The 1867 fire burned me to the ground. But I came back!

I’ve Had Worse Days, Woodstock, Believe Me


Submitted 8 months ago
Created by
Mark Travis

I hear what people say as they pass me by on the corner of Central and Elm. And I agree: I’m showing my age, could use a facelift. But let me tell you this. I’ve been worse. A lot worse!


I'm the building at the center of Woodstock. You may know me as French’s Block, but actually, I’m a Fairbanks. If you drive through town, you can't miss me, and if you've been to Bentley's, you've seen me from the inside out.

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You could say I came to town in 1796, when a fellow named Elisha Taylor built the Village Hotel on my corner. A crossroads, then as now. Perfect location for a "House of Entertainment" intent on serving Ladies and Gentlemen alike ... "especially travelers." (Shoutout, tourists. Woot!)

I'm the one with the porches.

After Elisha came Eliakim Spooner -- best owner name ever! -- and then Robert Barker, who was quite the showman. Built a second story, added a dance hall (good times!) and porches. Once he brought an elephant to the hotel -- seriously -- and charged a quarter to see it. Don't get me started on the cleanup.

I wouldn't kid you about an elephant.

In time Barker sold to a Whitney, then Whitney to a Henry, and it was all good until March 23, 1867 -- when ... it's hard to talk about it. Fire. Burned the old wooden hotel and all those memories to the ground, along with a bank, the Union Hall, the jail and a house. That's one bad day.

Brutal.

But I came back. Better than ever. Because I came back in brick and iron.

I owe my second incarnation to a gentleman named W.C. Fairbanks, which is why I'm partial to the name: Fairbanks Block. 1873. W.C. thought big, so I stood tall: stores on the first floor, offices on the second and third, a basement to die for, stylish Mansard roof, classy butternut woodwork.

The businesses I've been home to in the years since -- it's been awesome. A harness shop. A laundry. A butcher, a barber, a dentist. A hat shop for the ladies. A diner. And French's market. Just look at the people hanging out!

That's where the name mixup thing started. French's Block.

Whatever. I'm over it.

At least I'm still part of Woodstock's conversation. Oh sure, I hear what people say: I could use a coat of paint, more tenants, folks hanging out on the corner steps again, there to see and be seen.

I kinda wish my corner door still opened.

I can't really argue. Sure I've been better. I'm 145 years old! But I'm still standing tall, right here, right now, for the town I'm proud to call home. With a little love and a little luck, I'll have years more stories to tell.

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If you'd like to read a full account of the history of the block, the Woodstock History Center has the lowdown.

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