The Great Fire

Early Sunday morning occurred one of the few destructive fires that have happened in Carrollton, consuming the buildings on the lower half of the square, on the north side of Main street between Fourth and Fifth.  It was discovered by an old negro woman, known as Aunt Maria, who lives in a small tenement on Court street, just around the corner from Main.  Her screams awakened J. r. Cotton, who resides on the south side of Main, near the corner of Fourth.  He ran out and found the blaze ascending several feet from the roof of the back part of Hamilton & Smith’s warehouse, a frame, one-story structure, near the center of what is now the burnt district.  He roused the neighbors, and soon all the bells in town were ringing and the J. D. Parker, the mail boat from Cincinnati, which was just then passing, joined in with her whistle to give the alarm.  This was between one and two o’clock a. m.

 It was some time before a crowd collected, and the flames, meanwhile, were getting under full headway, and had caught the roof of Miss Nannie Martin’s millinery store, a one-story frame adjoining the warehouse on the east, and C. D. Salyer’s tin shop, a one story frame on the west of the warehouse.  When a sufficient number of persons had assembled, an attempt was made to tear away a shed which connected the millinery shop with the residence of R. B. Booker, a two story brick building.  But owing either to the confusion or to the intense heat, increased by the burning of seventeen barrels of coal oil in the warehouse, or perhaps from both causes, this attempt, which had been carried out might have saved further destruction in that direction, was abandoned, and attention was directed mainly to securing the contents of the houses threatened by the fire.  Women as well as men worked earnestly and by their efforts much was saved.  The flames spreading rapidly, caught the roof of Booker’s house and soon it was in a blaze which lapped over from Hamilton & Smith’s dry goods and grocery store, a two story brick building, some twenty-odd feet wide and seventy feet deep, adjoining the dwelling.  Although this building burned rapidly, a considerable quantity of goods was carried out and saved.  A. F. Dunagan’s residence, adjoining this store on the east, next took fire.  It was a very substantially built, two-story brick, and burned slowly.  This was the limit of the fire, eastward; for the next building, Geo. W. Anderson’s grocery, was separated from Dunagan’s house by a space of about three feet, and presented a solid brick wall in the direction of the fire.  Besides this it had a flat roof covered with tin, and several men having ascended to it, with brooms swept off the sparks as they fell, and with buckets of water, kept it wet. 

 Meanwhile the flames had spread westward from the warehouse, totally destroying the tin shop and nearly all its contents, as well as the residence of Prof. Thurmond, a story and a half frame at the lower end of the square, next to Fourth street.  Nearly everything of value had been removed from it, however.  Most of the goods were removed from the millinery shop and carried across the street, as were also Mr. Booker’s and Mr. Dunagan’s furniture and other household effects.  In the warehouse, everything, consisting of large quantities of flour, salt, oils, nails, paints, etc., was destroyed.  The contents of Mr. Anderson’s grocery, Geo. W. Anderson, Jr.’s music store, Mrs. Corn’s millinery store and Stringfellow & William’s job printing room, establishments further up the street, on the same side, were, also, removed out of danger. T. Torner boxed up his boots and shoes and let them remain in status quo, until danger should approach near enough to warrant their removal, which it did not.

 A strong police force had been stationed to watch the goods as they were carried out, but it is said that a woman made away with two hams from Anderson’s grocery, and a man attempted to run off with a bolt of calico from Hamilton & Smith’s store.  He was overtaken as he went to jump the back fence of Mr. Flynt’s, and a blow from a cane, in the hands of Mr. B. B. Elston, so it is said, caused him to drop the goods. But he cleared the fence at the bound and escaped.  Who these persons were is not known, and it is well for them that they are not.

 By daybreak, the whole half square was a heap of smoldering ruins.  Nothing remained standing of the frame buildings, save the chimneys, and the shattered walls of the brick buildings (with the exception of Hamilton & Smith’s store most of the walls had fallen in) to mark what had once been one of the busiest parts of Carrollton.  A shed connecting Mrs. Corn’s store with William’s grocery was also down.  It had been town away to prevent the spread of the fire past that point, had it not boon stopped sooner, and the handsome plate glass, each 24x37, and costing $18, in the front of the music store, had been shattered to atoms, buy the foot of its owner, in order to get out the pianos.

 All day Sunday the street was thronged by people visiting the scene of the disaster by men and drays busy removing the goods that had been saved; and still persons stop, as they pass, to look at the ruins, and still smolder the remains of a pile of coal, some two hundred and fifty bushels, once the property of Hamilton & Smith, in the cellar of Booker’s house.

 Three families were left homeless, turned out in the cold night air, in a town where there is scarcely an empty building, but thanks to the kindness of our people, they have found temporary homes, at least.  Mr. Dunagan and family are located up stairs, over Darling’s flour and grain depot, and in the ardor of his sympathy, one of the young Mr. Darlings the other day carried off the beautiful daughter and only child, the pet and pride of the family, on a wedding jaunt to West Virginia, thus leaving more room fro Mr. and Mrs. Dunagan to get around.

