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Lincoln Fire
of
1895


"Fire, Fire!

"The Most Extensive Fire Lincoln Ever Had"


Lincoln Beacon, May 16, 1895

Shortly before 2 o’clock yesterday morning A.W. Thompson, who lives where Ira C. Buzick lived for several years northwest of the court house, arose to get a drink of water for his child. While up he noticed that the wind was rising and went to shut his stable door. As he was returning to the house he saw a reflected light against the windows of the band room of Herzberg’s store. He called to his wife and together they went immediately upstairs to get a better view. This at once disclosed a glare of light in the rear windows of A.R. Hall’s furniture store. Mr. Thompson immediately ran to his neighbor’s, C.J. Patrick’s, and gave the alarm, and both of them ran on the streets calling fire. A few moments prior to this D. Raffety, who lives on door south of the M.E. church, also saw a light in Hall’s rear windows, but supposed Mr. Hall had a late call for a coffin and was engaged in trimming. Mr. Raffety had arisen to shut a window. About the time Mr. Raffety began to suspicion that the light was too great in volume for a lamp he heard Thompson and Patrick calling fire and immediately ran to the M.E. church and turned in the general alarm. In a few moments scores of men came from all directions.

The fire was so fierce that every bucket of water thrown through the windows probably fed the flames more than retarded them, and things were at a standstill until the fire ate its way outdoors on the furniture store side, and the resultant draft swept the hardware store comparatively free of smoke for a few moments. The same draft, however, swept an irresistible volley of flame through the furniture store, and not a stick of a $3,500 stock was saved.

When the smoke lifted in the hardware store a general rush was made and perhaps a $150 worth of goods were dragged out, all that was saved of $1,200 worth of hardware. The draft which collapsed the west side instantly enveloped the roof of the east side in flames, and everything in the hardware store being already hot, it was a cauldron of fire within 10 minutes. The kegs of powder were jerked out in the nick of time, and the Larkin double building was then abandoned, perforce.

Women and children and many men were kept frantically busy carrying water to suppress the showers of burning trash and flying sparks in the block directly across the street, and in the First National Bank block and on to the south for two blocks further.

When the Larkin building was given up the very air was alive with a confusion of tongues, and advice, commands and opinions were as plentiful as smoke, dust and sparks. The only things about which there was any concert were carrying water to protect other property, and carrying out goods. At these every man could strike his own gait and be independent of everybody else.

The fire then worked east into the frame row, and everything west for 75 feet further.

Everything in Harbaugh’s harness shop and store was taken out;

Also in Lenker’s joint, next to Harbaugh. Next to the joint was

Biggs & Richardson’s barber shop, occupying a room in the same building with Lenker.

Next to the barber shop was Medsames Green and Rouse’s millinery store, and in the east room of the same building Jos. Cheney’s shoe shop.

All of the stock and fixtures of these establishments, beginning with Harbaugh’s, were taken out, but much damage was done by hasty and clumsy handling, especially to the barber shop fixtures and to the millinery stock and show-cases.

As a precautionary measure the little frame occupied by Owen Kelley, shoemaker, was entirely torn down, and the upright parts of the other frame buildings were torn down to reduce the height of the flames and danger from sparks to a minimum. The Kelley building stood 25 feet east of Mr. Cheney’s shop, which was the farthest east in an unbroken row of 125 feet. The floor and trash where the Kelley building stood did not catch fire and the property would probably have escaped intact if let alone except to drench it.

About two hours passed from the discovery of the fire until the roof of Mr. Cheney’s building fell in and the destruction was over.

Fighting sparks and cinders was kept up unceasingly until 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning in the outlying blocks to the south.

Summary of damage and losses

The "Larkin building’ was in reality two buildings, 20x20 feet each, with one common wall between them. The west side was owned by A. Larkin of Ellsworth, who built it in 1880 and has owned it ever since. It was insured for $3,000 and was probably worth $4,000. The east half was owned by Ira Lewis and E.A. McFarland; insured for $2,500 and probably worth as much as the west half. Mr. Hall’s furniture stock was insured for $1,000 and his commercial rating was $3,500. His undoubted dead loss is $2,500. Mr. Thompson’s stock was very much reduced on account of the cut sales he has been making, but was easily valued at $1,200, with only $600 insurance.

The frame occupied by Mr. Harbaugh was owned by eastern parties and insured for $300. Its value was probably $500. Mr. Harbaugh carried $1,000 insurance on his stock.

The next frame was occupied by Lenker the jointist, and Biggs & Richardson, barbers. Lenker had carried some insurance, but it had run out. However, he saved most of his effects intact. The building belonged to Dr. Porter, who once lived here, and we believe now lives in California. It was insured for $500 and valued at $800. The east room was occupied by Biggs & Richardson, barbers, who had $300 insurance. Some of their effects were badly broken up in moving, razors, etc., lost and perhaps stolen.

The next building was insured for $500, with a valuation of $1,000. The west three-fourths was occupied by Mesdames Green & Rouse, milliners. They carried $250 insurance on a stock probably worth $750, and which was badly damaged by rough and unskillful handling. The east apartment was occupied by Mr. Cheney as a shoe shop. All his effects were taken out.

The little building occupied by Mr. Kelley as a shoe shop, 25 feet from Mr. Cheney’s building and which was torn down, was 14x18 feet in size and perhaps worth $250. We do not know whether it was insured.

Summary of valuation and insurance

Valuation of property destroyed – $14,450

Insurance on property destroyed – $7,800

Dead loss – $6,650

Origin of the fire

It is the settled opinion of most people that the fire was incendiary. Spontaneous combustion is out of the question, as Mr. Hall has always been extremely careful with his varnishes, polishes and waste, and kept a stove up for the exclusive purpose of consuming inflammable stuff in it as fast as it accumulated. There was even less chance for spontaneous combustion in the hardware store, and there had been no fires on either premises for many days. Both establishments had been closed early in the evening and no lamps lighted.

There seems to be no doubt at all about the fire starting in the furniture store, but whether in the cellar or in the room above, no one knows for a certainty. It must surely have been burning perhaps an hour, as the entire store building – both stores – was unapproachable on the inside from being filled with a smoke so dense as to appear black when approached with a lantern.

Let us Heed the Lesson

How many experiences such as yesterday morning’s and that of three years ago must the people of this town have before they (collectively) know anything? There is no use for multiplying words. The question argues itself.

Where they will be after the fire

A.R. Hall – Has rented, and will occupy with a new stock of furniture as soon as it arrives, the east room of the Saline Valley Bank building, so long occupied by J.A. Johnson.

A.W. Thompson and L.W. Harbaugh – These two firms have moved into, and will jointly occupy, what is called "The Jim B. Smith building," one door west of Zink’s bakery. They are ready for business now.

Biggs & Richardson – The proprietors of the City Barber Shop have moved into the basement of the building now occupied by J.W. Grubb. Mr. Biggs was in the same quarters, in the same business, nine years ago next fall.

Green & Rouse – This popular millinery firm had one side of Gragg’s furniture store and a front window rented before breakfast yesterday morning, and will be doing business there at once.

Jos. Cheney – Has moved his shoe shop fixtures into the same room now occupied by J.A. Woody in the same business, two doors west of Harris & Hawkins hardware store.

Owen Kelley – Has rented and occupies for a shoe shop the small frame building halfway from the First National Bank to The Beacon office, one door north of Shideler’s implement store.


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