Big Fire at Passumpsic 1904

Loss Will Exceed $75,000


The Ide Mill and Fiber Leather Plant in Ashes.


The continuous blowing of the steam whistle at the Fiber Leather mill at Passumpsic just after 6 Monday morning gave the general alarm of fire at that mill and within an hour both the plant of the Passumpsic Fiber Leather Company and the adjoining grist mill of E. T. and H. K. Ide were burned to the ground. So quickly did the flames spread that all that was saved at the leather factory was a carload of finished product which was pushed down the side track away from the hot flames and a few bags of meal at the grist mill. The only part of the burned district that is standing today is the boiler house of the leather board factory and the boilers are believed to be in good condition.

Passumpsic Mill 1884
Passumpsic Mill 1884

It is supposed that the fire caught by spontaneous combustion in the leather room of the leather board plant. George Hall’s house, which is opposite the Ide mill, was badly scorched by the flames, as was also the blacksmith shop and Parker Morgan’s house which are on the north side of the road, but these buildings were saved by the work of the Passumpsic people. The flames kept smouldering all day Monday and as a wind had arisen late in the afternoon it was decided to send to St. Johnsbury for the old Torrent hand engine Monday afternoon and played on the flames until 3 o’clock Tuesday morning.

The Passumpsic Fiber Leather Company is the heaviest loser and they estimate their loss at about $45,000 above the insurance of $18,000. The company is capitalized at $50,000 and its officers are George F. Cushman of St. Johnsbury, president, Stephen Chase, manager, Theodore Chase, treasurer. They had spent about $75,000 at this plant and its annual output of leather board was 800 tons. Much of the time they had been running night and day and their daily output was three tons of finished product. They employed a force of 18 men. At the time of the fire they had about $5,000 worth of finished product on hand and nearly $3,000 worth of stock in process of manufacture. They have made no plans for rebuilding, but all hope they will rebuild as it is understood they were doing a good business and the loss of this busy plant to the village of Passumpsic would be very great.

The Ide grist mill stood on historic ground. It was one of the oldest mill sites in the state, the first mill having been built there in 1790. In 1813 the property passed into the hands of Jacob Ide and the plant has been in the Ide family ever since. There was an insurance of $8500 on this property and Mr. Ide estimates their loss at about $7000 above the insurance. They employed six hands at the mill which happened to be filled to its utmost capacity, a carload of mixed feed having been crowded into the granaries the Saturday before in addition to all the other stock on hand. Mr. Ide is undecided as to his future plans, but it may be safely said that such a desirable water power as this will not be allowed to lie idle. The dam had recently been extensively repaired and the Ides were using about 200 horse power and the leather board mill 550 horse power.

Mr. Cushman was unable to give the list of his policies, but the Crawford Ranney agency carried $4500 with the Home Insurance Co., of Philadelphia, #1500 with the Fire Association of Philadelphia and $1500 with the Insurance Company of North America, also of Philadelphia. The insurance of the Ide property was placed as follows: Vermont Mutual; $6500, Union Mutual of Montpelier, $1000; Boston Insurance Co., $1000.

The fire is a sad blow to the village of Passumpsic and throws two dozen men out of employment in midwinter, besides entailing heavy losses on the stockholders of the two corporations.

Our illustration is from an old photograph which does not show a large addition to the Fiber Leather Company property.

Originally published in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian on December 21, 1904.

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