Phoenix Hotel Fire

Walton Hotel Is Destroyed In Spectacular $30,000 Fire; Boone County Farmer Held

A spectacular fire destroyed the Phoenix Hotel in Walton, Ky., yesterday morning and Boone County officials held a 63-year-old farmer who was suspected of having dropped a lighted match into a large wastebasket in the hotel lobby.

Sheriff W. H. Easton took the man, registered as Matthew Cleek, into custody. The suspect, under questioning by Sheriff Eaton and William McEvoy, Boone County Attorney, admitted having been in the hotel.

Cleek had been drinking, Sheriff said, adding that the farmer told them he had entered the hotel after midnight and had “stirred up the fire in the stove and lit a match which he dropped in the stove.”

The hotel was heated by a furnace and there was no stove in the lobby. Louis Schwab, operator, said the heat in the lobby had been cut off for the night.

Cleek was also reported as saying that it was “hot as h--l in there” when he came out.

Sheriff Eaton said the man was being held on a charge of drunkenness. He added that he had notified the State Fire Marshall's office and was informed that a state officer would be sent to Walton today.

The fire alarm was given shortly before 5 a.m. by Mrs. Virginia Schwab when she noticed the glare of the flames on the wall of her bedroom on the first floor of the hotel, a two-story frame building containing 20 rooms.

Miss Virginia Lou Schwab, 16, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Schwab was carried from her room by Chesterfield Pulliam, 26, Frankfort, an employee of the State Highway Department. Several guests leaped from second story windows, Several others had tome to dress before leaving by a stairway.

Seven of those who escaped were employees of the State Highway Department, who have been surveying in the Northern Kentucky area.

Volunteer firemen of Walton and from Florence and Independence fought the fire for more than four hours. Fireman saved part of the furniture.


from the Cincinnati Enquirer, March 18, 1950