Friday, October 26, 2012

Shaped by fire

This battered old photo from about 1900, used here a week or so ago, shows the buildings destroyed in the big blaze of January 1904. The Manning & Penick Buidling at far left still stands, but all structures to the north burned. They were (from left) the two-story Lockwood Jewelry Store building, the three-story (with cast iron facade) Storie Drug Store building and the Mallory Opera Block.

I've been reading lately in the context of fire about the development of Chariton's water supply system, a process that did not begin until 1906 and and really didn't have a satisfactory outcome until construction several years later of the reservoirs east of town, now called Lakes Ellis and Morris, that continue to supply the city.

The impediment to development of an adequate water supply was reluctance to spend money, although Chariton was was by the turn of the 20th century a prosperous place. That changed after three major fires, commencing in January of 1904 and continuing through 1906, wiped out large segments of the west and north sides of the square.

Chariton's principal piece of firefighting equipment in 1904 was Old Betsy, the Silsby steam pumper, now  restored, that still is the pride and joy of the Chariton fire department. But when fire broke out on the square, cisterns at its courners were the only sources of water. In a pinch, water could be hauled or pumped to the square from the light plant pond, which then filled Yocom Park, but it was not until after the big fires that a water line was installed from the light plant to the square to allow the cisterns to be recharged rapidly.

If a call for assistance was telegraphed to Albia or Osceola, firefighters there had to load their equipment aboard rail cars and and attach the cars to a train headed in the right direction.

After the fires, voters finally approved levies that allowed construction of a water system to begin, but even then the supply was problematic until construction of the reservoirs, water filtering plant and pumping station east of town. Wells were never able to provide enough water.

Anyhow, here's an account of the 1904 fire that started the process that ended with commencement of the water distribution system we still use today.

Chariton Business Property Worth $100,000 Goes Up in Smoke
Mallory's Opera Block, D.Q. Storie's Block and Lockwood's Jewelry Store
Burned to the Ground --- Portion of Stocks Saved --- Firemen Handicapped
The Chariton Patriot, Jan. 28, 1904

The most disastrous fire in Chariton's history occurred Monday night when Mallory's opera block, the D. Q. Storie building and Lockwood & Son's jewelry store burned to the ground. A large portion of the stocks of goods were saved. The damage is estimated to be $100,000. The losses are all covered by insurance except to the amount of about $25,000.

The heaviest loser is D. Q. Storie. His net loss is thought to be at least $18,000. The Von Behren grocery store also loses heavily, the estimate being $4,500. Will B. Barger suffered the loss of his fine law library worth $2,800. Lockwood & Son say they cannot estimate their loss at this time. The losses suffered by S. Oppenheimer, Hollinger & Larimer, and Brown & Lutz are covered by insurance.

All of the property owners will commence the work of rebuilding as soon in the spring as the weather will permit. Mrs. Thayer telegraphed from Long Beach, California, her sympathy to the tenants of the opera block and stated that she would erect, in the spring, a building with all modern improvements. As to the kind of building proposed, we are not informed; nor can we state whether or not it will contain a theatre.

The Albia fire department was sent for but they came too late to be of material assistance. The lateness of their arrival was caused by no fault of theirs but by delay by the railroad company in furnishing them a train. For their willingness to come and the assistance they rendered, our town people feel very grateful.

The fire was discovered by Night-watchman Hans Beck. While making his rounds he saw tiny jets of flame bursting through the ceiling in the rear of Von Behren's grocery store. There was a row about six feet long of these little flames coming through a seam in the steel ceiling just above the store. He gave the alarm, and it was thought by those first to arrive that the fire was not serious and could easily be extinguished. An hour later the fire was raging in a manner that foretold the doom of the building.

The fire evidently caught from the flue in Von Behren's store as it was in the ceiling about this flue the fire was first seen. An attempt was made to check the fire with balcocks. Then a line of hose was laid and taken up the opera house stairway. The men holding the nozzle saw flames breaking through the floor around the stove on the west side of the opera house. They called for water, but Assistant-chief Woods ordered the hose downstairs and into Von Behren's store where it was attempted to fight the fire from below. This proved futile.

