Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Centralia's "Fair Week" Fire of 1899

From the Centralia Fireside Guard, September 8, 1899, p. 1.

Centralia is again visited by a Destructive Fire.
Thirty-eight horses perish in the Flames.
LOSSES OVER $50,000.
The Largest Fire in Area Centralia ever had.

A disastrous conflagration visited Centralia about ten o'clock Thursday morning.  The fire originated in the southwest corner of Byram & Settle's livery, in a stall.  The cause of the fire is unknown.

The loft was full of hay and the fire spread with lightning-like rapidity and the building was soon enveloped in a mass of rolling, roaring flames.  The stable was filled with horses and vehicles belonging to the stable and to other parties.  Thirty-eight horses can be counted in the ruins at present but on account of the manner in which they are piled up it is not possible to distinguish them from the ruins and debris and it is estimated that there were forty or fifty burned and injured.  Nothing was saved in the livery stable.  Through the fire horses could be seen rearing and plunging, straining at the halter that held them in the awful heat.  Men were powerless to rescue them as no one could get with[in] twenty feet of the fire without being burned.

A general alarm was given and our brave fire laddies worked with a will but very little effective work could be done owing to the conbustible nature of the buildings and the lack of apparatus for fighting fire.

The livery stable was only forty feet from the opera house and one of the finest brick blocks in the city, owned by F.M. Green, Geo. P. Howard and the Knights of Pythias.  By hard work the block was saved.

The fire then turned north and made quick work of Chrisman & Princes' blacksmith shop.

Leaping across the alley it took in Robert Hayden's livery stable, owned by C.A. Jacobs and Jacob's brick, the Merchants Hotel occupied by H.W. Johnson and owned by Walker Bros.  Most of the furniture was saved and also all the horses and vehicles in Hayden's livery were saved.  After a hard fight the Globe Hotel and other houses were saved.  The fire then crossed the strreet east, burning a large shed, occupied by I.M. Hays' tin shop and owned by T.S. Sneed, valued at $250, no insurance.  His dwelling was also damaged.  Baldridge's blacksmith and wood work shop valued at $2,000 next burned.  Then Frank Burk's feed store worth $2,500 burned.  Thomas & Johnson's implement house with contents then went.  A small building owned by Louis Anthony worth $250 and occupied by a colored restaurant.  A dwelling occupied by A. Greditzer and owned by Jonas Berg.  Loss on furniture $350, on dwellilng $1,000.  Next was Jonas Berg's handsome new dwelling, loss $4,000, insurance about $1,200.  Mrs. Edwards' dwelling badly damaged.  A dwelling occupied by Jas. Davis, colored, was also burned and Geo. McCallisters' dwelling damaged.  Skaggs & Gay's good's were wrecked.  O.B. Wilcox had some loss.

The building where the fire originated was owned by J.E. Wood, whose loss is about $3,000 with some insurance.

Sixteen buildings were burned.  It was among one of the most disastrous fires that ever visited Centralia.  All were frame except the Jacobs' building.

Many valuable horses were lost, among others Jas. Glasscock's fine premium horse valued at $250.

T.S. Sneed also lost his barn and out buildings.

The fire started in block 23 and burned out all the frame buildings.  On block 24 every building was burned except Geo. McCallisters, Mrs. Edwards and two dwellings owned by T.S. Sneed.

The fire is said to have been caused by three drunken men who went to sleep in the stable loft, and it's claimed they perished.

Thieves and vandals were busy stealing anything of value left unguarded.

The fire ladders were in demand Thursday and yet only one of them was in its place.  The authorities should stop people from borrowing these ladders.

After the fair was over Thursday most every body came up town to see the burned district.  Hundreds of vehicles were crowded in the street around the different piles of smoking debris, while the ground and side walks were literally packed with people.

Thursday night an attempt was made to burn the carcasses of the horses with cord wood and coal but it was found impossible and the city authorities are having them buried in the five acres belonging to the city just west of the limits.  The stench arising from the charred and burning flesh was sickening.


