Archive 2008 - 2019

The Fire at the Timothy Leland House

by Herb Brockert


I was just a small boy but I remember the telephone call that cold December day when I heard my mother say “Oh my God, Bill’s house is on fire”. Bill was my uncle, and owned a house on Concord Street in Holliston. It was on the Framingham side of what is now Roy Avenue and is referred to as the Timothy Leland house.

To me it has always been my uncle Bill's house. As a very young boy I lived there for a year while my parents were fixing up the house we eventually moved into. My uncle was the vice president of the Croft Brewing Company in Boston. He was also a bit of a farmer at heart.

I loved living on the farm, there was a lot to explore there.  A large white barn with a green barn door in the front was shaded by huge maple trees. Inside the barn a hay loft provided sweet smells to my young nose and daily food for Dickey and Nellie, the two brown riding horses that lived there.

Along one side of the barn a driveway sloped downward to a lower rear corner. Here at the cellar level in the rear, a flock of sheep and a big old ram named Brutus made their home. Brutus tried to butt away all adults who came too close to his space; the one exception to his orneriness was me. He allowed my small body to lie next to him with my head resting on his warm side. Not even my aunt could get close to him while I was there.

I loved to ride with my uncle Bill on Dickey, the larger horse, who normally loved to trot, but would go no faster than a slow walk with me on his back. Wandering  around between the chickens, patting the sheep and watching the horses graze in the fields farm taught me how to love and respect animals.  Even though I was a small child I still have fond memories of my time there.

After the fire I was saddened to go back and see only the tall brick chimneys, blackened by the fire, standing strangely alone against a big empty sky. Their stark silhouettes rising from the ashes in the middle of a burned out hole looked lonely and dreadful. It was a frightening reminder to me of my former home. 

I recently found some pictures of the fire and the newspaper article that describes it. For anyone interested a bit of history about the house that appears on the town seal, read on.

Large Dwelling House is Totally Destroyed Monday Afternoon
Holliston, December 30, 1948

Hampered by an inadequate water supply and high winds sweeping across the open fields, fireman fought a losing battle to save the historic even room dwelling at Maple Lawn Farm 310 Concord Street, East Holliston, Home of William O. Brockert vice president of the Croft brewing Co. Boston, With only the Chimneys remaining standing.

Mr. Brockert after being called home from Boston estimated the loss at more than $50,000. Since purchasing the historic farm in 1946 he had completely remodeled the house, and had taken a keen interest in retaining the original architectural features of the middle section of the house. Which was the oldest dwelling in the town, and in restoring additional old features, including fireplaces concealed in the walls? Mrs. and Mr. Brockert then furnished many of the rooms with valuable and beautiful antique furniture. The fire was discovered by a passing truck driver who drove to the nearby home of Mr. and Mrs. John P. Brooks at 375 Concord Street to telephone the fire department.  Box 45 for a house fire was sounded at 12:40 p. m. and firemen responded quickly under chief Herbert Chambers.

Because Mrs. Brockert was not seen at the fire, several firemen donned their gas masks, tied ropes around their waists and went through the blazing house to search for her. They failed to find her and later it was found that she was in Framingham at the time the fire broke out. She returned to find the house doomed.

The fireman who entered the building to look for Mrs. Brockert, Joseph Damigella, George Mantell and Frank Allen were partially overcome by smoke and had to crawl out of the house. Mr. Damigella was most seriously overcome by smoke and was taken to his home by automobile and given first aid. Dr. Leo J. Clancy was called.

Help was summoned from Framingham which sent a truck at 1:30 and another at 2:12 under Chief Leroy D. Trevett. Holliston fireman, on arrival used booster lines and had to lay 1500 feet of heavy hose, from the nearest hydrant.  Because the water main there was only a four inch main, only one line could be used from the hydrant and leader lines were run off the heavy hose.

Freezing Temperatures

Fireman fought the fire in 15 degree temperatures in a cutting wind.  Three Holliston firemen fell off the roof of the rear ell of the house and off of a ladder but were uninjured. Fireman George Lord lost his footing in the heavy snow on the roof, as the wind swirled dense smoke around him, and he tumbled off the edge of the roof and fell some ten feet into the snow. As he lost his balance, he shouted to the other men manning a hose line with him. Fireman Richard Locke who was at the edge of the roof was knocked off by the writhing hose line, and fireman Edward Seriac was knocked off the ladder.

When it appeared that they could not save the house, fireman turned the hose lines on the barn in which two riding horses, two valuable dogs, two steers, 15 sheep and a number of chickens were quartered. The wind was blowing towards the highway and helped them prevent the barn from kindling. Preparations were made to lead the animals out, but they showed no sign of panic.

Firemen remained on the scene until late in the afternoon and the barn was checked during the night, to make sure that sparks from the smoldering ruins did not ignite it. Late in the afternoon the Brockert family found their big yellow cat, Ollie, wandering around the yard. They had feared that the cat had perished in the house, but apparently it had fled out a door when firemen went in to search for Mrs. Brockert.

Mr. and Mrs. Brockert, who had lived alone in the house, have taken temporary refuge with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Brockert  at their home on Wood Street, Woodville.  A flood of offers of shelter, food and clothing was received from Holliston residents and from friends in many cities and towns, by telephone and telegram last night. Not a single piece of furniture or article of clothing was saved from the structure. Among the articles lost was Mr. Brockert’s valuable collection of guns.