Oramel Fire of 1937

(Articles transcribed by Karen Meisenheimer.)

Pre-fire Pictures






From the Buffalo Evening News, September, 1937. 




High Wind Hampers Bucket Brigade and 10 Volunteer Companies in Fight to Save Allegany County Village.


By BUFFALO Evening News Staff Reporter.


ORAMEL, Sept. 20 – Seven dwellings were burned to the ground and the Methodist Episcopal church [badly] damaged Sunday afternoon when flames, driven by a 40-mile-an-hour gale, swept the main street of this Allegany county village.


The fire, which defied the efforts of 13 volunteer fire companies from neighboring towns, left 22 men, woman and children homeless.


Starting on the roof of the home owned by Miss Clara Fox and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. William Petty and Jack Francis, the wind-lashed blaze spread quickly to adjoining properties, despite a hastily-organized bucket brigade, which tried to stem the advance until fire apparatus came.


Apparatus Quickly on Scene


Within 15 minutes of the time the fire was discovered by Grover Hall, who was working in the yard next door to the Petty residence, and Charles G. Wells, who was walking in the main street, fire apparatus began pouring in from Belfast, Caneadea and Rushford.


Later, companies from Fillmore, Wellsville, Scio, Cuba, Angelica, Belmont and Houghton augmented the group of nearly 500 volunteers who were fighting the blaze.


Lack of water hampered the firemen until three companies formed a line of hose a mile and a half in length and pumped water from the Genesee river.  Similar lengths of hose were run from a feeder of the Olean-Rochester canal and a quarter of a mile from the fire.


Fire’s Course Erratic


The erratic course of the flying sparks set fire to six houses on the north side of the street, one house on the south side and the Methodist church 300 feet from the nearest burning dwelling.  The church, although suffering little from fire, sustained sever water damage.  Pews and much of the movable furniture were broken in the hasty efforts to get them out of harm’s way.


Those rendered homeless by the fire are:


Mr. and Mrs. Wallace Hall and two sons, Grover and Cole; Mr. and Mrs. Petty and Mr. Francis; Mr. and Mrs. William Herman and two daughters, Mary and Dorothy.


Mr. and Mrs. Dial Fries and daughter Dorothy; Mr. and Mrs. Henry Cassidy and children, Anne, Mildred and Lawrence; the Misses Mary and Daisy Wilson and George Taft. 







(From Northern Allegany Observer September 24, 1937)


Gale – Driven


Tiny Farming Village In Smoldering Ruins Today


Departments From Ten Communities Battle Fire Sunday – Damage Estimated At About $30,000 – Cause of Conflagration Held Defective Chimney – Two Firemen Injured, Woman, Boy Burned.


ORAMEL – This tiny farming village was a smoldering mass of ruins today, ravaged by fire which destroyed eight houses and badly damaged a church.


The fire, which started early Sunday, raged throughout the day, fanned by a forty-mile-an-hour gale.  Flames rapidly ate their way through the village, threatening to wipe it from the map.


Seven houses were burned to the ground as weary firemen were convinced that the blaze was at last under control.  At two o’clock this morning the smoldering ashes again burst into flames and an eighth house was destroyed.  Total damage was placed this morning at in excess of $30,000.


According to local residents the fire started Sunday morning from a defective chimney on one of the houses.  Local firemen, hampered by one of the worst windstorms of the season, immediately sought outside aid and the Belfast department was called at eleven forty-five o’clock.


When the Belfast company arrived, three houses were in flames and the gale was carrying showers of sparks and glowing embers far down the main street.  The Caneadea department was summoned and as the flames continued out of control, calls were sent to Cuba, Fillmore, Angelica, Belmont, Wellsville, Scio and Rushford.


Water Lack Handicaps


A meager water supply from one cistern and two wells handicapped the fire-fighters and it was found necessary to lay more than 2,400 feet of hose to the Genesee River, north of the community.  Pumpers worked in pairs to carry the water to the scene of the holocaust.


Houses on both sides of the highway were in flames at the height of the conflagration and the glowing embers finally fired the local church.  This building, although not destroyed, was badly damaged.


Donald Thompson and Lee Youngs, Belfast firemen, were burned, not seriously, about the face and hands when flames broke through the roof of a home where they were working on a ladder with a booster line.


The houses destroyed by the flames were occupied by the families of William Petty and Jack Francis; Wallace Hall and family; William Herman and family; Henry Cassidy and family; Margaret and Daisy Wilson, and Mr. and Mrs. George Taft.  Another house was unoccupied, but in it were stored the household goods of Dial Fries and family of Bolivar.


