Wellesley firefighters were among first responders from more than a dozen neighboring communities that headed to downtown Natick overnight to battle an 8-alarm fire that left a firefighter injured and wrecked a handful of businesses, according to news crews on the scene.
I’ve been in Natick Center all morning taking pictures and videos, and talking with business owners and residents. about the fire that has destroyed at least eight businesses. Among the ruined storefronts are King Wok Chinese restaurant, which has been a fixture on that block since at least 1997. The basement of that restaurant apparently is where the fire began. One firefighter has been taken to the hospital with reported minor injuries.
That block, which dates from 1900, also has seen the loss of the much-loved Iron Horse, a yarn and fiber arts supply shop that also offered classes and workshops. Owner Deborah Lynne Smith in a Facebook post said, “This morning at 1:22 Natick Fire was notified of smoke coming out of the front side of the building (Rt 27) our store was in (the side) building. By 4:26 the fire went to 7 alarm. Our life dream has been destroyed. Thankfully none of our wonderful staff or customers were in there!”
The Christian Science Reading Room is also ruined, its plate-glass windows smashed in by firefighters, all its literature a total loss.
Nancy Kelley Dance Studio also suffered heavy damages, as has Clip and Dip Dog Grooming. Natick Center Graphics, located on the same side of the complex as King Wok, also is wrecked. At least four other businesses are seriously affected. Just across the street, Common Kitchen & Cafe was closed, as it always is on Mondays, and unscathed. Crowds gathered at the edge of the Natick Commons to watch as smoke, at times acrid and black, poured out of the flat-roofed, one-story building affected by the disaster.
The owner of the 9,479 square foot building on 0.29 acres of land is One South Main St. LLC in Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to the Natick Assessor’s records, the company bought the property in August 2018 for $2 million.
One spot that escaped damage: Robjets d’ Art, which earlier this month moved from its spot adjacent to King Wok to nearby Natick Center location at 5 S. Main Street. Luckiest move ever for the funky shop that carries a collection of cool vintage jewelry, books, music, curios and art.
Some of the towns who sent emergency crews: Wellesley, Hudson, Leicester, Wayland, Sudbury, Acton, Marlborough, Southborough, Milford, Sherborn and Hopkinton. The Salvation Army was on hand, as were Eversource, Boston Sparks Association support services, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services Special Operations, and more.
Cosmos Chiropractic Care at 12 West Central Street for 24 years, owned by Doc Cosmos, also lucked out. The 12 West Central Street building did not suffer damage. Cosmos, the self-described “mayor of Natick and proud townie,” said, “I’m from Natick, grew up here, and this is kind of a lot. But we are townies here, and we stick together. I’m glad business owners and customers weren’t hurt. This is bad, but the town will rally and come together.”
Another shot from the second floor of the Morse Institute.
The flames seem to be relentless and are still shooting up, from a strip of businesses along South Main in #Natick. We’re told AT LEAST 8 businesses are being impacted by this fire, that started overnight inside King Wok chinese restaurant. I’m live on @wbz, with the latest. pic.twitter.com/3NrhLGDkOV
— MichelleReneeFisher (@Michelle_WBZ) July 22, 2019
A little Natick fire history
This isn’t the first time Natick center has been ravaged by fire. Back on January 13, 1874 the town hub saw an inferno reduce 35 buildings to rubble, in which a Natick firefighter was killed. The town’s newspaper, The Natick Bulletin, lost its headquarters to the fire, as did the Congregational Church, a concert hall, the fire station, a grocers, a dry goods store, clothing stores, and more.
Despite the loss of its offices in 1874, The Natick Bulletin continued to publish. Under a sub-headline “Natick Will Rise Again” the town’s news source reported, “The business portion of our beautiful town lies in ashes. The fire demon has laid its withering hand upon the home of nearly our whole mercantile, religious, and professional interests, and it is vanished from sight. It is almost too terrible to realize. But though we have suffered fearfully…there is no despondency. The enterprise of our people will overcome the difficulties of the present situation…The burnt district will be rebuilt.”
In a 2009 Boston Globe story that looked back at the fire, Megan McKee wrote that fire “got its start at about 3am, when it was discovered on the second floor of a building at Summer and Main Streets.”
McKee’s story goes on to say that wind helped the fire jump across Summer Street to J.P. Wolcott’s one-year old, three-story shoe factory and into the rest of the commercial district.
The Morse Institute Library at 14 East Central Street, from where I wrote this post, survived the 1874 fire, and now the 2019 fire, despite its close proximity to both. The library, which opened on January 1, 1874, just under two weeks before the devastating fire, escaped with only a slightly damaged roof. Today it never even ceased service, despite the nearby scene of destruction.
Thanks to Natick librarian Karol Bartlett for supplying me with historical documents and pictures from the 1874 fire.
Thank you for the informative article. I want to point out that the pictures may be incorrectly attributed. If the fire of 1874 happened in January, there would be no leaves on the trees as seen in the first picture, but even more telling is the fashion of both the men and women in the pictures. Straw hats, or “bowlers” were not worn during the winter, and weren’t popular until the very late 1800’s through the 20’s. The women’s skirt lengths and hats are also incongruous to the times. The final note that made me realize these are not pictures of the fire of 1874 is that Coca Cola was not invented until January 29th of 1892. Just thought you and your readers would want to know, as well as the helpful folks at the Natick Library.
Deborah Brown says
Fascinating, Lorraine. Thanks for your comments. I will check in with the Natick Library.
Given the picture mentions “Hoey’s Drug Store Up in Flames”, I did a quick Google search for Hoey Drug Store Natick, Ma., and came across this page in the N.A.R.D. Journal describing the fire as happening on June 21st. An earlier piece on the same page references the graduating class of 1918, being honored, both which seem to correspond to the attire and evidence in the pictures. Just wanted to pass it along! https://books.google.com/books?id=s4ZMAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA612&lpg=PA612&dq=natick+Ma+Hoey%27s+drug+store&source=bl&ots=MieUUI_2-p&sig=ACfU3U1SWeznOWQWFUUCNngCpX_EQxcGhQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjckoPnrMzjAhVVCc0KHZNdBnYQ6AEwB3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=natick%20Ma%20Hoey's%20drug%20store&f=false
Deborah Brown says
Thanks so much for this, Lorraine. You are an awesome historian.
Lessing Miguel says
Diane Lavos says
Yes, thank you Lorraine. I noticed immediately the incongruous outfits, especially the hats in the pictures. Glad you came up with all the information about the drug store, Coca Cola, and when bowler hats were in fashion.
I am wondering, are the real photos from 1874 available?
Peter Soderquist says
BTW, the new Robjets D’Art location is apparently 55 S. Main St., not 5 S. Main St., which is the old, destroyed location (according to Google Maps).
I felt terrible for the owner when the fire happened (I’ve been in there a lot, not in the past few weeks) but breathed a huge sigh of relief when I read that his business had been spared; great news.