Meanwhile the flames increased in volume and force and soon the interior of the opera house was a roaring furnace. The hose was taken out of Von Behren' s to the street on the north side of the building and a stream of water directed into the opera house. There was neither sufficient volume of water nor enough force behind the stream to do any good and the flames, fanned by a northwest wind, swept with devouring fury through the upper floors.

In the store rooms below the work of carrying out goods was being done with all haste. It was given out several times by the firemen that they had the fire under control, and it was thought by many that the fire could be checked in time to stave the Storie building. But Chariton's fire-fighting facilities were inadequate to combat such a conflagration. The fire wall of the Storie block was not proof against the awful onslaught of the flames and it suffered as had the opera block. The falling of the wall on the Lockwood building crushed the roof and destroyed all hope of saving the little frame building. Here the fire was checked in its career of destruction by the solid brick wall of the Penick block. It is fortunate there were no openings in this wall. Had the fire gained foothold in this building it is very probable that the entire west side of the square would have been destroyed, and after it the buildings south of the square. By this time the water supply of both cisterns on the square was exhausted and the engine had to be moved to the city pond, when it froze up and was taken to the fire house.

About six o'clock the Lockwood building blazed up with renewed fury and the services of the Albia fire engine were called upon.

During much of the time that the fire was raging, two streams of water played on the flames, but the firemen worked under greater difficulties than have been encountered since before the steam engine was purchased. With the mercury in the thermometer hovering near the twenty-below-zero mark, the engine froze up repeatedly and there were intervals of several minutes duration from time to time in which it was forced to cease pumping. One after the other, the cisterns gave out and time was lost moving the engine from one reservoir to another. The work was further handicapped by the hose freezing up. Danger from falling walls prevented the firemen from getting close enough to the fire to do effective work. The men worked hard and much credit is due them for the hours of effort expended in the face of difficulties that could not be overcome.

The greater part of S. Oppenheimer's stock was saved from fire. Nearly the entire stock of Hollinger & Larimer was taken from the building. However, both these clothing firms had their stocks badly damaged in moving and they say that much is missing. Their losses are covered by insurance. Stock to the amount of $1,300, only, was saved from Von Behren's. Little of Brown & Lutz's stock was saved. The Chariton Loan & Trust Company saved their abstract books and their safe went through the fire without damage to the valuable securities therein. What was saved from Storie's store is hardly worth considering. Dr. Storie lost every thing he possessed for his  professional work. Wm. Haylor, jewler, saved all his property, including his repair work. Lockwood's succeeded in saving the most valuable part of their stock: jewelry, silverware, cut-glass and articles of such nature. The greater part of their stock in the rear and south sides of the room were consumed. They lost everything in their living apartments up-stairs.

Every effort was made to save goods and the utmost precaution was taken by the owners to prevent damage to goods and to stop theft. However, cowardly thieves got in their work and there is much complaint of missing articles.

The extent of the damage sustained and amount of insurance in each case, is as near as we can learn as follows:

Opera block, loss $35,000, insurance $26,000
D. Q. Storie, loss $30,000, insurance $12,000
S. Oppenheimer, loss $8,000, covered
Hollinger & Larimer, loss $5,000, covered
Lockwood & Son, loss $10,000, insurance $9,000
Geo. Von Behren, loss $7,000, insurance $2,500
Brown & Lutz, loss $3,500, insurance $3,000
W. B. Barger, loss $2,800, insurance $1,000
Loan & Trust Co, loss $500, none

The losses sustained by Smith, photographer; C. Dalin, tailor; and Adams Express Company are slight.

The fire sufferers are temporarily located, as follows:

Hollinger & Larimer: Law building east side.
S. Oppenheimer: South side in room lately occupied by bowling alley.
Lockwood & Son: Penick block
Geo. Van Behren: Dewey block
Chariton Loan & Trust Co: Up-stairs over Smyth's dry goods store
D. Q. Storie and Wm. Haylor: Ed Storie's store, east side

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