Troy after the Silsby Tannery fire

The smoke had yet to clear when this shot of Troy was taken after the Silsby Tannery fire on April 13, 1887.

In April 1887, Troy suffered one of the worst fires in the town’s history. At about 3:30 a.m. on April 13, Edgar Dwight, the night watchman at the Troy Blanket Mills, noticed flames in the bark room of the Silsby Tannery. The fire spread quickly, and the tannery was fully engulfed in flames by the time the engine company arrived. The heat drove the firemen back and, realizing that they could not save the tannery, they attempted to save other buildings nearby.

At 4 a.m. the Keene steam fire engine was called in to assist. The mayor gave permission to take the engine out of Keene to help in Troy. A train and crew were at the Keene railroad station, and the engine was quickly loaded on a rail car. It arrived in Troy 18 minutes later.

Despite the heroic efforts of the fire departments, the fire spread to a tenement and attached barn owned by the Troy Blanket Mills, as well as E.P. Kimball’s picture frame factory. People who lived in the tenement escaped from their rooms at the last moment. The house was quickly enveloped in flames, and the women and children who lived there were wandering about partially clad, carrying bundles of clothing in their arms. Others worked to remove furniture from neighboring homes.

The heat was so intense that the fire companies moved back again and concentrated on saving other structures as the flames threatened to spread even further. The two companies were able to stop the fire before it caused serious damage to three neighboring homes and another barn.

There was more than $20,000 in damage when the flames were finally extinguished. The tannery, valued at $10,000, was totally destroyed, as were the picture frame shop and the Troy Blanket Mills tenement and barn. Other structures nearby were damaged and some 35 jobs were lost due to the fire.

Despite the economic loss to the town, no one was seriously injured in the blaze, and the destruction led to the purchase of a new steam fire engine and hose wagon a few years later.

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.