Alighting of a crow on a high-tension wire in Milan early Friday morning June 11, 1925 was believed to have caused a short circuit which resulted in the burning of two buildings. The large flour and feed storehouse of the Farmer’s Supply Company and a barn belonging to Dan Reeves, electrocution of three cows, shocking of several people, incipient fires in a dozen homes suspension of telephone, light and power services in the vicinity and other minor damage. The crow is thought to have caused the short circuit when its wings struck two of the wires at the same time as he started to fly away. The charred carcass of the crow was held as evidence.
The damages which it was impossible to definitely estimate on Friday, were thought to run into the thousands of dollars.
When the short circuit occurred some of the wires burned off and dropped to the lines of the Citizen’s Mutual Telephone Company which crossed the high-power line directly under the span of wire where the short occurred, it also dropped to a wire fence along the road. The telephone wires and the fence conducted the high voltage and distributed it over a wide territory, involving the lines of the Chemung Telephone Company in that district. A fire was started in practically every house in Milan in which there was a phone, but as it happened at about 5 o’clock, an hour when most people were up and about but still in their homes, the fires were quickly extinguished with but little damage other than charred walls.
However, there was no one in the office of the Farmer’s Supply Co. building at that early hour and before the fire was discovered there at 5:30 o’clock by Mr. Dan Reeves, the flames had gained such a headway that all the volunteer firemen could do was to save the office fixtures and surrounding buildings. The building was a 30x80 foot, two story structure, built in 1910 by Clyde Anthony of Milan, who later sold it to Farmers Supply Co. Mr. Anthony said it would probably cost $4,000 to replace the building. Leon Wright, manager for the company, said that he could not tell the value of the contents until he goes over his inventory, but that he believed $5,000 would cover the loss of the roofing, feed, flour, seed corn and other supplies that were lost.
The company carried $2,000 insurance on the building and $3,000 o the contents.
The Reeve barn stood about 25 feet away from the burning store house, It was impossible to save this building, The barn contained but little of value, except a car which was saved, and this with the chicken coop, which was burned and the damage to the walls of three nearby houses, entailed the loss of about $800 in which Mr. Reeve had $100 insurance.
The cows, two of which were pure bred Holsteins, were owned by William Pruyne, whose farm was about a mile and a half below Milan. They lost their lives when they thrust their heads through a wire fence after Mr. Pruyne had seen the short circuit and had left his cows in the barn until seeing S. C. Murray of the Sayre Electric Company on the scene, he thought the current had been turned off and let the cows out. However, it was impossible for the linemen, who went to Milan at once on hearing of the trouble, to turn off the current at the Milan substation because of arcs which were formed by the jumping of the grounded current. As the telephones were out of commission, the linemen could not get into communication with the station at Sayre and it was 8 o’clock before the current was turned off. The Electric Company had already made arrangements to settle for the cows, as Mr. Pruyne was indemnified against accidents when the right of way was secured across the property.
Among the houses in which fires were started were those of H. Wesley McCraney, Ellery Burlingame, William May, P. R. Phelps, Robert Edmiston, Percy Walters, Louis Wandell and William Pruyne. The store of Clyde Anthony also caught fire.
Mr. Phelps was shocked and knocked off a chair while he was extinguishing the flames in the McCraney residence. Percy Walters was shocked while attempting to break a grounded circuit and one of Mr. Pruyne’s sons was shocked when he stepped in some water in the cellar of his home.
The feed store building stood in the most thickly built up section of Milan and it is considered fortunate that there was no wind, other wise the community would probably have been entirely wiped out.
The Sayre Fire department was called upon at 6 o’clock but because of orders given by the council not to take the pumper out of town until pay for its service had been guaranteed, it was more that half an hour before Sayre firemen reached the scene, although it was not thought that anything could have been done to save the store or the barn had they arrived sooner. Chemical streams were played on the walls of some of the nearby houses which were charred, but this was the only extent to which the Sayre firemen were of any help.
The news of the excitement in Milan spread quickly and by 8 o’clock there were hundreds of curious people from miles around including many from the valley towns, who flocked to the scene.
Late in the morning the break in the power wire had been repaired and the motors in Ulster plants which depended on the current were running again. The telephone linemen were busy getting their lines back in commission.
A Peculiar circumstance was connected with the fire in the home of Senator Robert S. Edmiston. William Pruyne, a near neighbor, realizing the danger to this home occupied only by Mr. Edmiston, who was confined to his bed, and his housekeeper, went to the house finding that the telephone wires had been burned off without apparently having done any damage, returned to his chores.
A few minutes later on looking up, he saw that two opposite corners of the Edmiston house were in flames. He went back and found the fire had started from the current following the lightning rods from some place where the latter crossed the telephone wires on the outside walls of the house. Mr. Pruyne cut the telephone wires and extinguished the flames before any great damage other than the charring of the outside walls had been done.
Henry Farley is a founding member and a current board member of the Sayre Historical Society. He is also president of the Bradford County Historical Society.