A youth, whose name was not learned, was injured and burned by a falling timber and taken to Fillmore Hospital for treatment.


“Ghost Town” for Years
Mrs. E. J. Young, whose home was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. George Taft, suffered burns on her hands in a vain effort to save a trunk full of World War relics sent to her from France after the death there of a son during the war.  She was treated by Dr. Robert Lyman of Fillmore.


Oramel has been a “ghost town” for many years.  It was an important lumber center for several years following construction. [at] that point in 1851 of the Genesee Valley Canal.  Two or three sawmills ran constantly turning the hill hemlock and pine into building material which went by canal via Rochester to New York City.  It was incorporated as a village in 1857 when it had a population of 700 to 800, a newspaper, a grist mill, foundry, stores, a three-story hotel, etc.  When Olean became the canal’s southern terminus business at Oramel declined rapidly.  For years the village government was forgotten until construction of an electric power line some [fifteen] years ago brought it to light and the municipality was legally dissolved.






Believed to be from Northern Allegany Observer September 24, 1937


Oramel Was Allegany’s Own “Ghost Town”


Editors note – No “ghost town” of the West’s gold craze period ever had a more fanciful history than that of Allegany’s county’s own village of Oramel, visited by the disastrous fire of Sunday.  Something of its importance nearly a century ago may be gleaned from the following article first printed in the Observer about 40 years ago.  Copies of the Republican Era of Oramel dated 1855, printed by H. E. Purdy, are carefully preserved at the Observer office today.  Purdy wielded a strong pen, was an able controversialist, his paper was always spicy and sure to be read.  It is probable that Purdy and his paper had much to do with the village’s brief though historic rise to fame.


From personal recollections and proofs afforded by the press of the county at that time, it is safe to assert that from 1852 to 1857, the now quiet and even sleepy village of Oramel was the liveliest place in all northern Allegany.  For a time it was the head of navigation of the Genesee Valley Canal and was denominated by some enthusiasts, the “Syracuse of Western New York.”


Just why it should be supposed to resemble in the least the city of Syracuse can at this day, hardly be imagined and still, the idea might have been suggested by the immense quantities of salt with which at some seasons of the year the year the town was literally packed, for it must be remembered that it was for a while the “entrepot” for all southern and southwestern Allegany.


To Oramel they drew their lumber and shingles, the chief article of export at the time and on their return hauled back salt, sugar, molasses, whiskey, dry goods, merchandise of every description needed in a new country.


About 1850, Oramel Griffin, a shrewd and enterprising businessman of Rushford, quick to discern the possibilities of future growth, and having the means to appropriate the advantages offered, purchased a large landed property at this point, caused a village plot to be made and began improvements.


The Oramel House, which many of our older citizens will remember, and which occupied the site of the present public house in Oramel – and a great deal more – was put up soon after Mr. Griffin’s purchase.  It was at the time of its construction, the largest public house in the county.  A cut of this building is to be seen on a map of Allegany county published in 1850.


Glancing over business cards in the “Republican Era,” Oramel’s famed newspaper, it is discovered that A. P. Lanning, for years the distinguished attorney for the Central R R., was an attorney and solicitor, with office in the Arcade block over the drug store.


D’Autremont’s Hotel at Hume – now the VanDresser House, has an ad.  The Oramel Company advertises 100 village lots for sale from $50 to $150., on terms to suit purchasers.


All the popular patent medicines of the day may be purchased at drug store, Purdy & Rail.


Baldwin’s Clothing Store in Arcade block.


Cabinet and Chair Factory, Oramel.  A hearse will be in readiness at all times.


Dr. W. J. Burr advertised his services.


Other local industries included warehouse, shingle mill, R. Taylor’s hotel, A. Roberts dry goods, A. Cowan, boots and shoes.


From old maps of this once thriving village it is learned that the village had many streets, some of which were named: Union, North, Genesee, Canal, South, Exchange, Centre, Front, etc.


But this must suffice.  Mr. Griffin was wise enough to unload his heavy stock of real estate, the Oramel Company having been formed.  The canal enterprise was prosecuted to completion, the trade and commerce of the southern territory was diverted by that and the construction of the Erie R. R. and the bubble, so beautiful in its inflation, was pricked and the stranger passing through its quiet streets today or the younger people of the vicinity who have not been told its story can hardly be made to believe it.


“So passeth the glory of the world.”