Water works we must have.
No more frame fire traps, build up with brick.
People near the fire have been surfeited with the smell of roast horse.
The telegraph instruments were taken out of the Wabash depot as it was thought it would burn.
At Greditzer's the dinner was cooking on the stove, and after the stove was carried out the cook finished the meal.
The Wabash stock pens caught fire, and the depot was saved after a hard fight.
A burning shingle was carried beyond Thomas lumber yard and set fire to Wm Allen's dwelling. (col.)
It wa a close call for the opera house.  Hard work saved the building.
The Crows theatrical comany got out their wardrobes and then worked heroically to save the building.  Barrington carried water on the roof like a fire laddie.  Sweitzer did effective work[.]  Other members worked hard and deserve great credit.
The hard workers were Eng Gay, Jno Potts, a Mexico colored man named Caldwell, Ed Chamberlain, J.T. Mitchell, Homer Woods, A. Rodenmeyer and two sons, Squire Roberts, and others.
Among those overcome by exertion at the fire was Joe Capp, P.M. Thomas, Hugh Hugh Hulen, Ap Pool, Ed Rodemyre, John Wiseman, A. Rodemyre and others.
Less than 3 dozen men fought the fire.  Hundreds of people stood around.
One building was an old land mark, having been built in 1860.
The back yards of many store buildings are fire traps, filled with trash and old boxes.
The GUARD office was almost next lot up against the fire.
The Merchants Hotel was insured for $2,000, owned by Walker Bros.
W.H. Johnson had hotel fixtures insured for $250.  Jacobs stable was insured for $1,500.  Chrisman & Prince were not insured.  J.E. Wood no insurance.  Byram & Settle small insurance.  T.S. Sneed, no insurance.  Hays & Garrard, no insurance.  John Blanchard insured.  Baldridge, no insurance.  Frank Burks insured for $1,500.  Thomas & Johnson, insured.  Anthony insured.  Jonas Berg insured for $1,250.  Greditzer insured.
F.M. Green, damage $150.  Knights of Pythias hall damage $25.
The fire extended over more territory than any previous fire in the history of Centralia.
The bleak ruins look desolate, charred and blackened.
It was almost impossible to prevent a stampede from the fair grounds.
Some horses escaped with the flesh cooked on their bodies.
The shrieks of the burning horses was fearful.
The crap shooters and cigarettes get the blame for the fire.
The fair went on regardless of the fire.  Centralia never stops for a fire.
J.K. Fifer, Geo. W. Smith, Bob and Dave Montgomery, Marvin Palmer and others did effective work at T.S. Sneed's.
W.H. Gooch, C.T. Paxton and Ernest Boone worked like beavers in the alley back of the stable and Fisher Elliott and Bernard Early carried water enough to float a battleship.
Household goods covered the streets, with the ladies on watch guarding the property.


Among those who lost horses were J. L. Fountain, 15 head of show ring horses.
Ben Tucker, of Sturgeon, a surry and two horses.
Logan Fountain $300 premium horse.
Jas Glasscock $220 premium horse.
Willis Fountain two horses.
Vas Cox black premium mare.
Cal Roberts, a horse.
Tom Grugan, Clark, a horse.
Cal Jolly, two horses.
T.O. Robinsen, a horse.
E. Kahn, horse and surry, $250.
Fred Hoffman, one horse.
Mr. Smith, of Rucker, 2 horses.
Mat Elkin, horse.
Fred Hudson, horse.
Jas Woolrack,horse.
Jeff Hume, horse,
J.T. McNear, horse and buggy.
J.L. Garner two horses.
James Crockett a horse.
Charles Osborne lost his road wagon in the fire but saved his horse.
Riley Green, fine horse,  R A McCord, draft horse, John Spurling, fine team, JohnW Brown, fine horse.
Byram & Settle, livery horses and vehicles.  Other horses perished owned by country people and many vehicles burned.  No human beings burned.


The losses are about as follows:
Byram & Settle$2,500
Joe E. Wood$3,500
Prince & Christman$250
Thomas & Johnson$3,000
J.A. Johnson$250
Skaggs & Gay$500
Walker Bros$2,500
Jonas Berg$3,000
T.S. Sneed$500
Holly Baldridge$1,000
Frank Burks$2,500
Robert Hayden$500
C.A. Jacobs$3,500
Louis Anthony$500
A. Greditzer$500
Jas. Glasscock$250
E Kahn$250
Hayes & Garrett$650
W.H. Johnson$200
John Blanchard$2,500
Robt. Hayden$1,000
Henry Baldridge$500
Myres' Grain Office$25
Other losses probably$1,500
May reach $40,000
Insurance probably $14,000

While the newspaper editor reported that this fire was "one of the most disastrous fires that ever visited Centralia," it turns out that this was but one in a long string of fires that wreaked havoc on the railroad town.  The 1936 History of Centralia Missouri by Edgar T. Rodemyre (available at the State Historical Society of Missouri) devotes many pages to major fires in the town.  During the period of 1860 - 1930, Centralia had about fifteen major fires though not all were as severe as the 1899 fire.  Despite calls for building with brick, most of the owners rebuilt frame structures that were very susceptible to fire.

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