Lincoln’s fine old city hall-fire department building was heavily damaged by fire Friday night. Following an inspection by an insurance adjuster Monday forenoon, Mayor Dee Gourley said that it appears that the native stone structure, built in 1913-14, will be totaled -- $50,000 on the building, $25,000 on its contents.
Until all alternatives are fully explored there will be no official announcement on what course for the future the City Council will decide.
Fortunately, hard-working firefighters and volunteer citizens were able to save city records and major office equipment, including a new computer. Records in the vault, opened after a cool-down period, were safe and dry.
By Monday the city had set up shop at the Home Site building about a block and a half east of the ruined city hall.
Mayor Gourley said the city council would be meeting as scheduled that evening at the Farm Bureau Hall, but stated that a decision regarding the future of city hall-fire department quarters would obviously be delayed until various studies are completed. One construction company has had representatives on the scene here at the request of city officials to make recommendations and cost estimates.
Lincoln Fire Chief Bill Douglass said the fire was reported by a CB radio operator, as yet unidentified, to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department at 1:24 Saturday morning. By 1:37 a.m. – just 13 minutes later – both fire trucks had been removed from the building and one was pumping water from the hydrant directly across the street through two 1-inch, two 1½-inch and two 2½-inch lines into the smouldering structure. It is to the credit of the local volunteer fire department that 18 of the 20 men were on the scene immediately – the other two firemen were out of town.
The fire department didn’t consider that the blaze was "whipped" until about 6 a.m., 4½ hours after the alarm sounded.
David L. Yates, fire-arson investigator with the State Fire Marshal Department in Topeka, arrived here later Saturday morning and, following his inspection stated that there was no evidence to indicate the fire was anything but an "accidental fire."
The fire is thought to have begun above the ceiling over the northwest corner of the council room, back of the city office.
Aided by Ellen Searles, a hurried search through microfilmed Sentinels at Carnegie Library reveals that it was in April 1913, following a serious winter fire at the Curtis Garage when fire hoses froze before they could be rewound and returned to storage on the hose cart, that leading citizens, including the newspaper editor, began pushing for adequate housing for the fire department and the city hall. By May a bond election was proposed and on June 19, 1913, the bond issue passed with a vote of 201 for and 62 against.
"This means Lincoln will have a new city hall, a two-story building, with a portion for the fire department," an account read. An open house for the newly completed building was held March 20, 1914, and it was well attended by men and women in spite of rain, the newspaper account stated.
"The public was well pleased with the large room for the fire department on the east, and the city officers and council room on the west, with the second floor accommodations for the police court and jury, a kitchen, and a ‘commodious auditorium’ for ‘public gatherings,’ " the report continued.
And, the Lincoln Republican, April 2, 1914, stated:
"The building is strictly modern throughout, built of native stone at a cost of $13,000, including equipment. It is an ornament to the city."
Those foresighted city fathers had provided space for the fire department that, by today’s standards, have adequately housed two fire trucks and necessary equipment. A remodeling project last year updated Lincoln City Hall and its council room.
The handsome limestone exterior has remained a landmark structure – one of few at Lincoln – an "ornament to the city."