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Information needed on photos of historic fire

May 5, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

It didn't look like any place I'd seen in Westfield, but someone wrote "Maybe Armour Plant Fire?" on the back; it was a sepia-colored panoramic photo with a crease. But now it is missing. There's another smaller photo that appears to be part of the longer one in which the figures are larger like an enlargement, but (sigh) no label on that one. We've had these discussions before; even if you don't think you will forget the names, date, places when you take a photo, chances are, 10 years from now, you won't remember. And for those of us who are passionate about history and family genealogy, going through old historic and family photos and albums with no labels is so frustrating! And another thing that makes us even angrier is when we look for a photo that we've used before, and it isn't there! Someone took it, and if it wasn't digitized or copied before, it is lost to all future historic or genealogical research. So sad, but it happens way too often at the Patterson Library archives. (End of rant!)

Several weeks after looking through the files and photos about historic fires in Westfield, in preparation for a display being planned for the upcoming Chautauqua County History Fair, I was searching my computer historian photo archives for another BeeLines and gasped to see a smokestack and odd shaped tower that I remembered seeing in that old fire photo. This time the location was definitely recognizable - near the train depot and factory district between the two sets of railroad tracks on English Street in Westfield. So I made a note to compare the photos to try to determine a possible structure fire and date. Several searches later, some photocopy scans have been located.

The Armour Grape Juice Factory fire occurred on the Sunday before the Oct. 16, 1918 issue of the Westfield Republican that reported the disaster. A 1907 Sanborn Map shows the Fenner Grape Juice building, which Armour bought in 1910, located on Franklin Street next to the Nickel Plate tracks. Studying the smaller but enlarged photo, it was noted that there was quite a crowd of observers at the fire site, both male and female, and the women are wearing long dresses. Although women's dresses were still long in 1918, the skirts were not as full as they had been in in 1900. There is a fairly old car in the photo as well, but it is difficult to see enough detail. Also, the fire site in the photo does not look to be near the Nickel Plate tracks.

Article Photos

Submitted photos
These photos are of a fire in Westfield near English Street, but it cannot be determined with certainty when the fire was or what burned down.

Searching the newspapers between 1900 and 1920 for other fires near English and Franklin Streets found that Westfield Lumber and Coal Company was burned to the ground on Thursday, Aug. 24, 1911. It was located on English Street near the Lake Shore tracks. The firemen were not able to save the planning mill but did prevent the fire from spreading to the lumber yard, office building, and storage sheds.

Your Westfield Historian is asking faithful readers to please examine the photos and provide any further feedback and observations. Thanks.



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