"Leveled by Fire"
On Wednesday evening,
July 20, 1949 at about 10:00 p.m. the town was shaken
by a thunderstorm. Moving in from the West, this storm
would trigger the event that would forever change the
"Face of Harwinton."
The ediface was believed to have been struck about 10:00
p.m. although the fire was not discovered until after
11:00 p.m. Motorists traveling past the church around
10:00 p.m. had noticed pieces of clapboard in the road
that was probably tossed from the steeple when the bolt
hit. The Rev. Guthrie Swartz spotted the fire in the
steeple and was the one who reported the fire to Hans
Thiemann, deputy chief of the Harwinton Fire Department.
At the height of the blaze water was played on surrounding
houses to keep them from bursting into flames from the
intense heat and flaming embers.
As a four year old child on that fateful day, I remember
very little. As a pre-schooler I do remember my mother
and me standing on the bottom of our South Road driveway
the next day and looking north to where the familiar
structure that stood so proudly for over 140 years was
simply no longer there. To most of the families living
on South Road, this view was the "Face of Harwinton."
That face would now be changed forever.
I remember seeing the bell, which at one time would
toll when someone died, once for each year that a townsperson
was on this earth, laying silently on it's side down
by the Kellogg House.
I remember at some point being on North Road and seeing
the still smoldering hole marking where the church once
stood. This was probably the next evening with my Dad.
The people of the town were quick to react and within
24 hours a special meeting was held in the new consolidated
school auditorium. This meeting was attended by over
300 people and they quickly voted to form a committee
to lead the rebuilding program before it was even voted
to rebuild. Over $6,000 was pledged that very first
night along with materials and volunteer labor. All
of this took place while the ashes were still smoldering
in the hole at the top of the hill.
Soon the bell,
unharmed by the fire, was hauled up to the remaining
stone steps and placed right side up at the top step.
"PLEASE HELP US RAISE THE BELL"
was the rallying cry.