North Branch Village

Damage is still apparent in North Branch Village in Antrim, after the fire of 1888.

More than 130 years ago, on May 8, 1888, the village of North Branch in Antrim experienced a disaster that the townspeople have never forgotten. At 2 p.m., a fire was discovered in a three-family residence owned by Milton Stickney. Sparks had escaped from a faulty chimney and ignited the roof of the house.

The fire spread rapidly and the entire house was soon engulfed in flames. The fire spread to Stickney’s barn and then jumped to the village store, a large brick building which was also the location of the post office. The fire soon spread to the next house to the south, and then to the next. Some belongings were moved to safety, but the houses were soon destroyed. The fire also moved northward from the Stickney house, consuming two other residences.

The town had no firefighting equipment at North Branch and the Antrim town engine did not arrive until 4 p.m., two hours after the fire was discovered. As the firefighters were working, the flames jumped the road and quickly consumed three residences, three barns, and Hiram McIlvaine’s sawmill, as well as many of the furnishings removed from the houses that had burned earlier.

When the flames finally died away, nine homes had been reduced to ashes, as were the store and post office, seven barns, McIlvaine’s sawmill and several small outbuildings. Twenty-five acres were burned with $12,000 in damages. The firefighters saved several homes nearby that received minor damage, but more than half the village had gone up in flames. The blaze became known locally as “The Great Conflagration.”

With the heart of North Branch gone after that fateful day in May of 1888, the residents of Antrim realized the need for modern firefighting equipment in that part of the town. A fire station and equipment were later placed in North Branch village and the North Station remains active there today.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.