Sadly, not everyone has heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next. The reasons for that are many. In one case the primary culprit is fire. To be exact, that should read fires.
According to federal censuses, my paternal great grandparents, Everett F. and Emma (Nichols) Merryfield, lived in Center Sandwich, Carroll, New Hampshire, between 1910 and 1940. Everett and Emma owned a combination hotel, general store, and ice cream parlor there.
The 1910 census lists Everett’s occupation as mail carrier and stage coach driver and Emma’s as hotel keeper. In 1920, Everett was the “driver of a public car”; after leaving Sandwich, he operated the Ashmont Taxi company in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The 1930 census shows Everett as a mail carrier, “star route” (i.e. rural delivery), and Emma as the proprietor of an ice cream store.
On the afternoon of February 27, 1934, tragedy struck when a fire broke out. The Portsmouth Herald reported the following day:
“The worst fire in the history of this little town swept through the heart of the business section yesterday afternoon, leveling five mercantile establishments and two dwelling houses and causing damage estimated at $150,000. Three families were made homeless.
“Practically the whole town, men, women, and children, left their homes to join the firemen from the local, Moultonboro and Center Harbor departments in battling the blaze. They formed bucket brigades from the nearby mill pond and huge quantities of water were poured on the flames.
“After raging from 1:30 yesterday afternoon until after 6 o’clock last night the conflagration was declared under control although firemen and volunteers continued to guard burning embers and fight sporadic outburst in cord wood piled in the rear of the postoffice building and [piles] of lumber piled near the rear of the Thompson garage. …
“Buildings which were completely wiped out included:
“Everett Merryfield’s general store, two and one-half story structure in the basement of which the blaze originated. …
“At the Merryfield store practically all the contents were destroyed, including all the town records for the past 70 years. Mr. Merryfield, the owner, is town clerk of Center Sandwich.
“The origin of the blaze was not determined. It broke out in the basement of the Merryfield store shortly after Fred Mudgett, local mechanic, had left the building, where he had been at work repairing a tractor snowplow.”
However, should this fire not have been enough to destroy any family heirlooms on the property, a second fire in Center Sandwich again devastated the Merryfield family.
On May 30, 1939, the 100-year-old Merryfield farm was “destroyed by fire of unknown origin” with a “loss estimated at close to $3,000.”
The farm, owned by Everett and Emma, now of Roxbury, had just recently been occupied by my grandfather, Harold Merryfield of Dover, and his family.
Apparently, the house was being used as a summer home, as it had not been occupied since the previous summer.
The Portsmouth Herald reported:
While eating the noon meal Mr. Merryfield detected smoke and going to the barn found a pile of hay ablaze. Although he hurried to the nearest telephone to summon the Center Sandwich volunteer fire department, the fire had spread to every part of the farmhouse and outbuildings by the time help arrived and the structure was a total loss.
“Mrs. Merryfield and the couple’s four children managed to save a few pieces of furniture before being obliged to leave the building.”
Fortunately, no one was injured or died in these fires. These are not uncommon events. Fire fighting as it was in those days was by bucket brigade and personal possessions stood little chance of survival.
Center Sandwich, New Hampshire c1892