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Chickering Piano Works Fire (1852)

On December 1, 1852, a huge blaze took place at the Chickering Piano factory located at 336 Washington Street in Boston. The piano manufactory occupied the majority of a five-story brick building that was completely destroyed, with adjoining structures also decimated by fire. The walls collapsed while the fire was being fought, and one policeman tragically lost his life after being buried by falling debris. The New York Times referred to the building as a Temple of Music after the fire.

Jonas Chickering owned the works, with his pianos being extremely popular at the time. Chickering Pianos were manufactured from 1830 to 1908, after which the company became a division of a larger corporation. The Chickering brand still exists today.

The factory destroyed by fire was replaced in 1854 at 791 Tremont Street, which still stands today. This second building was completely renovated in 1972, and is now configured with artist studios. The December 10, 1852 Barre Patriot describes the huge fire at the original Chickering Piano Works:

"3 o'clock A.M. — Thursday Morning — The whole of the manufactory—an immense block structure, five stores high—is one mass of ruins. Mr. Jonas Chickering owned the building, and occupied all of it except the stores, which were improved by Messrs Thomas &Merriam, grocers, Edward Butman, crockery ware dealer, Amos Cummings, grocer. Very little property, in the building was saved. The devouring element spread through the building with terrific rapidity and soon the heated walls began to fall so as to endanger the lives of those who approached.

The building occupied the space on Washington street, between Norfolk place and Sweetser court. A portion of the side wall on Sweetser court first fell doing no injury, and the gable end of the side wall, on Norfolk place, fell over and crushed in the roof of the brick building on the opposite corner, which was on fire, and forced out the gable end. Both buildings were now one mass of fire, presenting an awfully grand sight. A part of the wall on Washington street, next fell and the flames swept across Washington street, threatening the destruction of the Adams House and other buildings on the opposite side, but they were saved. The attic windows of the Adams House were badly scorched.

The greater portion of the wall on Norfolk street next fell over on the opposite building, crushing it completely to pieces, and the walls of the next adjoining northerly, a three story, old fashioned block, and buried underneath the ruins, two watchmen, named Alfred Turner and Benjamin F. Foster, of the Boylston division. A large force immediately set to work to remove the rubbish, and after some time, were able to converse with Turner, and in an hour's time reached one of his arms, but before the ruins could be cleared away, he fell into the cellar, and not just before putting our [news]paper to press been dug out. Foster, it is supposed lived but a short time.

The building on the corner of Norfolk place, opposite Chicerking's was five stories high, belonged to Deming Jarvis, and was occupied, the store by P.R. Morley, plumber, and the upper stories by Mr. Ladd, pianoforte key maker. They saved but a small amount of their stock. The building was insured. The old brick building next adjoining, which was leveled to the ground by the falling wall was occupied by Mrs. Wyman, as a boy's clothing store and a dwelling house.

Mr. Chickering's loss is not more than half covered by insurance. The stocks of the occupants of the stores, we understand, were insured."

Replacement Factory Location:

Chickering Piano Works Building (1854) 
791 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118

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