Last Sunday morning at 1 o’clock M.L. Hammond and wife came up Main street in a buggy from the west, returning from a birthday party at E.D. Rose’s three miles southwest of town. As they passed M. Gragg’s furniture store they saw a suspiciously bright light shining through the transom over the door leading into the hallway from which the stairs ascended to the Masonic hall. A second glance showed that the stairway in the hall was on fire. Mr. Hammond started for the M.E. church to ring the bell and Mrs. Hammond drove up and down the streets calling "fire." In a few moments a dozen or so men were on hand and dozens more on the run.
The hall door was broken in and J.D. Brockett burst a hand grenade into the fire, which had the stairs nearly consumed, but without effect. As soon as the hall door was opened, the draft jerked the fire up stairs with vicious fury.
A dozen men ran up the back stairs (outside) to get into the Masonic hall, but the smoke was dense, black and stifling clear to the rear windows, and no one could get inside for even a few seconds. The draft was from front to rear and swept dense clouds of smoke through the entire building. Those who climbed the rear stairs and got a whiff of the smoke say that it was as stifling as the fumes of burning tar, and would have asphyxiated any person who breathed it for a moment. D.E. Books was the first man up the stairs, and he avers that the storm door and the inside door were both unlocked.
All the water that could be thrown into the hallway and up the burning stairs produced no effect, and everybody’s attention was turned for a time to getting out goods and keeping the fire off adjoining premises.
The first floor and the basement of the building, which was 25x100 feet, was occupied by M. Gragg’s furniture store; the second story by the Masons, Eastern Star, G.A.R., W.R.C., A.O.U.W., Woodmen and Select Knights. Not a dollar of property belonging to any of the orders was saved. The only insurance carried was by the Masons, who had $500 insurance on a paraphernalia invoiced at $750.
Down stairs everybody humped himself to carry out Mr. Gragg’s furniture stock, a large amount of which was removed; we do not know what proportion of its entire value, but should say about one half, much of which was rubbed, bruised, chipped and broken, of course. Nothing was saved from the "gallery," or the basement.
The east side of the furniture store was occupied by Mrs. Green’s millinery stock, which carried $200 insurance. The larger part of her stock was taken out, much of it in bad shape of course. A lot of men and boys pawing around in such a place with the best intentions has a demoralizing effect second only to the fire.
The building belonged to J.W. Grubb, and was built by George Fleischman in 1886 at a cost of $6,200. It was insured for $3,000. Mr. Gragg carried a total insurance of $1,500 on his stock.
To the westward the fire burned through the joists which penetrated the walls, into the loft of J.D. Sherrick’s drug store. Persistent and well-directed efforts kept it from extending in that direction further; besides, the wind favored. But it hardly seemed as though the building could be saved, and the whole of Mr. Sherrick’s stock was rushed out as fast as possible, only to be taken back the next day.
Before the building occupied by Mr. Gragg and the secret societies collapsed, it was seen that the building occupied by J.W. Grubb on the east and adjoining could not be saved. The wind which favored Dr. Sherrick’s building increased the danger to the next building east, though great labors were expended in trying to save it. The building "next to Gragg’s" was owned by Aldrich Sisters. It cost $4,400, was 25x80 feet on the ground, but the second story was only 50 feet deep. It carried $2,000 insurance. The windows on a portion of the east side of Masonic hall opened out upon the tin roof of the next buildings. These windows blew out from an explosion of superheated air, throwing glass and hot bricks all over the tin roof, which had about a dozen men upon it, who were throwing water. It is odd that no one was hurt at that particular juncture. A motion to adjourn carried, and they lit of there like the Republicans did out of the court house when the free silver speech was announced.
This building was occupied on the first floor by J.W. Grubb, who carried $7,000 insurance on his great stock of dry goods, of which only a part was gotten out, and much of that was badly damaged.
In the second story of this building E.H. Ellis, an old gentleman past 70 years of age, was rooming. Friends removed his effects, and his only loss was a lantern and a few empty boxes. The rest of the second story was vacant.
The next building was a frame – an old-timer 25x80 feet, one story and frame. It was built in 1878, and its first occupancy was by Luther Stewart, for a general store. It belonged at the time of the fire to the Glidden Wire Co. It cost about $900 and was insured for $500. It was lined and sheeted throughout, and was meaner to grub out than a lot full of second growth hickory trees. This building was occupied by C.J. Patrick’s meat market. Mr. Patrick carried insurance for $425, but it may be invalidated by the late change in the proprietorship. Most of his effects were carried out, many of them badly mashed up. In the rear of this building stood a couple of sheds or warehouses which repeatedly caught fire from the larger buildings and were unceremoniously torn down and dragged away.
The frame building did not burn, although the roof at different times was showered with sparks and burning brands. Heavy ropes were repeatedly broken and a dozen axes ruined in the work of tearing it down so it could be removed, and at least half of it is there yet, with scarcely a trace of fire upon it. If the wind had not shifted while the Aldrich building was burning it would not have been possible to save the frame building, while it is quite possible J.W. Behrmann’s building would also have been burned.
The next building is owned and occupied by J.W. Behrmann. A large quantity of his goods were removed and then taken back the next morning.
Upstairs in the Behrmann building is the Sentinel office, and Mr. Hoffer and family also reside there. Their household effects were removed, but Mr. Hoffer stuck to the belief that the building was in no danger and refused to remove any of the office material. The results verified his neglect to be caught in the panic which seemed to possess nearly everyone else.
The fire ended with the destruction of the Aldrich Sisters’ building, having taken out the best 50 feet of business front in town.