FROM THE VAULT: The story behind the Lecraw watch

Lauren McCormack
executive director at Marblehead Museum | Website | + posts

Lauren McCormack is the executive director of the Marblehead Museum

In the early morning hours of June 25, 1877, panic seized Marblehead. A fire that started in the barn behind the Marblehead Hotel on Pleasant Street quickly spread up the street, consuming buildings all along Pleasant, School, Sewall and Bassett streets. Cinders flew through the air, threatening to set even more of the town ablaze.

This watch, presented to Thomas J. Lecraw, was a token of appreciation from the Unitarian Society of Marblehead. COURTESY PHOTO / MARBLEHEAD MUSEUM

At the Unitarian Church on Mugford Street, a cinder landed on the roof and set the shingles on fire. Thomas J. Lecraw, a 46-year-old shoemaker, spotted the fire. With the help of Edward Hammond, Lecraw attempted to enter the church. Unable to do so, Lecraw “climbed the lightning rod, clambered across the roof and extinguished the blaze.”

Lecraw had saved the church, but the fire claimed 20 shoe factories, 30 dwellings, the South Church and Railroad Depot, and left 50 families homeless, according to the Marblehead Messenger.

Yet to the townspeople — and especially to the congregants of the Unitarian Church — Lecraw was a hero.

The Unitarian Church Lecraw saved from a conflagration on June 25, 1877, is depicted in this late 19th-century photograph. Marblehead Museum Collection. COURTESY PHOTO / MARBLEHEAD MUSEUM

In honor of his quick thinking and act of bravery, the congregation presented Lecraw with a gold pocket watch featuring his monogram on the front. Inside, the inscription reads: “Presented to Thomas J. Lecraw by the Unitarian Society of Marblehead as a testimonial of their appreciation of his heroism on the morning of June 25, 1877 — whereby their church was saved from destruction by fire.”

Lecraw died in 1899 at the age of 68 and is buried in Waterside Cemetery. When his son, William Lecraw, died in 1930, William’s widow donated the watch to the Museum. 

Though the Unitarian Church building survived the fire of 1877, it was eventually destroyed by another fire on Oct. 1, 1910. A year later, the present building was erected.

From the Vault will be a monthly feature in the Current highlighting an item from Marblehead Museum’s collection of over 60,000 artifacts. Learn more and explore at

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