1960 Fire At Crawford Drew Spectators To City’s East Side
The second sentence of an April 29, 1960, story in The Post-Journal reads: “Billowing clouds of smoke from the fire could be seen from various sections of the city.” Two accompanying black and white photographs confirmed the account.
A headline in large font above the story summed up the two-alarm calamity: “General Alarm Fire Destroys Shed At Crawford Furniture Plant’s Rear.”
A massive Nov. 16 blaze leveled what had remained of the former Crawford Furniture Manufacturing Corp. along Allen Street in Jamestown. In addition to the dozens of firefighters who responded were even more area residents who congregated to witness the flames and plumes of heavy, black smoke.
Sixty-two years earlier, a fire on a far smaller scale similarly drew spectators to the city’s east side.
According to the lengthy article in The Post-Journal, the April 28, 1960, blaze destroyed a veneer storage shed and its contents at Crawford. Sparks from a nearby open bonfire were noted as the cause.
C. Robert Johnson, plant superintendent, said the “unsprinklered” building contained only a normal stock of material, “largely veneer and bed rails, and it was impossible yet to establish a damage estimate.”
According to the newspaper account, a shipping department employee spotted the fire at 4 p.m. from a third-story window.
“Firemen said sparks from a nearby open bonfire, where factory refuse is burned, apparently touched off the blaze,” the article stated. “A second alarm was sounded minutes later, bringing all the city’s firefighting equipment to the location.”
The shed was joined to a block storage structure, which was connected to the main Crawford Furniture plant on Allen Street.
Firefighting efforts were coordinated by Fire Chief Charles R. Dorman.
Crews had been dispatched to the fire shortly after they had returned from another two-alarm blaze that largely destroyed a 10-car garage at Arrowley Manor on Shirley Lane.
That fire was discovered by Carl Johnson, who was off-duty that afternoon as a driver for Chief Dorman. Johnson was assisting another man repair a boat when he saw flames in a pile of rubbish, paint rags and paper in the center of the car stall at the west end of the building.
“He notified the caretaker to call firemen and attempted to confine the blaze by shoveling dirt on it,” the same article states. “His effort was unsuccessful and he said the entire wooden roof of the block wall structure was ablaze in a few minutes.”
Despite that afternoon’s distraction caused by the fire, C. Robert Johnson told the newspaper it was not expected to slow production inside the Crawford plant.
Other fires of varying sizes were reported in and around the plant during its history.
A May 1950 story in The Post-Journal reads: “Water damage from a fire at the Allen Street plant of the Crawford Furniture Manufacturing Corporation was described today as ‘quite heavy’ by Clyne Crawford, president of the firm.”
In March 2008, the company celebrated its 125th anniversary. Its history dates back to 1883 when two Swedish craftsmen, Lars Erickson and Gustaf Holmberg, combined their savings of $1,400 to start the Swedish Furniture Manufacturing Company in Jamestown. Four years later, it was renamed the Atlas Furniture Company.
Clyne Crawford bought the company in 1941 at a time when annual sales barely topped $200,000 a year earlier.
Crawford remained the company’s president and general manager until 1968.
In 2011, Crawford filed for bankruptcy. In November of that year, Brett Cappa, Crawford furniture management team official, said the plant would close. At the time, Cappa noted efforts to keep the solid-wood furniture company afloat.
“We will fight to keep this company going as long as we can along with saving our existing jobs here and in the process continue manufacturing a great American made product,” he said.