Collection Taken Up at Fire

Collection Taken Up at Fire

What may have been the first “benefit fire” ever staged in the United States leveled an old house at Westport, Conn., on December 15, and helped raise money to furnish a new one.

The new house, built in Weston by volunteer efforts of Westport, Weston and Norwalk people, will be occupied by the widow of Herbert S. (Mike) Welch, newspaperman, who died of polio in 1953, and her three children.

The old house was on property owned by Francis J. Finneran, Westport contractor, who was a leader in the movement to build a new home for Mrs. Welch, herself a polio victim.

An estimated 300 persons witnessed the burning of this house on the Boston Post Road, Westport, Conn., on December 15, and paid a fee to do so. It was an advance publicized benefit fire to help the widow of Herbert S. Welch, newspaperman, who died of polio in 1953. The fund collected at the fire will help to purchase furnishings for a home erected for Mrs. Welch in Weston.

Mr. Finneran wanted to get rid of the old house, built before the Revolutionary War, to make room for a construction project. So he decided to burn it, and advertised the fire well in advance to attract as big a crowd as possible.

About 300 persons showed up at the site across the Boston Post Road from the State Police Barracks. Auxiliary policemen circulated through the crowd collecting contributions for furnishings in the Welch home. Westport firemen “stood by” with charged hose lines during the “benefit fire.”

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