Photo credit: Nicki Ness
|Click here to see the original Hamlin Bank location from 1874-1880||Click here to see the location of Hamlin Bank after the Bennett House Fire (1880-1887)||Click here to see the location of the Hamlin Bank from 1887- present|
Henry Hamlin Starts A
Haskill Store & Bennett House Hotel Destroyed in 1880 Fire
Henry began loaning money from his store in 1853, while he was a merchant with his uncle Byron. He established the "Exchange Office of Henry Hamlin" in response to the National Banking Act in 1863. The second floor of the Haskill Store served as the "Exchange Office" until 1880. 1874 was a pivotal year for the Hamlin family and the entire history of Smethport. Byron and Henry decided to sell their interest in their store and concentrate on other areas of interest. Byron became involved in the establishment of the McKean & Buffalo Railroad. He was a principal investor and became the president the following year. This railroad became the initial locomotive of the economic engines of Smethport and the region, and provided the initial transportation system for the vast resources of the county. Henry, on the other hand, concentrated all his energy into his banking interests. Banking would no longer be a part-time endeavor and the visions of Henry and Byron in 1874 would transform the future of Smethport. In 1880 a giant fire destroyed the Bennett House Hotel and the Haskill Store. Following the fire, Henry used Byron's law office to temporarily conduct his business until a new bank could be built. Byron's law office was located at 607 W. Main (2003's James P. Miller law office). This office still contains a safe that Henry used for his banking.
Checks written from the Exchange Office
on the second floor of the Haskill Store
December 24, 1877
July 5, 1878
July 30, 1878
Second Bennett House Fire
A BAD FIRE
McKean County Miner 1880 (exact date unknown)
source: Jim & Carol Freer news clippings
SATURDAY MORNING'S BLAZE--THE BENNETT HOUSE AND HASKILL'S STORE BUILDING CREMATED--A $35,000 FIRE.
Our people were again aroused by an alarm of fire about two o'clock last Saturday morning. The Bennett House, which had passed through the fiery ordeal but a few weeks previous, was again found to be on fire. This time, however, the flames had such headway before being discovered that all efforts to subdue them and save the building was found useless, and in an incredible short space of time the house was in ruins with all the furniture and contents. Mrs. Van Gorder and her daughter Hattie were the only inmates of the house at the time of the fire. They occupied the room on the second floor in the southeast corner and were not appraised of the peril they were in until the fire had gained great headway. They barely escaped with the clothing on their backs. The house was being repaired from the result of the former fire and was not open to guests. Mr. Van Gorder and son and other daughter were absent at Bradford.
Notwithstanding the Smethport Hose Company No. 1 battled faithfully and well against the scorching heat and flying sparks the dry goods store of William Haskill's also took fire, and in a very short time was also reduced to ashes. Mr. Haskill succeeded in removing a large amount of goods. His stock was very large as he had the day before received his new spring and summer stock. Henry Hamlin's banking office and Sterrett & Rose's law office, up stairs in the building, also went with the general destruction, including considerable value furniture, though the most valuable papers, books, etc., were preserved in fair condition in the respective safes.
For a time it was feared it was feared that John C. Backus's building, on the east side of the hotel, would take fire, but by faithful work by the hose company, this was prevented.
The wind was from the north-east which increased the danger to the Haskill building and prevented its being saved. Sparks were carried to great distances and the roof of Mr. Haskill's dwelling, two hundred yards away, took fire, as did also the barn of Hon. B. D. Hamlin, and other buildings in the vicinity and it required great watchfulness to prevent further destruction of property.
The origin of the fire is unknown. It seems to have started on the second floor. The prevailing theory seems to exist that it was incendiary, but there is no very plausible grounds to support it, that we can see.
William Haskill has moved his stock into J. C. Backus's building, where it is now being inventoried. As soon as he has accomplished this task he will resume business.
It is quite probable that the ground occupied by the burned building will be built up the present summer.
Following is a list of the losses: