1886 fire brought consequences for Main Street

Fire History May 28

A difference of opinion following the devastating Salisbury fire of Oct. 17, 1886, led to the width of Main Street we see today, narrower than first planned.

After two major fires in the 1800s, the town thought it wise to require construction with brick or stone and to widen the streets.

Initially the discussion was for the widening of streets by five feet on both sides.

Measurements have consequences. One account speculated that widening by five feet on each side would require the tearing down of the bank, one of the few brick buildings on Main Street for which part of the structure survived. And the widening would affect moving or altering foundations.

And it was noted that “it is a difficult task to widen Main Street, as there are several sharp corners and small lots, which, if five feet is taken off, will be rendered almost valueless.”

Town commissioners created a committee in charge of overseeing the work of surveying the properties and recommending street widening.

There were pressures on the commissioners, as business owners were anxious to rebuild.

By the beginning of November, about 30 buildings were either built or in the process of being built, but they were temporary structures. Business owners were facing the busy holiday season and wanted to salvage some of their losses. Property owners were anxious to get started building permanent structures.

At the time, it was reported that “the business streets are all to be widened and straightened and when rebuilt will be an ornament to the town. These great improvements will certainly be made, and a repetition of the recent great fire will never be witnessed in this town again.”

On Nov. 10 scaffolding was erected in front of the bank building as preparation to tear out the front of the building.

And on this day, the town commissioners met to evaluate and vote on the report compiled on the straightening and widening of streets. The vote approved the report.

Two commissioners voted against it.

The two dissenting commissioners, including President John Tracy, voted against approval because the original discussion had been for widening streets by five feet on each side. But the report on which they were voting instead called for widening of only two and a half feet on each side.

There was some discussion of conducting a re-survey and that possibly there might be a change. It’s not clear if there was a re-survey, but it is doubtful. On November 17, one month to the day following the fire, work on laying the first brick building on Main Street began, following the adopted widening plan of two and a half feet on both sides.

Of course the town did not have automobiles to consider, only the traffic of horses and all kinds of carriages. Who knows, maybe the two dissenters were ahead of their time.

Decisions have consequences. Had there been a couple of more votes in favor of John Tracy’s dissent, we might now have a wider Main Street.

Linda Duyer lives in Salisbury and is writing a book about the community’s history. Contact her at lindaduyer1@yahoo.com.


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