Monday, June 19, 2017

1898: Devotion House Saved from the Flames

One-hundred and nineteen years ago today (June 19, 1898) sparks from a barn fire across Harvard Street threatened the Edward Devotion House in Coolidge Corner. Firefighters were able to douse the flames, saving the then 158-year old house, one of the oldest in town.

The fire began in the new barn on the farm of William J. Griggs, adjacent to the Griggs house at 330 Harvard Street. By the time it was spotted by a boy passing along the street a little after 7:30 in the morning it was too late to save the barn and the Griggs house itself was smoldering in several places.

Devotion House and Griggs farm, 1897
This 1897 map shows the Willliam Griggs house, just below Shailer Street, across the street from the Devotion School and Devotion House. The new barn that burned a year later was built adjacent to the house.

Strong winds carried embers onto the roofs of several nearby houses, including the Devotion House. Neighbors used garden hoses, pails, and fire buckets to fight the fires until firefighters arrived. The Griggs house was saved, and firefighters were stationed at the Devotion House to make sure it did not suffer major damage. (The Town had recently allotted funds toward the preservation of the historic structure.)

Edward Devotion in 1895
The Edward Devotion House as it appeared in 1895, three years before the fire that briefly spread to the house from across Harvard Street

William J. Coolidge
William J. Griggs
Brookline Library photo
Click for larger view
William Griggs (1821-1906) whose family farm occupied the site for many years, lost everything that was in the barn, including four horses, three cow, and five dogs, as well as carriages, wagons, harnesses, a bicycle, and several tons of hay.

Griggs and his brother-in-law David Coolidge founded the Coolidge & Brother store, operated by David's younger brothers William and George, in 1857. The store's location, at the intersection of Harvard and Beacon Streets, became known as Coolidge's Corner and, later, as Coolidge Corner.

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