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[447]

Fires.

For the first two hundred years of our settlement, there were very few fires, and those few were mostly in the woods. The Indians had been used to clearing their planting-fields by the summary process of burning; and they occasionally lighted a fire without regard to bounds or proprietorship. Not more than two buildings have been burned at the same time till quite recently; but, within the last ten years, it has seemed as if former exemptions were to be cancelled by rapidly increasing alarms and widely extended conflagrations. The deepest shade of sorrow is added to this calamity by the fact that the fires were sometimes the work of incendiaries. Several peaceable and excellent citizens have thus lost their barns at seasons when those barns were most full and most needed. The incendiary is truly a child of hell.

The parts of the Town House which were destroyed by two separate fires were restored without much expense to the town.

The greatest and most distressing conflagration that ever occurred in Medford was on the night of the 21st of November, 1850. It destroyed every building, on Main Street and its neighborhood, which stood between the bridge and South Street. The number, including dwelling-houses, workshops, and barns, was thirty-six. It commenced in the old tavern barn, at the north-west corner of the settlement, when the wind was blowing a gale from that quarter; and it spread with such speed as to prevent all passage over the bridge from the north, where ten or fifteen engines were collected, waiting for the first opportunity for duty. There was but one engine north of the bridge. If, instead of a large barn, the first building burned had been a dwelling-house, or if the wind had been at any other point, the terrible destruction might have been stayed; but, as every circumstance favored the spread of the flames, their progress seemed like lightning; and they appeared to leap with frantic fury from one building to another, as a starving man rushes to devour the first food within his reach. Before two o'clock, the whole district was in ashes. It must have gone farther, had not engines from towns south of us arrived, and a few engines from the north been ferried across the river in scows. Nineteen engines were present; and every fireman and citizen

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November 21st, 1850 AD (1)
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