Wayside Inn Damaged by Fire

Wayside Inn Damaged by Fire

Wayside Inn fire shortly after the arrival of the fire department. The main portion of the inn was badly gutted, but walls and roof were left intact—Photo by John McGovern

THE 269-YEAR-OLD Wayside Inn, at Sudbury, Mass., was almost completely destroyed by fire in the early morning of December 22. Cost of replacement of the building is estimated at more than $200,000. However it is impossible to place a monetary value on the loss of antiques and historical contents which can never be replaced. The Inn itself was the subject of Longfellow’s “Tales of a Wayside Inn” and such notable guests as George Washington and General Lafayette had been entertained there.

Bought by Henry Ford in 1923

In 1923 the late Henry Ford purchased the Inn and more than 6000 acres of surrounding property with numerous buildings, such as the old grist mill, blacksmith shop, country store, schools and church, all of which were carefully restored to their original state. The Inn was painstakingly restored and several large wings were added to the rear. Agents of Mr. Ford scoured the New England states collecting early American furnishings with which the Inn was refurnished. During this time, Mr. and Mrs. Ford spent much time at “Wayside” and were well known to many of the townspeople. Following the death of Mr. Ford, much of the land was disposed of and the main group of buildings were taken over by the Ford Foundation.

The town of Sudbury maintains a highly efficient fire department for a town of it’s size. Headed by a full-time chief, one full-time man and twenty-four volunteers, the department maintains five pieces of apparatus, all radio equipped. One of the engines was a gift of the Ford Foundation.

The alarm of fire was received at 2:20 A.M. Temperature at the time was six degrees below zero with a slight NW breeze. The fire scene was three and one-quarter miles from the fire station and one and onc-quarter miles beyond the last hydrant on the water system.

Upon the arrival of the department, one of the wings was completely involved, and flames wore leaping out both first and second story windows and from under the eaves. Chief St. Germain immediately radioed second and third alarms back to headquarters. These are mutual aid calls and brought two engine companies each from Marlboro, Wayland and Framingham and a single engine company from Concord. The only source of water was a small pond and brook about 500 feet from the rear of the inn. It was necessary to chop through fourteen inches of ice in order to take suction. Some difficulty was also encountered with fouling of suction strainers on the muddy bottom, as the water was shallow. Despite these handicaps, twelve two and one-half-inch lines were operated. A total of 6000 feet of two and one-half and 2000 feet of one and onehalf-inch hose was used. Due to the freezing of gauges, it was difficult to control pressures which, with the glare ol ice on the fire ground, caused several mishaps with lines breaking away. In one such incident a Wayland fire fighter suffered a leg fracture. A number of other fire fighters suffered frostbite.

Early in the progress of the fire, Chief St. Germain, realizing that fuel supply for a dozen pumpers would be a problem, appealed to a local oil company, which immediately sent a fully loaded tank truck of gasoline to the fire scene and placed it at the chief’s disposal. The local distributors of propane gas provided a newly developed infra red ray heating device, which was designed for use on outside construction work, but proved an excellent means of thawing the heavy ice encrustation from apparatus and equipment.

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Wayside Inn

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Building lacked fire stops

Although no expense had been spared in the restoration and additions to the building in 1923, no consideration seemed to have been given to fire detection, or prevention of fire extension. There were no ordinances controlling building construction or wiring at that time; the building had no fire stops or fire walls. Defective electrical wiring has been determined as the most likely cause of the fire.

Although it at first appeared that the entire contents of the building were a total loss, overhaul operations disclosed that many valuable pieces were salvageable, including such items as the grandfather clock of which Longfellow wrote, the violins of composer Ole Bull and the Lafayette bed.

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