Two of the more dramatic photos in the history of Milford were taken during the immense fire that brought down the French & Heald furniture plant on a frigid day in 1912. Occupying the space where the Granite Square apartments now stand, the January 26th fire leveled the four-story factory in little more than two hours. Despite the fire department aiming a dozen streams of water at the French & Heald buildings, flammable materials including paint, varnish, and unfinished furniture doomed the efforts. In an extra edition, the Milford Cabinet would comment that the factory’s “whole east side was a roaring furnace and pouring water on it seemed useless.” Inside, it was utter chaos as the crazed warning whistle blew and workers dived through windows and slid down wooden planks to escape the blaze. Others ran in the opposite direction to claim possessions left inside private lockers and one Homer W. Proper lost his life after he returned for his valuables, only to be swallowed up by the flames. The scene depicted in these photos was described memorably by the Cabinet: “The falling of the high stack and frequent explosions of oils and paint, and the crashing of falling walls and floors, all added to the spectacle of the crimson flames, and the whole population of the village assembled to witness it.” It took the valiant efforts of the Milford, Amherst, and Wilton fire departments (as Manchester and Nashua raced to the scene) to save the neighboring McLane manufacturing plant.
French & Heald was Milford’s foremost employer in 1912 and 150 local men lost work due to the fire. Rather heroically, the town rallied to raise a $50,000 bond issue and the construction of a new plant was underway less than four months later. Built on the land now occupied by Edgewood Shopping Center, the new French & Heald (later to become Sprague & Carleton) would operate until 1967.
Viewing the fire at the French & Heald plant on January 26, 1912.