Fire devastates downtown Natick

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.

Natick fire, near Wellesley
Wellesley Fire Rescue team sprays the roof of Natick Center Graphics, located at the corner of Main and West Central Streets.

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.

Natick fire, near Wellesley
The Wellesley fire rescue rig is parked on West Central Street, in front of Buttercup restaurant.

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.

Natick fire, near Wellesley
The Framingham responders are dousing the roof of King Wok. The truck is parked on Pond Street, in front of Common Kitchen & Cafe.

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.”

Natick fire, near Wellesley
All the big dawg news crews were here, parked in the First Congregational Church on the corner of East Central and Main Streets. I took this shot from the second floor of the Morse Institute Library, on East Central Street.Natick fire, near Wellesley

Another shot from the second floor of the Morse Institute.

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.

Natick Fire, 1874
Natick Fire, 1874. Photo credit: Morse Institute Library Special Collections.

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.

Natick Fire, 1874
Natick Fire, 1874. Photo credit: Morse Institute Library, Special Collections.

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.

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