In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Prison Fires - 1849 to 1924

In the summer and fall of 1849, due to severe changes of weather, the inmates suffered much sickness and mortality from dysentery and typhoid. The following year fire destroyed most of the prison, which started in a stovepipe in the guardroom and was not discovered until the entire attic of the building was ablaze. Fire engines were soon on the scene but the valves had frozen, and there was not enough water to be effective. Flames spread through the center and western wing of the prison, consuming offices and the guardroom, along with the Warden’s brick dwelling. The hospital and some of the workshops were spared. None of the prisoners were hurt and many worked with fire fighters in helping to extinguish the flames. No escapes were made.

A new stone building was erected in 1851. A stonewall around the building was completed in 1854. Within the same year, it was decided the prison had need of its own fire engine. The State of Maine, No. 3 was purchased and placed under command of E. B. Hinckley. A firehouse with hall for this new company was built in front of the prison wall on the county road. It was named after W. W. Rice, a prison official who served as foreman.

A group of citizens was organized to manage the company with the understanding the State of Maine could be used for town purposes, if required. The company’s first call to service was later in the year when a fire broke out in the Carr O’Brien Block next door, location of the George's National Bank at the time.

Prison Fire, Thomaston, 1923
Prison Fire, Thomaston, 1923
Thomaston Historical Society

There was no plumbing at the prison and fire companies had to depend on reservoirs as a source of water. In 1887 the Legislature voted to have water piped to the prison by the Camden and Rockland Water Company.

In 1923, yet another disastrous fire wreaked havoc at the dilapidated prison. The blaze started in a broom shop and quickly spread to the harness shop, paint shop and woodshop. The facility was completely destroyed. Dedication of a new facility took place on September 11, 1924.

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