In my last column, I reported on the heroics of Weedsport Police Chief Walton Gallup during the fire at the four corners of Weedsport "after (World War II)." I must have had a brain spasm because I knew full well that the fire was in March of 1940. As a penance, in this column I'll report on the fire itself and the aftermath. I'm surprised no one caught me on that.
As reported previously, an out-of-control tractor trailer sliding down the East Brutus Street hill jackknifed right into the front entrance of Saroodis' restaurant. Fortunately it was 1:55 in the morning and the building was unoccupied. This was before the days of diesel-powered trucks. They were fueled, as were cars, by highly flammable gasoline. When the truck went into the building, one of the saddle tanks on the truck burst and the hot engine ignited many gallons of fuel, which was right in the front of the building.
The restaurant was on the ground floor of a building known as Franklin Hall, which had several retail establishments in addition to the restaurant. Also lost in the blaze were Alsever's Drug Store, The Market Basket grocery store and, on the north side of the building, Brutus Hardware. The second floor was used as a banquet hall and dance floor. The building used up the footprint of where Scott's Auto Service garage and parking lot is, as well as the small office building located east of the garage. All tenants had plans to reopen. By the next week, the hardware company had already reopened in the old post office in the Putnam block and the Market Basket had leased property at 8 S. Seneca St. Mr. Saroodis planned to reopen his restaurant in the large house on the corner of Jackson and East Brutus Street, now the residence of the Zimmer family. Mr. Melvin Alsever, owner of the drug store, was indefinite as to his long-range plans.
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Fourteen other buildings on East Brutus and North Seneca streets facing the fire suffered heavy losses from broken windows and smoke damage. It is probable that the building will not be rebuilt, as it is owned jointly in various parts by Saroodis, Charles Whitman and his sons Sterling and Harold, and Mr. and Mrs. Warren Dursten. Several of the buildings across Brutus Street never had the cracked windows repaired and until it was torn down along with others — to create the municipal parking lot, Coyle's Bakery and Red & White Grocery — still sported cracked windows on the second floor as reminders of the conflagration of long ago.
Although this was well before days of an official mutual aid system, Port Byron, Jordan and Auburn sent engines to help their neighboring community. The situation was helped somewhat by the fact that the building was brick, which helped with exposure issues. Auburn Hose Company No. 4, which was somewhat delayed in responding because of icy roads, under the personal direction of longtime Chief Fred Washburn, worked at cooling exposures. After the fire was out, Chief Washburn had nothing but good to say of the work done by the Weedsport firemen. His comment, "The Weedsport laddies could not have done a better job today," was appreciated by the local boys. Another testimony was contained in a letter to the editor of The Cayuga Chief newspaper from Capt. Robert Kramer of the Syracuse Fire Department. His comments were, "Chief Smith and the members of the fire department are to be congratulated for the fine accomplishment in controlling the blaze, following a gasoline explosion, which in all cases spreads rapidly." The overview photo was taken by Syracuse Post-Standard flying photographer Gene Badger, and the view of the flames was taken by an unknown photographer through the booster reel atop what was Weedsport Engine No. 1 (a 1937 Dodge/Cayasler 500 GPM pumper) at that time.