 Mr. Booker found lodgings in the rooms over J. C. Webster’s store; and Prof. Thurmond has been at work all week, fitting up the old frame house on High street, opposite the Presbyterian church, as a shelter for himself and family.  We hope that, with all his scrubbing and scouring and white-washing, he will find it tolerably comfortable.  The house, from which he was driven by fire, belonged to J. E. Williams, who had, about the first of April, purchased it from Mrs. McCreery.  It served him as a sorry first of April trick – all gone to dust and ashes – and no insurance.

 W. L. Smith, junior member of the firm of Smith & Hamilton, was by far the heaviest loser.  Not only did the store and wareroom occupied by Hamilton & Smith belong to him, but also, the Booker house and the millinery shop building.  The loss on these would not probably be estimated too high at $10,000 on which there was  $2,000 insurance in the Underwriters’, which has been promptly adjusted and will be fully paid.

 The firm of Hamilton & smith lost a large quantity of goods, those in the warehouse being a total loss.  Their whole stock amounted to about $15,000.  Of this, we learn, that about $4500 worth was saved, and the insurance, $4,000, also in the Underwriters’, has been satisfactorily adjusted and will be promptly paid.  Mr. Hamilton lives in the vicinity of Louisville and for him Mr. Smith sent next day.  He arrived Monday, and whatever was the nature of their conference, Mr. Smith had determined to resume business as soon s he can get a store arranged.  He has been promised the use of the frame building, next to Mr. Morrow’s, between Second and Third streets, which is now occupied by a Mr. Gentry as a marble shop, and Mr. Gentry will move out.  This is very kind of Mr. Gentry and we may add that that gentleman proposes to erect a building for his own use.  Mr. Smith told us the other day that the “Green Front” should soon rise from its ashes.  This will be good news to his many customers, especially to the ladies, who wouldn’t know how to get along with so accommodating and enterprising merchant as Mr. Smith in town.

 Miss Nannie Martin, whose loss is estimated at $200 has opened out again, in the millinery business, at the corner of Fifth and Main, over G. G. Whitehead’s store, in the rooms lately occupied by the Democrat Office.

 C. D. Salyers, whose loss in building, machinery, and stock will be about $4,800, on which there is $1,000 insurance, in the Ætna, which will be promptly paid, so the agent, W. O. Butler, Jr, informs us […sic…] has again opened out with a good stock of new stoves and tinware, in J. C. Webster’s building, corner of Third and Main.

 G. w. Anderson, Sr., and G. W. Anderson, Jr., each sustained some loss, the former probably about $350, the latter $50, for which the Royal Insurance Company of Liverpool, has given the former a check for $248, Mrs. Corn’s loss is $90 perhaps, and Stringfellow & Williams $50.  These persons have had all of their goods replaced and have resumed business.

 There are various conjectures in regards to the origins of the fire, but there is no reason to believe that it was the work of an incendiary.  The most plausible theory is, that the warehouse was set on fire accidentally.  In confirmation of this opinion it is known that on Saturday night last, a man, a boy, and two women were wandering about town, and it is even said they were seen late that night going round in the direction of the rear of the warehouse.  If this be the case, it is probably that they sought shelter under the shed on the ground beneath, which straw is said to have been scattered, on which, from time to time, coal oil and other combustibles had leaked.  The night being cold, it is probable that they made a fire, and this catching the building, they ran off, and the sad result, we have attempted to narrate, followed.

 This party was arrested while prowling about the streets, and lodged in jail Sunday night. On Monday morning they were taken out and warned to leave the town, immediately, which they did.  The man is said to have been Miles Little, a son of Joe Little, the father of a disreputable family who lived here years ago.

 The calmness of the night and the dew almost as heavy as rain were favorable for subduing the flames, and prevented danger to more distant buildings from the sparks which filled the atmosphere and which fell, many of them, five or six squares from the source of the conflagration.  The heat on the side of the street opposite the frame buildings must have been intense, as it blistered the sign on Geiers’ drug store and the paint on Mr. Cotton’s front door so that it scaled off in great flakes.

 It is probable that before long the burnt district will be rebuilt, and thus it may turn out here, as in some other places, that so far as improvement of the town is concerned, it was all for the best.  May it turn out all for the best, so far as the sufferers of this, to us, great fire are concerned.  As they resume business let the people encourage and reward their nerve and enterprise, by dealing liberally with them, instead of going off to other towns where no better bargains can be found.

 To recapitulate: the full amount of loss and damage sustained by different individuals, in consequence of the fire, and the amount it would require to rebuild the houses destroyed, would probably be fully covered by the following estimates which have been furnished to us:

 J. E. Williams, dwelling, total loss, value $1,000; no insurance.

C. D. Salyers, shop and stock, loss $1,800; insurance $1,000.

W. L. Smith, two stores, dwelling, shed and warehouse, total loss $10,000; insurance $2,000.

Hamilton & Smith, loss and damage to goods, $9,500; insurance, $4,000.

A. F. Dunagan, dwelling, value $2,000; no insurance.

Miss Nannie Martin, loss and damage to goods, $200

Mrs. Corn, damage to goods, etc., $90;

G. W. Anderson, senior and junior, loss and damage to goods, $400; insurance, $248.

Stringfellow & Williams, damage, $50.

R. B. Booker, damage to furniture, $50.

Prof. Thurmond, damage to furniture, $50.

Total Loss: $25,140; insurance, $7,248.


from the Carrollton Democrat, September 26, 1874