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December 8, 2012

Walton Theater emerged from aftermath of 1912 fire

From a firefighter’s perspective, you know it’s going to be a tough day when you’re on the way to the call, only to find out that the fire is at your own fire station. 

That was exactly the call firefighters in Walton faced on Tuesday evening, Dec. 10, 1912, when fire broke out at the Opera House block, between Gardiner Place and North Street. In this large building, the fire department shared space.

Reports from The Oneonta Herald and Walton Reporter said that the blaze was discovered at about 6 p.m., and the fire bell, located in a tower atop the building, was rung between six and eight times. The spreading flames made it impossible to either to extend the alarm or to get more than a part of the fire apparatus out of the department quarters. The hook and ladder cart and supplies were removed before the fire had gained such headway to prevent further entrance into the building.

Flying sparks from the fire created more problems, so residents got out their own garden hoses to help firefighters with the opera block, as well as at several residences and the Methodist Episcopal Church nearby.

“The firemen fought doggedly,” according to the Reporter, “never giving up. Chief Biedekapp, perfectly cool, directed the operations of his men. A great fire, which might have swept the better part of the town, was averted. It was fortunate that the wind blew from the south. Had it been north, as it was in half an hour after the fire was out, all the block of buildings between North and Gardiner place to the river must have gone.”

The origin of the fire wasn’t known, but it was the opinion that it started from cigarette stubs thrown on the Opera House block floor by a group of boys believed to have been playing cards there during the afternoon. The total loss in Walton was estimated at about $11,000. The Opera House block was insured. That fire bell in the tower had fallen about 100 feet into the cellar. Although cracked at the top, it was recast.

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