Where It All Started – A Newly Found View

The current exhibit at the Lydia B. Cannon Museum, The Great Fire of 1909, features many photographs taken before and after the conflagration that changed the business district permanently. Occasionally, new ones are rediscovered in the collection or are submitted to the Milton Historical Society. One of these has just surfaced in the course of an inventory review, and I’ve posted it here because of the positioning of the camera.

Federal Street looking south, viewed from Wharf Alley (undated, prior to 1909)

To better understand what we’re looking at, I’ve added some annotations to the photograph:

The building labeled “The Big Store,” of which only one wall is visible, was ground zero for the fire of August 13, 1909. Directly across the street sometimes referred to as Wharf Alley is a partial view of S. J. Wilson’s Funeral and General Store (today this is the site of the M&T Bank building). The Ponder Hotel, on the other side of Front Street from Wilson’s Store, occupied the entire block bounded by Federal Street, Front Street, Chestnut Street, and Strawberry Alley. The site of the former hotel is now occupied by the Milton Police HQ building, the Milton Fire House, and four commercial buildings facing Federal Street.

This particular photograph, donated to the Museum by Charles Thackery, is unattributed and undated. It is significant, however because it reveals the proximity of the Big Store to two other major businesses which caught fire from its flames and flying sparks.

7 thoughts on “Where It All Started – A Newly Found View

  • Helen Lockwood Camenisch

    This is a wonderful view of downtown as I call it. I am sure this was before my mother was born but my grandfather Lucius Darby was living here with his family on Walnut St. He was a tug boat captain in Philadelphia but lived here and traveled back and forth from Milton to Philly each week. Was that the Jones house beyond the hotel on Federal Street?

    • Phil Martin

      I would venture to say it is the Jones house, but it is mostly obscured by the hotel and another small commercial building that stood right on Strawberry Alley.

      • Helen Lockwood Camenisch

        I could just see the shape of the rounded turret I believe.

      • William T. Jones

        I believe that the Jones house was built in the early 1900s. My grandmother and grandfather were married in 1904.

  • Dawn Hastings

    I knew exactly where this was before reading your article. Thank you for sharing!

    Dawn Wagamon Hastings

  • William T. Jones

    The Ponder Hotel has long been a source fascination for me. If the building was really as large as the as your description, it was really quite a place. Given that it was located new the waterfront, it probably did quite a bustling business. What is shown in the photo is the most that I have seen of it.

    If it stood during the Civil War period, a piece of Ponder Civil War script I have might have been intended for use there. The piece I have is unsigned.

    • Phil Martin

      There actually was another, earlier Ponder Hotel either on Front or Union Street; that might be the one that is associated with the Civil War script you mention.

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