Devastation of Broadalbin fire recognized with historic marker

By CARLA KOLBE

For The Recorder

BROADALBIN -- The Broadalbin Kennyetto Historic Society unveiled its 13th historical marker Saturday morning on North Main Street in the village before some local trustees, community members, and the Broadalbin-Kennyetto Fire Co.

Society President George Pifko Sr. was the master of ceremonies for the dedication, introducing guest speakers Broadalbin Mayor Eugene Christopher, historic society member John Swan and Broadalbin Historian Gordon Cornell.

Christopher reminded those in attendance of their past relatives, as well as relatives of his own, who personally fought the 1879 blaze that reduced Broadalbin's Main Street to rubble.

Pifko thanked Broadalbin MFG for donating the pole, and Lee Schopmeier for painting it. The marker can be found in front of Pizza Supreme at 2 N. Main St.

Cornell offered the dramatic story of the Jan. 21, 1879, fire discovered after midnight on a 26-degrees-below-zero, pre-dawn blaze.

According to historical records, Louis Lee woke to heave smoke, escaped from a second floor window with little time to properly dress, and ran to the Baptist Church to ring the church bell, which was customary at the time to announce fires.

According to Cornell's notes, the newly formed fire company raced to their rented quarters to obtain their hand-pump fire engine.

"The gallant effort was to little avail as the wind whipped the flames rapidly through all of the businesses on what we now now know as North Main Street. It took less then three hours to destroy the entire row of buildings. A favorable wind sided in saving the west side Main Street businesses from the same fate," Cornell said.

At the time, there was no protective clothing for firefighters, no water system in place as ice had to be broken to pump water from the Kennyetto Creek. Although there were no lives lost, it's unknown how many frozen and frostbitten fingers and toes were sustained.

Residents and business owners woke to find nothing left of their business district. There were no cars, and it would be another 16 years before the railroad would reach Broadalbin. Some businesses would rebuild, while others could not recover from the massive loss. Cornell noted that many businesses lost their ledgers and books to the fire, destroying all records.

"Imagine now having to go by horse and cutter all the way to Gloversville for supplies now during these winter months," said Cornell. "They were heartier souls compared to us."

Sharon Cornell would then reveal the historical marker before the crowd.

Pifko took the time to unveil the Broadalbin Historic Society's 2014 calendar containing photos by Linda Eastman of the 13 historical markers, and important historical information about those sites.

A reception followed the dedication at Pizza Supreme with pizza and beverages. The Broadalbin Kennyetto Historic Society meets 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month at the Broadalbin First Presbyterian Church, 54 W. Main St. Guests and new members are always welcome. The next meeting in Nov. 19.