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April 22. 2013 8:02PM

NH Fire Company knew how to celebrate an anniversary


 

As reported at the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company's annual meeting in January 1918, World War I had an adverse effect on the corporation's bottom line. The company had sustained heavy losses on its coverage of munitions and food supplies.

The meeting report also stated, "Our Service Flag shows the loss of fifteen men to the service by draft and enlistment, and we may expect to lose ten or twelve more in future drafts. So far their places have been filled largely by young ladies, who are giving us very satisfactory service."

The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in June 1920 with eight full days of activities. The agenda included a baseball game between local bankers and insurance company employees at Textile Field (now Gill Stadium). Over 800 enthusiastic fans were in attendance. The insurance team's supporters, ".yelled themselves almost hoarse," according to The Leader newspaper. It was further reported, ".those ancient rivals of the diamond, the Bankers, handed the Insurance men a bitter 7-6 beating.yesterday afternoon. It was the 24th annual clash of the deadly diamond foes."

The insurance company staff also enjoyed an evening at the Uncanoonuc Hotel in Goffstown. The Union newspaper reported, "Three special cars conveyed the office staff and two others brought the out-of-town delegation to the mountain from the Derryfield Club, where the members (had) dined." The 200 employees and their guests were then transported to the top of Uncanoonuc Mountain by the incline railroad. They imbibed refreshments served by the hotel staff and danced until 11:00 p.m.

At one dramatic moment, as the revelers were dancing away, the hall's lights were turned off. The only illumination came from a display made with electric lights. This depicted the silhouette of a quarter-moon that incorporated the profile of the Old Man of the Mountains, also called the Great Stone Face. This was a famous natural rock formation in Franconia Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This craggy silhouette of a bearded man epitomized the company's "Sound, Solid and Successful" motto. The employees visited this iconic landmark when they spent the next weekend at the Profile House in Franconia Notch. (The Old Man collapsed in May 2003.) As the years went on, New Hampshire Fire bought out other insurance companies and expanded into new lines of business.

In 1921 the company acquired the Granite State Insurance Company. This company had been founded in 1885 by famous brewer Frank Jones.

In 1884 a fire destroyed his Portsmouth hotel, the Rockingham House. When the insurance companies refused to pay out the full value of his policies, despite the total destruction of the building, Jones was furious. He influenced the New Hampshire Legislature to pass the "valued policy law," which required insurers to honor their contracts in the event of total loss.

This caused a commotion in the insurance industry, resulting in all the out-of-state companies pulling their business from New Hampshire. Jones and his partners quickly filled this vacuum by founding the Granite State Fire Insurance Company, which would gladly abide by the law. The company gained support from leading business people throughout the state, as well as potential insureds. Frank Jones served as its first president.

Jones had an interesting Manchester connection. His long-time mistress was Delana B. Harrington Curtis of Manchester. The two started a love affair when Delana was just a teenager. This relationship continued for 30 years despite the fact that they both eventually married other people. Jones would often visit Delana in Manchester. When he died in 1902, she found herself shut out of his will due to the influence of his family. She sued the estate for "services rendered" and was able to make a handsome settlement out of court.

The New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company weathered the storm of the Great Depression, and kept itself on firm footing through World War II. The company had an important role to play in the war effort as it insured all of the U.S. Army's official PX (Post Exchange) stores, including those near the front lines. After the war, the company began planning construction of a new, more spacious and modern home office to accommodate its growth.


Next week: The 1951 building at 1750 Elm Street, AIG and the New Hampshire Tower.


Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at aeaton@manchesterhistoric.org


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