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The 1965 Main Street Fire

The IGA store during the fire


Of all the fires in Hilton's history, the most devastating was the 1965 Main Street fire.

This fire caused the death of one person and $2 million worth of damage. It took six hours and approximately 500 fire fighters from Hilton and the rest of Monroe County to fight the blaze. This fire, which took place on March 21, was also one of the most devastating fires ever to occur in Monroe County. The village landscape was forever changed.

Aerial view of Main Street during fire


The Origin and Extent of the Fire

Looking east down Main Street during Hilton's Main Street Fire of 1965. The street has been roped off to keep the area clear for fire fighters. A cloud of smoke hangs over the site of the fire's origin.

The fire is believed to have been due to a basement gas explosion in McNall's Furniture store on the north side of Main Street. Due to high wind conditions it quickly spread west to the State Bank of Hilton. To the east it swept through the Barile Shoe Store and the second Fraser Block, owned by Violet Green. This building had housed the post office, the Rochester Gas & Electric offices, the Pleasure Shop and Clyde Robillard Jeweler. It also swept across Hovey Street and destroyed the IGA Superliner store and the rest of the Curtis Block, including the Mason's Clio Lodge and an apartment. Farther east, the fire attacked the village hall, home to village offices, the public library and a firemen's meeting hall. At this point the fire was finally brought under control and stopped. By then, eight families were left homeless and one elderly woman had died. Some businesses would never reopen.

This drawing from Don Stilson's book on the Hilton Fire Department shows the extent of the fire. This image first appeared in the January 1966 issue of Fire Journal, copyright 1966 by the National Fire Protection Association.

Fighting the Blaze

Fire fighters congregating in front of the Curtis Block, which was just destroyed during the Main Street Fire of 1965. The puddle-filled street is lined with fire hoses. An estimated 2,738,000 gallons of water were used to battle the blaze.

An astonishing number of fire fighters and others were employed in fighting the blaze. Fifteen fire companies from all over Monroe County were involved. Read this article from the Times Union of April 3, 1965, in which Hilton Mayor Henry Carter expresses his thanks to those involved:

"On behalf of the people of Hilton I wish to express our appreciation for the prompt and sustaining help given us in our time of disaster.

To the Rochester newspapers, congratulations for their sympathetic and extensive coverage of our loss.

Very special thanks are due all the fire companies, police, sheriff, the government and business officials, the Red Cross and Salvation Army, and others too numerous to mention who worked long and hard the day of the fire and thereafter.

Hilton's own volunteer firemen and civil authorities, the scouts and the young people who worked during the emergency and are still contributing to the rehabilitation deserve praise too.

A part of all of us went up in flames on March 21, 1965, but nothing can quell the real spirit of the village."

The State Bank of Hilton (left) and McNall's Furniture Store (right) on Main Street. Both structures were ruined in the 1965 Main Street Fire.

A milling crowd at the scene of the fire.


Personal Recollections

The following recollections are taken from a 25th anniversary article on the fire written by Jim Orr which appeared in the Democrat & Chronicle of November 6, 1990.

  • "The worst fire I ever saw. So much destruction... when you lose a whole side of a village. It was cold. The firemen took a beating." -- Albert DeConnick, fire fighter and Monroe County's assistant fire coordinator.


  • "The fire moved east, but we were close enough that we got nailed. It was practically leveled. Only the (brick) front wall was left standing." -- Bernard Kedian, president of the State Bank of Hilton.


  • "I'll never forget that day... we all thought it would be the end of the village. Could people rebuild their businesses?" -- Leith Wright, Village Historian


The Aftermath

The smoldering ruins of the Fraser Block.

This picture shows a phone that became partially melted during the fire. It had been in a building on the south side of Main Street, a structure NOT destroyed by the fire. The phone is on display at the office of the Historian of the Village of Hilton.

Hilton did indeed rebuild, but many of the old buildings of the early 1900's (which themselves had in many cases been rebuilt after previous fires) were gone, thus changing Hilton's architectural landscape. One-story, modern-design buildings took their place.

Hilton's post office temporarily moved to the former Hilton Depot. The bank moved to a Hilton bowling hall. The Town of Parma moved its records to the town garage on Grove Street. Some businesses moved out of their temporary quarters and relocated to new facilities in the village. Others would be gone for good.

Visit "Then and Now: Fire Changes Downtown Hilton Through the Years" to see images which show this changed landscape.

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