Two Edwards Fires:
by Katheryn F. Fuller, Deputy Historian
"Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory..."
The following account is not guaranteed to be historically
accurate. At age seven I was not a trained observer and
reporter, but I was so frightened that the event made a
lasting impression that remains vivid today, more than seventy
According to Velma Hall's diary, it was February 17,
1922 a minus 40 degree day, when the schoolhouse caught
fire. It was early forenoon when Eddie Beach, the janitor,
appeared at the door of Mrs. Petrie's third and fourth grade
classroom. He had just come back to school from an errand,
probably getting the mail, and had seen the fire on the
roof. There was a class bell in the lower hall just outside
our door, and Mrs. Petrie pushed the bell long and hard.
The principal, Mr. Bacon, came running, and there was instant
evacuation of the building. Later the third graders said, "Mr.
Bacon was white as a sheet; Mrs. Petrie was red as a beet!"
There was a back door to the two rooms at the back, and
the first four grades were sent out into the snow. The teachers
then quickly gathered our coats, toques, and overshoes and
dumped them from the back porch. We scrambled to find our
wraps while pupils were leaving from all doors.
When I went around the corner of the building, some of
the older boys were coming from the front, and I was amazed
to see Olney Boulet jumping around with glee, shouting, "The
schoolhouse is burning down!" Then I could see the
fire on the roof. It looked about the size and shape of
a 9'x12' rug, covered with hundreds of tiny birthday candles.
I don't remember any big flames. I don't remember any firemen,
nor ladders, nor hoses, but after a short time we were allowed
back in the schoolhouse to pick up our books and other possessions.
I saw Lucille Ward put her geography book on the desk, neatly
stack her other books on top, and calmly leave. My arithmetic
book was on top of my desk (it nearly always was, but not
because it was my favorite), and I grabbed that and started
for home carrying my overshoes, my coat unbuttoned, weeping
and disheveled. Gladys O'Neil met me on the street and bundled
me up for that bitterly cold day. To this day I marvel that
the firemen (whom I don't remember), with very little equipment,
were able to put out the fire with minimal damage and no
injuries. We had two or three days of vacation.
On that same frigid day the home of the superintendent
of the mines, Mr. Wade, also burned, and the house of Sammy
Morris caught fire, but did not burn.
The old Edwards High School, circa 1915
"All Edwards Is Afire!"
A little more than five years later there was another
fire which was potentially much more dangerous. Our parents
had gone to Gouverneur, and my sister, Helena, and I were
supposed to do the dishes before we turned to our own entertainment.
It was April 15, 1927, a very windy day. As we dallied over
the dishes, we glanced out the kitchen window and saw a
huge billow of black smoke rise up in the direction of the
village. I was always alarmed at the thought of fire, but
I decided the smoke came from the freight train. After the
dishes were done, we played "dress up", and forgot
all about the smoke until Mabel Meldrim and Lucille Ward
came, out-of-breath, with the news that there were fires
all over town, and that Mabel had already saved Sadie Brown's
chicken house. They said that there was a fire on the other
side of the hill from our house so we started for that area.
We found a small grass fire. Ernie Tinney was watching it,
letting it burn itself out as it approached a rocky outcrop.
By that time, most of the scattered fires had been extinguished,
but the idle Woodcock sawmill on the riverbank, where the
fire had started, continued to burn for days. This is the
entry in Velma Hall's diary: "Old sawmill burned today,
an awful fire, but they saved the house and barn. Mrs. Hooper's
house, the blacksmith shop, Dr. Adams', Willie Woodcock's
houses all caught, but was put out. Nearly all the grass
in the village was burned over. A truck with hose was up,
and the fire engine from Gouverneur was here, came up in
fifteen minutes. I was over there and the hill back of the
house burned over."
When my parents came home they said they heard in Gouverneur
that "All Edwards is afire", and that the Gouverneur
firetrucks had been requested.
The cause of the fire was presumed to be the freight
train which had delivered coal or grain to the Woodcock
feed mill, and could have set the dry grass afire from a
burning cinder. According to rumor, the New York Central
offered to settle, but Milo Woodcock wouldn't accept their
assessment of damages. Litigation went on for years with
a final settlement less than the original offer.