylight, and as the afternoon drew to a close the firemen were busy pulling these down. The losses were almost entirely covered by insurance.
This building was owned by WILLIAM SPERRY, Vice President of SPERRY & HUTCHINSON, the green trading stamp house. MR. SPERRY is in Florida. He and his brother, THOMAS A. SPERRY, President of the company, are Cranford residents of long standing and have large real estate holdings in the town.
Yesterday's blaze, by far the largest in the history of Cranford, was dubbed the "Cranford Equitable Fire" by the commuters, who craned their necks from the windows as the Jersey Central trains bore them to and from New York. The fire had attacked and wiped out the largest and most important of the local buildings, it had eaten its way in the most densely built portion of the town, and yet, for all the cold and disheartening conditions under which the fire fighters worked, the flames were confined to that one building, never touching the frame buildings that stood all about it.
The fact that the flames were confined to the Opera House Building evoked much praise yesterday for Cranford's firemen and for the Westfield and ELizabeth recruits that answered the first call for help. The origin of the blaze will probably remain a matter of uncertainty, but JAMES W. FERGUSON, MR. SPERRY'S agent, was heard to observe yesterday afternoon:
"I think it was due to Mr. Cigarette."
When the fire was discovered, the auditorium on the third floor had not been emptied an hour of the 125 couples who had been dancing there at the ball given under the auspices of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics. Smoking was prohibited, and waste paper was kept pretty well picked up, MR. FERGUSON said, but there were the dance programmes, and possibly some departing guest flipped his still glowing cigarette into a dark corner in the hallway, where the flames seem to have had their start.
Slid To Safety Down Flagpole.
A. O. HOPKINS, a bachelor upholsterer, who plied his art and slept as well in his quarters on the second floor of the building, first noticed the smoke a few moments before 3 o'clock yesterday morning. He ventured into the hallway, found it blinding with smoke, and after waking LOUIS NAHF, the janitor, got out of the window, and, half clad, made his way to the ground by way of a flagpole. He reached the sidewalk somewhat bruised.
NAHF is a fireman and he lost no time in reaching the street and sending in an alarm. Cranford, some twenty years ago, after the bitter experience of a disastrous fire, set up two amateur paid fire companies, one hose and one hook and ladder, with twenty-five of the younger men of the town in each company. The Gamewell fire alarm system was established, and the signal "28," which rang out through Cranford yesterday morning, meant that a fire was burning in the town's "congested district." Within five minutes, tumbling out of their beds and hustling to the point where North Avenue crosses Union, the first firemen came and within ten minutes the town's whole firefighting force was on hand.
Chief LOUIS HESS, the young leader of the department, knew there was more work ahead than his forces could handle, and he immediately sent in a call for help to Westfield and Elizabeth. Westfield, two miles away, has a new automobile engine, and came whizzing proudly to the rescue in a few moments. Elizabeth responded, also. Meanwhile, all Cranford got out of bed and even Westfield folk came over to see the fire.

The New York Times New York 1912-02-04