One of the four major fires to hit the village since 1878 struck here Thursday evening June 8th, 1939 when the plant of the B.F. Harrison Printing Co. was gutted by flame, machinery damaged and a great amount of stock was destroyed by fire and water. The blaze which came from an undetermined cause, was discovered shortly after 5 pm near the elevator shaft which made a perfect draft for the flames. The local fire department was called immediately but when it was determined that they alone could not cope with the situation, the Norwalk and Ashland Departments were called to assist.
Fire Chief Bruce and his men turned their efforts towards holding the blaze in one place. As soon as help arrived the combined effort soon had the blaze under control. However, the weight of the soaked stock and equipment caused sections of the weakened second floor to collapse. Around midnight flames from the smoldering mess again broke out and the local fire department was again called out to subdue the second outburst.
While the building itself was damaged by the flames and water the greatest damage was to the contents. Great quantities of paper stock, some ready for the presses, others stored for future use, were completely rendered useless by the damage from water and fire. The machinery downstairs was heavily damaged by water coming from the second floor. Mostly all the windows in the building were broken from the intense heat caused by the fire and the roof was full of holes made to enable fire fighters to get to the flames in between the ceiling and outer roof.
Several fire fighters were injured during the blaze. Weldon Shaffer, Ira Sutherland, Fred Sackett and Donald Murr were overcome by intense smoke and Sackett was cut by glass. A member of the Norwalk Department was also injured by broken glass. None of the injuries were serious and no one was hospitalized.
The loss is expected to run into many thousands of dollars. It is estimated that it will take four or more weeks to get the plant back into full operation once again. Almost 83 men are out of work temporarily though a small token force is hard at work at the machinery that was not damaged by the fire.
The Norwalk Fire Chief commended the New London Department for being able to hold the blaze in one place until help arrived. Otherwise they said the building would have been a total loss. This wasn't easy as I remember the hoses were bad and that they only had water pressure enough to reach the second floor. This building still survives yet today on South Railroad St. as part of the Kent Sporting Goods facilities which have plants in several places here in New London. Some of us older New London residents remember this very exciting evening in New London History!
From a June 15th, 1939 New London Record article.