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The 1931 Hopewell Fire

Disaster struck at four o’clock on the morning of 26 November 1931 ~ Thanksgiving Day. Flames erupted from the Hopewell House, one of the hotels in the borough.

The Hopewell House was then owned by Stewart Gates. It stood on the northeast corner of the intersection of Front and Mifflin Streets. The three-storey wood frame structure was eight bays long and six bays wide with a mansard roof creating the third floor. In other words, it was a standard Victorian style structure The first and second floors fronting on Mifflin and Front Streets bore porches on both levels.

The fire was believed by some to have started by his furnace overheating, and by others to have been purposefully set by Mr. Gates for the insurance money. The flames spread from the hotel to other adjacent structures. A bucket brigade was formed and fire companies in the surrounding area were called. But within an hour, before the fire companies could respond, much of the business district was reduced to ashes. There was a steady breeze blowing that day. That, coupled with low pressure in the lines attempting to draw water from the river, allowed the flames to engulf the town. The fire was not brought under control until ten o’clock, six hours after it had begun.

A number of businesses were gone, including four general stores, the post office, the hotel, the railroad station, a tin shop, a drug store, two doctors’ offices, a barber shop, a pool hall four confectionary shops, the bank and a millinery shop. Twelve private dwellings were lost. Only three businesses rebuilt after that fire. Then in the early 1970s, the borough was hit again by a fire that destroyed two of those businesses. Kline’s Garage and the owner’s home, the Clover Farm store and two additional residences were destroyed in that second fire.

The photo below shows the portion of the town that sustained destruction.