28. The Stable Destroyed by Fire, 1881
Like any hotel, the Middlesex was vulnerable to fire. Documentation shows that kitchen and other fires broke out there with some frequency. By and large, these were contained. The two notable exceptions were the fire that burned the hotel to the ground in June of 1845 and a fire on February 17, 1881, which destroyed its stable. The place never fully recovered from the second major blaze. The 1881 fire spread from George Hunt's store on the Mill Dam to the Middlesex stable. As described in the Fire Department report in Concord's printed 1880-1881 municipal report, it was "the largest fire of the season, and perhaps the largest one in town for a number of years."
Ellen Emerson - daughter of Ralph Waldo and Lidian Jackson Emerson, a life-long resident of Concord, and an early-morning eyewitness to the 1881 fire - provided a dramatic account in a February 17, 1881 letter to her nephew Cameron Forbes: "This morning I lay awake and heard the clock strike four and very soon after came the sound of fire-bells... n a minute Grandmamma came in to say 'It looks as if the whole town were on fire!' Then I didn't wait any longer, and at half-past-four I was ready and trotted up in town eating my breakfast as I went. Of course it was a most glorious sight all the way, a great wall of smoke covering a quarter of the sky and bright red, and the Orthodox Church and all the buildings facing North had their north side brilliantly illuminated, so I knew that it certainly was this side of the Bank, and when at last I could see the fire it proved to be the Middlesex stables. The stable had already been pulled to pieces, and every beam was burning merrily by itself, making a broad bright low flame covered by a vast smoke. All the town seemed to be there, standing silent in the street, and a few men on roofs had axes and a few more managed the hose. I stood by the hydrant, and heard the man who was at work on it explain to the Chairman of the Select-men the need of having four 'gates' (openings) in it instead of two. I asked the man what he thought was catching now, and he said 'The Stable is burned. Hatch's store is on fire. They're trying to save it. If they do the fire is over. If they don't, no man can tell where it will end.? Then I came home to tell Grandmamma and Grandpapa, and Grandpapa was dressed and went back with me to see the fire. We walked up and down and saw the fine blaze on all sides, and especially interesting was the back view which we saw from the priest's yard [the rectory]. While we were there some pigs came right out from under the burning barn, and a gentleman told us that no one thought they could be alive, so there had been no attempt to save them, and at this last moment someone had heard them, and they had been successfully rescued .” -The Letters of Ellen Tucker Emerson, ed. Edith E.W. Gregg (Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 1982), 2: 409-410.