March 28, 1966: Fire Destroys Zern's Market and Auction in Gilbertsville


By Margaret Leidy Harner from her book One Day at a Time: A Social History of Boyertown, PA.

March 28, 1966: A spectacular fire gutted Zern’s Market and Auction in Gilbertsville early yesterday morning and lit up the skies as far away as the Pagoda in Reading. The fire was probably started by a lighted cigarette carelessly tossed close to rolls of highly inflammable foam rubber in one of the locked-up stands.

Engines from the Gilbertsville Fire Company arrived within five minutes, but in that short time howling winds carried the flames through the entire front of the building, and workers who were closing their stands barely made it outside as the flames nipped at them. The fire spread quickly through the rest of the building. Some of the 180 merchants fled for their lives with their receipts for the day left in the inferno.

There were explosions reported that send debris more than 60 feet in the air. The cement wall of the office at the back of the building briefly stalled the fire, giving workers enough time to evacuate more than 600 animals form the livestock building. A total of 224 fire companies arrived at the fiery scene, and the Salvation Army served 1100 cups of coffee.

Remarkably, no one was injured but financial losses are estimated at around $2,000,000, most of which is not insured. The owner, Morris Lipton of Greshville is already making plans to rebuild the market with a modern, fireproof structure that retains the old time Pennsylvania Dutch atmosphere that made the “Gilbertsville Sale” so popular.

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