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Cortland Clock Tower Fire

Location #1: 120 Main St. Cortland NY 13045
(42.597445, -76.180446)

“The 123-year-old-clock stopped telling time at 8:10 a.m.,” read the Cortland Standard on April 11, 2006.

At 7:20 a.m., the Cortland Fire Department received the call; the historic Squire building was on fire. Built in 1883, the grand brick building had survived her share of destruction. Twice in the 1970s, flames attempted to devour its stately walls and failed. In 1958, an arsonist, endeavoring to divert attention from a nefarious plot to burn St. Mary’s Church, also attempted to burn down the Squires Building. Still, it remained a Cortland landmark for generations.

By 7:55 a.m., the smoke pouring out from the third-floor window had turned into flames, and the clocktower was fully engulfed.

Cortland Standard (April 11, 2006)

Cortlandville, McGraw, Homer and Dryden fire departments, heeding the call, surrounded the three-story structure with massive extending ladders. Brave firefighters ran up flights of stairs, evacuating the 22 apartments within. In a desperate attempt to quell the flames, firefighters lined the roof of the Cortland Standard building across the street to better assess the situation.

The electrical fire, which had begun in apartment 14, directly below the clock tower, licked up in between the walls and along the small spaces betwixt the floors and ceilings, making it nearly impossible to fight. By 10 a.m., the tower’s demise was evident, and the firefighters were pulled from the building.

After interior firefighting grew too dangerous, firefighters began moving aerial platforms into place to put out the blaze from the outside.

Binghamton Press & Sun (April 12, 2006)

Shortly thereafter, the roof collapsed in, and at 10:20 a.m., the west wall collapsed on a car parked in the rear driveway.

I can honestly say my apartment fell on my car,’ said [Eliza] Lipp, who owned a white Jeep that was crushed by the bricks. ‘It’s my luck. I can’t believe it,’ she said,” reported the Cortland Standard (April 11, 2006).

Eventually, the fire was suppressed. While no human was injured in the monstrous blaze, the iconic Squire building was in ruins. Devastated by such a tremendous loss, locals rallied to save the building. However, the destruction was too great. The great hulking skeleton of a building would be demolished, but not before on very important artifact was saved.

Location #2: CNY Living History Center at 4386 Rout 11, Cortland NY
(42.619744, -76.183271)

It was with tremendous dedication, a steady hand and generous donors that the more than 100-year-old Squire Building clock was lovingly preserved.

Set up on permanent display, the Gilded Age clock face presides over the Brockway Museum from its lofty second-story perch. Upon climbing the stairs, the inner workings of the clock are revealed. There you can witness the painstakingly restored brass gears and coils, slowly and meticulously turning to keep perfect time.

To hear the tail of the F. Howard & Co’s fastidious preservation in its entirety, entreat to any one of the CNY Living History Centers’ knowledge volunteers.