Thursday, September 15, 2016

FIRE! FIRE! Carrollton Business District Burns – Again, 1895

In Ashes Are Some of Carrollton's Finest Houses
Special dispatch to the Enquirer
Carrollton, Ky., September 5. – Fire broke out in this city to-day at 12:30 o'clock, and as a result the following buildings, with their contents, are in ashes: Mrs. Gertrude Smith, three business houses, occupied by M. & M. Denkelspiel, general merchants; Browinski & Son, druggists; and H.J. Kuhlman, shoe merchant; C.D. Salyers, stove store and stock. The loss on this property is fully $65,000. All of the parties have reasonable insurance, except Mr. Kuhlman, who has none. Fifteen other persons and firms were damaged more or less by the fire and intense heat, bringing the total loss to nearly $75,000. The post-office and Jett's large whiskey house were saved only by the most heroic fight, but the post office was greatly damaged.
Cincinnati Enquirer, September 6, 1895

That article and an undated, unattributed article that may (or may not) refer to the same fire, were not in Sarah Eva Howe's scrapbooks, but I found them online, thanks to the folks who manage and contribute to Northern Kentucky Views.

Sarah's scrapbooks do let us know the impact of the fire on the Howe family. She identified the date of this photo as "after the fire," 1895. All efforts to make the image more vivid have failed. I wonder if there was still smoke in the air when someone took the photo?

 Family letters tell the tale. This card is to John J. Howe from his sister Lille. (Both were Sarah's first cousins, children of her father's brother William F. Howe.)

Dear John – Fire broke out yesterday morning in the rear of Browinski Adcock's store – soon checked however – more damage from smoke and water than from fire. The store was full of smoke when Papa went in yesterday, but hope we can get allowance from insurance to cover damage. Salyers also got full benefit of smoke.
Hastily, Lille
Monday Morning
Apparently, Lille's card didn't reach John as soon as his family expected. This letter is from his mother,  Louisiana "Lou" Winslow Howe.

Dear John – We received your letter to Papa and were surprised that you had not heard of the fire at the time of its writing. There was no essential damage to the goods in Howe Brothers, but the injury to their reputation induced the insurance adjuster to allow them damages. They do not consider it wise to be advertising just how much they got but part of it was paid yesterday and that enables them to offer their stock at reduced rates. They had a fine trade yesterday. Called on Jen to act as cashier and their deposit at 4 o'clock in the afternoon was considerably over 200 dollars. We expect you home next Thursday. I send you a copy of the Directory which if you are not ashamed of you may leave with cousin Bessie for her mother.
Yours lovingly,

 In later scrapbook pages, Sarah wrote a comment about the ability of the City of Carrollton to combat fires.
When the “fathers” started to put in the Carrollton “water works” in 1895, they dug the reservoir up on the side of the highest hill outside town. The pipes were all laid  & the reservoir ready in the fall of 1895 when the terrible Main St. fire broke out when Mr. Salyers’ last big store was burned — but there was no water yet. . . . There was some water in the reservoir but not very much – muddy and dark looking.
The Howe family had experienced a business fire before. Their Carrollton Woolen Mill, the first of the family businesses, caught fire in 1878.
“A part of the woolen factory owned by John Howe & Sons was destroyed by fire to-day at one o'clock, while the hands were at dinner and the watchman left in charge.  the picker-house, about ten feet apart from the main factory, took fire and was entirely consumed,  Loss about $4,000, and insured for $2,700.”   
Cincinnati Enquirer, November 23, 1878
According to another newspaper article, undated, one block in the Carrollton business district was destroyed or severely damaged by fire four times in 20 years. Some merchants lost their businesses multiple times. The article mentions several of the same businesses affected by the fire of 1895, but I can't be certain that it refers to the same fire. The website, Northern Kentucky Views, includes these excerpts and links to news about those fires:

“A destructive fire occurred at Carrollton, Ky., Sunday.  One-half of the most valuable block of buildings in the center of town was destroyed.  The principal sufferers are Messrs. Thurman, Martin, Booker, and Hamilton & Smith. The amount of losses is not stated.”
New York Times, September 22, 1874

A fire that started in the grocery and hardware store of D.O. Wilkins on Main Street destroyed a row of eight businesses and damaged several others. An article about the fire, with a list of businesses ruined, appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, October 16, 1884

 Other major fires not in the business district:
“The distilleries of Messrs. Root & Co., and Mr. Snyders, at Carrollton, were  destroyed by fire last night, together with all the contents and a large number of hogs.  The loss is estimated at $100,000.”
 NY Times, July 8, 1854

J. B. Rollin's ice plant was destroyed by fire early today.  the loss is estimated at $8,000.  The fire was supposed to have been of incendiary origin.” 
Cincinnati Enquirer, April 7, 1915

Before the development of pumper trucks, fire-inhibiting building materials, and professional fire departments, fire was feared by business owners and home owners alike. The website of the Haverhill Firefighting Museum in Massachusetts offers a concise history of firefighting in the U.S.A.

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