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The newspaper article below was published in the Mount Kisco Record on December 20, 1890. It tells an interesting story how Chappaqua residents banded together to prevent a conflagration that could have destroyed their town. A fire that started at Mr Alexander Yerk’s store quickly spread and challenged the residents of Chappaqua to save their town as there was no “Chappaqua Fire Department ” until 1910. The story gets even more interesting when you look through the newspaper and gather related articles. Prior to the fire, Mr Alexander Yerks was a well respected and generous member of the community. In the five years leading up to the fire, he was also known for making the “Alexander Yerks Hall” available to the community for social events. Countless community organizations including church groups utilized the space.
From the Mount Kisco Recorder:
- 18 Mar 1887 – Alexander Yerks hosts a “Japanese Surprise Social”
- 27 Jan1888 – Alexander Yerks and the Chappaqua Baptist Church hosts a “Donkey Socialable”
- 11 Jan 1889 – The Mount Kisco Recorder calls for his recognition of service to his Country. He spent three years fighting for the North during the Civil War.
- 21 Jan 1889 – Cassius Yerks, Alexander’s son, left the Chappaqua Shoe Factory and took a position with a shoe Factory in Lynn, Massachusetts.
- 18 Jan 1889 – Alexander Yerks made signifiant improvements to his property, formally used as a Wheelwright Shop.
- 19 Apr 1889 – Alexander Yerks opens his new Grocery Store.
- 5 Dec 1890 – Just 15 days before the fire, the I.O.G.T (possibly the International Order of Good Templars) voted to change Yerks’ Hall into a “Lodge Room”.
Near Conflagration Almost Destroys Chappaqua Just Before Christmas
Published int he Mount Kisco Recorder on December 26, 1890
The little village of Chappaqua was the scene of great excitement early on Saturday morning last, about 2 o’clock when the shrill whistle of the shoe factory woke the people of to the fact that there was a dangerous fire raging on Greeley Avenue, opposite the Harlem Railroad Depot. The property in flames was the store occupied by Mr. Alexander Yerks as a grocery store, (in which the fire first started) and from which it soon spread to the dwelling house north of it, occupied by Mr. Perry Quick and Mr. Wesley Smalley and their families.
The fire was first discovered by Mr. Ed Quinby, who was returning home from a social party, when he saw a bright light in Yerks’s store, and ran with haste to the spot to see what was the matter. He soon found that a serious fire had begun, and he immediately rushed around and alarmed several men, among them of the shoe factory the engineer, Charles Bouton. The latter at once dressed himself in a hurry, and rushed to the shoe factory building, entered the engineering room, and gave the alarm all over the village by blowing the steam whistle. While the villagers were arousing and dressing, Bouton raked the fire under the boiler and got more steam up, and then started the big steam pump that is kept for fire purposes. Soon others came to his assistance and they attached hose to the pump, and in a short time a stream of water was playing on the factory building to keep it from catching fire.
Then attention was given to the burning buildings across the street, and water was poured on the adjoining buildings to keep the fire from spreading. The Yerks building was now a mass of flames, burning embers flying in the air, and being carried by the wind in various directions, but mostly eastward to the main street up Chappaqua hill.
Messrs. Smalley and Quick had been aroused at an early period of the fire, and managed to get all their furniture out of the house. Their clothing however was consumed and they only saved what they had put on most hurriedly on being first awakened to their danger. The house was only 15 feet from the store.
The blazing sparks flew to Mr. Rem. Farrington’s barn, Mr. Thomas Young’s blacksmith shop, and eastward across the main street, to the Union Church, which at one time was in great danger from the flying and flaming embers. Indeed, nearly all the houses around there may be said to have been saved by good luck and providence, for the blazing sparks and pieces of burning shingles and wood were found next morning in all the dooryards of the houses nearby. The damage to Mr. Thomas Young’s shop was slight, being only about $15 or $20; and to Mr. Harrington’s bar, a little less.
But it was an anxious time for Chappaqua, until the fire was finally extinguished, and everybody felt safe to leave the scene and returned home. Had the fire occurred the night before, when the wind raged so fiercely, nearly all night, there is no telling where the fire would have stopped. Indeed, as it was, if it had not been for the fortunate discovery of the conflagration by Mr. Ed Quinby, half of Chappaqua would, no doubt, have been wiped out.
The insurance on Mr. Yerks’s building was $1000 with $100 more on store fixtures and $900 on groceries stock; but as Mr. Yerks had been closing out the business, it is probably that he didn’t have more than 200 or $300 worth of stock on hand.
The dwelling house next door, was owned by Mr. E. M. Van Tassel, of New York City, and was insured for $1000.
This is the third time that fire has broken out in Mr. Yerk’s store, and it has been a complete success at last. But for the vigilant and untiring efforts of the shoe factory people—including Mr. H. W. Bischoff and all the local resident workman—the blacksmith shop of Mr. Thomas Young, and doubtless other property would have been sacrificed by the flames.
Commentary of the Near Conflagration
Published int he Mount Kisco Recorder on December 26, 1890
If it had not been for “that nuisance siren” (the factory whistle) the loss to property would have been much greater. When the whistle is heard in the night no one stops to ask “what is the matter?”
No, we are not ready to spare the factory whistle yet. The wind was blowing quite hard from the Northeast and carried sparks a long distance, and in one or two instances set roofs afire, but they were closely watched and extinguished. Both buildings were insured.
This fire once more reminds us of the need of some means of extinguishing fires in the village. There is nothing except the hose at the factory, and that is of use only nearby, and there is no water of any account right in the village.
If a pipe could be laid from Greeley’s pond and two or three hydrants placed in the village, we would have an effective fire extinguisher.
The Lodge of good Templars lost all their furniture and regalia at the fire last Saturday morning. It is thought the loss will be about $50. It is reported that there are several new houses to be built on the site of those which were burned. That is just what we need in this place—small houses at reasonable rents.
Sometime between the 1891 and 1900, Alexander and his entire family left Chappaqua and head North to Lynn, Massachusetts. His son Cassius, has moved to Lynn in 1889 to take a position in a shoe factory there. You can’t help but wonder whether Alexander Yerks had worn out his stay… especially after THREE fires in his store. There is NO mention of him in Mount Kisco Recorder after the fire. Alexander Yerks died in Lynn, Massachusetts on November 21, 1909.