Bradford commemorates 100th anniversary of Great Fire

By Matt Clevenger

For Miami Valley Today

BRADFORD — On the evening of Aug. 3, 1920, a devastating fire swept through Bradford, destroying a total of 46 businesses and homes and forever changing the landscape of the village.

The Bradford Public Library will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Fire, as residents now call it, on Saturday, Aug. 1, hosting an open house with local historians from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Artifacts from the fire will be on display, along with a Ford Model “T” from the same era as the fire, and a modern fire engine from the Bradford Fire Department. Members of the Bradford Fire Department will also distribute free smoke detectors to the first 36 families participating.

“We have a local history volunteer who will be on hand that day to answer some questions,” Bradford Public Library director Stacie Layman said. “Also, one of our trustee board members will be here; he is a former Bradford High School history teacher, and he knows quite a bit about the history of the fire as well.”

“We have a local resident who has a 1922 Model “T” Ford,” Layman said. “We also have the Bradford Fire Department; they are going to bring one of their engines over.”

Artifacts from the fire will also be on display during the open house, and books about the fire will be available. “We were able to get our hands on a bucket that was used to fight the fire that day, which we have on loan from the Bradford Railroad Museum,” Layman said. “We have a jar of marbles and melted glass and rocks that were picked up by a community member the morning after the fire. We also have a folding ruler from the Arnold Lumber Company.”

The Great Fire started sometime in the evening on Aug. 3, 1920 at the Arnold Lumber Company, and quickly spread to the entire Bradford business district.

“It was noticed around 10:30 at night,” Layman said. “There was a railroad fire department and a volunteer fire department at that point in time, but they had a hard time getting water to the fire.”

A total of 34 businesses and 12 homes were burned to the ground. Miraculously, there were no injuries reported. “It was ruled to be arson, but no one was ever charged,” Layman said. “It’s pretty amazing that no one was injured.”

“It just about wiped out the business district of Bradford,” she said. “I know much of the area was not insured that did burn, so many of those businesses did not return. Some were able to, and some are still here today.”

During the open house, the library will also display several photographs and newspapers relating to the fire. “Bradford was quite a railroad hub in that day,” Layman said. “Papers from across the state did come and report on the story.”

“It needs to be commemorated,” she said of the fire. “It changed this village forever.”

More information on the fire can be found online, at www.bradfordoh.com, and the library also carries several books on the subject.

“We have a book that was written by a local author,” Layman said. “We have copies of that people can check out.”