Oct. 22, 1886: Amid high winds, a fire destroys 33 houses, 19 stores, three churches, two hotels, a bank, the county jail and the post office in Farmington.

The fire begins in a Front Street barn owned by John A. Storyell, where about 45 tons of hay are stored. The wind carries cinders in all directions, so that at one time, eight buildings are in flames, including two a half-mile away.

The blaze seems to be dying down until the wind picks up again. The fire then barrels down Main Street, reducing buildings on both side to ruins.

Among the destroyed buildings is the Town House, the oldest structure in town, built 85 years earlier.

Firefighters’ efforts are of little avail because of the conflagration’s speed and the fact that the town’s firefighting equipment is not up to the task. The fire is fully extinguished by the evening of Oct. 23.

Officials think at first that sparks thrown off by a Sandy River Railroad locomotive caused the barn to burn, but then rumors about arsonists begin to spread. Portland’s Daily Eastern Argus reports that watchmen in West Farmington interrupted a man trying to set a storage building behind a retail store alight, but the person ran off with a friend. A maid in the Elm House hotel finds packs of partially used matches near a wood pile.

Afterward, night watchmen begin carrying guns instead of ax handles, according to the paper.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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