Rising from the Ashes: The Fires at St. Mary's Ferry by Koral LaVorgna (closed)
This exhibit is no longer available.
Like the Phoenix, St. Mary’s Ferry had several times arisen from the ashes of devastating fires. The threat of fire was common to any 19th-century community, especially ones which were compactly settled and primarily populated by wooden structures. St. Mary’s Ferry, a small but thriving village located west of Gibson (South Devon), provides an ideal setting in which to study the response of a community, both as a collective and as individuals, to disaster. No community is truly an island, and fire fighting efforts often required the cooperation not only of all community members but the assistance of volunteers from neighbouring communities. This exhibit will trace the recovery and renewal process in the wake of the 1882 and 1893 fires, both of which dramatically changed the complexion of St. Mary’s Ferry, in addition to a number of small scale, localized fires. The response to the St. Mary’s Ferry fires reveals the tenacity of individuals, an indomitable community spirit and the strong connection between communities in times of crisis.
St. Mary’s Ferry steadily developed in the decades after the middle of the nineteenth century. Settlement had initially clustered along the two main arteries of the village, Douglas (Union) Street and St. Mary’s Street. Douglas Street, known as the highway road, cut across the village and provided access to neighbouring communities. Small businesses, residential dwellings and major manufacturing plants lined this important thoroughfare. St. Mary’s Street, beginning at the River and extending north across Douglas (Union) Street, funnelled traffic from the Ferry Landing. St. Mary’s Street, alternately known as Main Street, encompassed the commercial district of the village and housed the local post office, drug store, various grocery and dry goods stores, hotels and liquor dealers. These two pivotal streets witnessed terrible devastation in two separate fires in the late nineteenth century.
In 1882, the north side of Douglas Street was consumed by a swift moving blaze, which within two hours had destroyed thirteen buildings. This first significant fire prompted the organization of the St. Mary’s Fire Brigade and witnessed the erection of the first brick constructed building in the village. A decade later, the most devastating fire in St. Mary’s history tore through the heart of the village, levelling nearly every structure on St. Mary’s Street before spreading to Jaffrey Street. In all, more than 25 buildings burned to the ground. While virtually every building had been replaced after the 1882 fire, the recovery process after the 1893 fire was neither as swift nor as complete as that of the earlier conflagration. These two fires present a unique opportunity to explore both the history of fire fighting and the choices available to and made by individuals and business owners in the aftermath of disaster.
Koral LaVorgna graduate student, historical consultant and researcher has volunteered with and worked for the York Sunbury Historical Society on numerous projects. She has been an editor for the Officers' Quarters, has organized and implemented some of the Museum's most popular childrens programs, she has assisted the museum with several research projects and most recently she has put together this excellent exhibit! Thanks Koral!
This exhibit was made possible by the City of Fredericton 2009 Arts, Culture & Heritage Funding Program.
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