Thomaston’s Beloved Watts Block
A deed of gift for the first Watts Block was presented by millionaire shipbuilder Captain Watts to the citizens of Thomaston at a town meeting held in Union Hall on Dec 2, 1890. The town had long discussed the need for a Town Hall and Captain Watts made it happen. The building, which cost nearly $35,000, was officially presented on Nov 29, 1890.
The original Watts Block held three commercial stores on the street level - Levi Seavey, men’s furnishings; Elmer Bumps, Jeweler; and M.E. Webber, hardware dealer - and a large main hall and galleries on the second floor, including a stage on the southern end of the hall with anterooms on each wing of the stage. The selectmen’s office was at the head of the stairway to the left with a vault in which to keep town records. A large banquet room with a kitchen was installed on the third floor. The hall and rooms - including seats for the halls - were heated by five large stoves and lit by kerosene lamps, all gifts of Captain Watts. When completed, Captain Watts insisted the town insure the building in the amount of $15,000 in the event repairs or reconstruction were required.
Captain Watts must have been telepathic for on June 5, 1915 an explosion caused a fire in William Catland’s stable, which was connected to the Knox Hotel. Orville Young, an employee of Mr. Catland, whose turn it was to sleep in the stable that night, found the rear of the stable a mass of flame and had only time to liberate three of the ten horses, which were in the stalls at the time.
The flames quickly spread to the Telegraph Block, and then to Knox Hotel and lastly, the Watts Block. The heat from the fire was so intense that it caused large plate glass windows to crack in the storefronts on the north side of the street. The early town records were but the only things saved from the upper part of Watts Block.
A store in the Telegraph Block sometimes used as a moving picture theater but then occupied by cobbler Hollis Young, and two other units occupied by G.I. Robinson Drugstore and the Rockland Camden Thomaston Street Railway office were completely destroyed. The tenements, dental office and millinery above were also consumed.
Articles saved from the burning buildings were stored in the stores and on the sidewalk on the opposite side of Main Street. After raging for four hours, the fire was under control by 3:30 a.m. Total loss was $97,350 for which only $59,350 was covered by insurance.
On Jun 22 a special Town Meeting was held at which two motions were presented – one to rebuild a new Town Hall on the site and one to select a committee responsible for procuring plans, specs and cost estimates to present to the citizens. The original deed stipulated that if the block was ever rebuilt, it must be on the original site. The owners of the destroyed Telegraph Block sold their lot to the town, which allowed for a larger replacement building, measuring 97’ on Main Street x 80’ on Knox Street.
On Oct 16 cornerstones were laid for the new Watts Block and the roof was expected to be completed by Thanksgiving and ready for occupancy by the first of the year. Bricklayers from NYC completed their work by Nov 23. The building was trimmed with Stonington granite on the first floor and Vermont marble for the second and third floors. The walls were designed with jogs as a contrast to such a large bare expanse of brick. The ground floor contained two large stores and the post office with an entrance at the center of the block to the second floor gallery from the main corridor. The mezzanine floor was arranged to allow for the stage and dressing rooms to be independent of the cloakrooms in the event that the hall was let for dancing purposes. The seats were made of the latest collapsible type to facilitate storage beneath the stage. A moving picture booth was installed in the hall, and two other rooms on the second floor were divided for use by selectmen and town officials.
The cost was to be approximately $50,000, half of which was raised by Town appropriation. The insurance on the old block added $15,000 and the balance of $10,000 was the generous gift of Miss Mary Jane Watts, whose father, the late Captain Samuel Watts, gave the original building.
An independent trolley waiting room was competed to the west of the Watts Block and in use by Dec 10th, while simultaneously, the owners of the Knox Hotel were living in their building as they added finishing touches for reopening to business.
After the usual last minute delays and postponements, several events – concert, dedication ball and high school graduation - were some of the first to be held in the new hall in May. Watts Block continues to this day to fulfill the wishes of its benefactor, Captain Samuel Watts, in serving the citizens of the Town of Thomaston.
(Sources: Deed books, THS Archives, FLS Morse, Courier Gazette and Cyrus Eaton)