May 24, 2003 Fire on Main Street

May 24, 2003 began like most other spring Saturdays in downtown Montpelier, with area residents and visitors enjoying the leisure delights of the weekend; but by 3 p.m., a fire would devastate 2 historic downtown commercial buildings on Main Street, displace several businesses and customers, and leave behind a sense of shock and loss that we had not known since the flood of 1992. The only comfort to be taken was in the fact that no one was physically harmed.

Through these pages we hope to mark this terrible event in Montpelier's history and monitor how what happens next affects Montpelier's future.

Historic Retrospective

Both of the buildings were on the National Register for Historic Places. Though little information is available about the buildings themselves, both are evident in photographs that predate the fire that devastated most of Main Street in 1875. There is speculation that the Country Store building was originally built around 1805, which would make it one of the oldest wood-framed buildings standing in Montpelier. Historic photographs of these buildings will be posted to this page in the near future.

Letter from Mary Hooper - June 2, 2003
Dear Friends,

Following is an update on the status of businesses affected by the fire.
  • The buildings have been stabilized and the portions of the brick wall presenting an eminent hazard were taken down on Friday.
  • Now begins the task of disassembling the brick building, so that the fire investigation may continue. The process must be very cautious, in that removing material in 1 area may destabilize other sections. We believe it will take about 2 weeks to continue the demolition of the building. No decisions have been made about disposal of the brick.
  • Brooks Drugs continues to be effected by this disaster. In the view of the engineers working on this effort there is enough of a chance that the brick wall could fall and hit the wall of the Brooks Drug Store, that they have recommended not using the space adjacent to the alley. This is creating a tremendous burden for the store given that their operational center (a.k.a. office and computers) is in the front corner adjacent to the wall. I am impressed with store manager Carl Machaud's concern for public safety and dedication to ensuring his pharmacy customers are served.
  • Play It Again Sam has since relocated to 89 Main Street and is now called Guitar Sam.
  • This community continues to show its generosity and support in many ways. The Onion River Arts Council was immediately besieged with questions of how to assist and has organized the Phoenix Fest. The festival was held on Sunday June 8th from to noon to 7 p.m. at the Vermont College Green. Admission was $10/person or $25/family. All (and that really means everything) has been donated, so all of the proceeds were given to the people affected by the fire. In addition, the Artisan's Hand helped with a festival raffle. Over 20 items were raffled off.
  • The City Manager, Bill Fraser, asked city employees to voluntarily move their cars to parking lots away from the core of downtown. There is plenty of free parking on Stone Cutters Way and sunshine is predicted for the rest of the week. Day long parkers, please consider moving your vehicle out of the downtown. Many businesses have been affected by the fire, loss of parking and other disruptions. Helping to free up parking makes a difference to these businesses.
  • Things I have learned-maybe you all knew them already:
    • Make sure you have enough insurance.
    • Thanks to the foresight of at least 1 employer, loss of employment insurance is making a big difference in the lives of their employees-and I suspect provides a great deal of relief to the employers, who do not have to worry quite as actively about their employees.
    • Sprinklers work. Let me know if you would like information on tax credits for downtown property owners, which hold down the cost of installation of sprinklers as well as other building improvements.
The Lost Nation Theater held a final dress rehearsal of the 1940s Radio Hour on Wednesday June 18th at 7:30 as a benefit for the people affect by the fire. Donations were accepted at the door.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I'll try to keep you informed via this medium.

Mary Hooper,
(former) Executive Director, Montpelier Downtown Community Association
(Mary is now the Mayor of Montpelier)
Montpelier Alive website