This picture is among the many photographs in the collection of Norway’s buildings at the Norway Museum and Historical Society. Although we must be closed at this time we look forward to seeing you when we can reopen to the public. Please check our website at

From the earliest days of the colonists, fire has been both a blessing and a curse. Until the late 1800s lighting, heating and cooking depended on flame. Most cities and towns, large and small, had their share of major fires. Norway is certainly part of that history. The term for these destructive events was conflagration.

Our picture this week is of a building none of us ever saw: Norway Hall. Truly a building that rose from the ashes. For anyone under 126 years old, the Opera House has always been there. But before the Opera House was Norway Hall and before that the Mason’s Block and the Hathaway Block.

It was not the first time that fire ravaged this struggling settlement. The Paris Hill Oxford Democrat reported that around five-thirty on the morning of April 21, 1882 fire was discovered in the attic of the Mason Brothers Block. It was Monday morning; what a way to start the week. A light breeze from the north was all it took to quickly spread the fire to the next building, the Hathaway Block and then across the stream to buildings of the C.B. Cummings Company.

Lost on Main Street was a hardware store, two law offices, print shop, the armory of the Norway Light Infantry, drug store, cemetery work shop, Norway Reading Club, and Knights of Pythias Hall. Across the stream, C.B. Cummings lost the stave mill, machine shop, foundry and pancake shop (for making insoles from leather scraps). Other buildings in the path of the conflagration included a barn, carriage house, carding mill, tenement and paint shop.

Fighting the fire was Norway’s Hunneman hand tub, delivered in 1852. Assisting were like “engines” from South Paris and Oxford.

Rebuilding plans were underway as soon as insurance claims were paid. The largest building was to be known as Norway Hall and covered 120 feet along Main Street with three stores on the ground floor as well as the Norway National Bank and space for the armory along with assessors’ rooms. The upper floor had a stage and seating for 1000.

Construction began in September of 1882 and the building was completed for an official opening on February 15, 1883.

Unfortunately, this ornate wooden building would only serve the town until May 9, 1894 when fire would turn Main Street into a smoldering mass of ash and destruction in a conflagration even greater than that of 1882. But once again rebuilding started almost immediately and the present brick opera house was completed in 1895.

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