Located between Manchester and Merrimack streets in Manchester, The John B. Varick Company was “not by any means the largest, but in the opinion of many good judges, [was] the most complete and perfectly appointed general hardware establishment to be found in the entire United States.” The hardware store “was established in 1845.”
The store seemed to have bad luck with fires. According to the Manchester Fire Department, “The Varick Block had…burned on February 7, 1892 sustaining losses of $144,000 and again on May 21, 1914 with a loss of $44,000.” On June 24, 1914, however, was the largest fire of them all, in which the building was rocked by explosions.
The Manchester Fire Department writes:
On June 24, 1914 Box #5 was transmitted at 2:15 A.M. for John Varick Company on Elm Street between Merrimack Street and Manchester Street. A small basement fire turned into a general alarm fire after gas flames erupted from the cellar. Explosions rocked the building as large tanks of alcohol and volatile oils stored under the sidewalk ignited. A basement filled with paints and oils contributed to the blaze. Fire apparatus from the Amoskeag Corporation assisted the city department. An engine from Fore River Ship Company, which was stored at the city yard and was to be demonstrated that day, was put into service at the fire. The agent, J. A. Lamkin, hearing the alarm, awakened his two assistants and they rushed up Elm Street to volunteer their services. Chief Lane directed them to set up at Hanover and Elm Street. The 175 H. P. engine pumped 1600 G. P. M. through 4 hose lines. At 4:20 A.M. Carl Lagequist and Fireman Harris removed 50 lb. of gunpowder from the building. At 4:45 A.M. the fire spread to the R. G. Sullivan store and office. By 6 A.M. heavy, green smoke, from the tobacco, was pouring from the 4th, 5th, and 6th floors. Roger Sullivan’s large tobacco stock was ruined and $30,000 of automobile tires in Varicks was destroyed along with an immense amount of supplies.
The fire roared for “more than six hours…and before it was brought under control had destroyed two commercial blocks with a loss between $350,000 and $400,000. Nine firemen were hurt [but expected to recover].” In all, the hardware store, the warehouse of R.G. Sullivan’s cigar factory, former Governor C.M Floyd’s clothing store, and the insurance office owned by W.G. Barry all sustained horrible damages.
Thanks to the Manchester Historic Association for these fantastic photos showing the battle against the flames below.