On This Day in FFD History

March 12, 2017 Events  No comments

On This Day in Frostburg/FFD History

A reprint from the Cumberland Evening Times, Front Page, March 12, 1925



Flames, Which Were Discovered By Night Patrolman Thomas Griffith Shortly After 5 O’clock, Spread With Such Rapidity That For a Time Entire Business Block Was Threatened.


One of the most disastrous fires that has visited Frostburg in recent years, totally destroyed the large three-story department store of Hitchins Brothers on East Main St. at 6 o’clock this morning with a total estimated loss at $350,000 in building and contents The fire was discovered at 5:10 o’clock by Officer Thomas Griffith who sent in an alarm. With the arrival of the firemen, seeing the seriousness of the conflagration, an appeal for help was sent to Cumberland, Lonaconing, and Midland. While the origin of the fire is not fully determined, defective wiring is blamed. The building and contents were insured. Emory Hitchens, manager, announced a new store would be erected.

Discovered on Third Floor

The fire was discovered in the stock on the third floor, and despite the efforts of the firemen, had gained such headway that you had spread to the entire building. The flames burst from the roof, throwing burning sparks and embers high in the air. There was no wind, fortunately, and the firemen, as fast as streams could be put in service, tried to save the adjoining buildings and confined the flames within the Hitchins building. It is thought it burned gradually from after midnight.

Summon Outside Help

Engine Company No. 1 from Cumberland arrived before 6 o’clock, under Chief R. C. Hoenicka making the run up the mountain grade in 20 minutes. It was soon followed by Lonaconing and Midland companies. The fire was under control at 7 o’clock and at 8 o’clock all further danger was over. The flames attracted a great crowd who came from the town and adjoining places. Often the firemen were hampered by the ever increasing number of onlookers.

Save Adjoining Buildings

Taking position on the side, front and rear, the firemen deluged the burning buildings from every point of vantage. In an hour though walls began to fall in, the rear wall tumbling in first. The firemen saved the Hafer Building on the upper side, and the Palace moving picture theater on the lower side from damage. Several times sparks threatened St. Michaels Catholic church and rectory, directly opposite. The heat from the burning building was intense. An alleyway on the lower side and heavy side walls kept the fire from bursting out on the sides.

Condon Inspected Store

According to Emory Hitchins, general manager, Joseph Condon, manager of the shoe department, was in the building last night at 11 o’clock and made a final inspection before he left and lowering the blinds of the display windows. There was at that time no indication of any smoke or fire. The building is heated by steam and there was slight fire in the furnace of the heating plant in the basement. He stated that business would be resumed in the Hitchens- Watts- Hitchens Building and part of the Citizens Bank Building in the same block pending rebuilding. He said it was their intention to construct a larger and more modern department store building as soon as possible.

Was Substantial Structure

The building was composed of several adjoining store rooms, three stories high with a basement on East Main St. It is estimated it could not be replaced today for less than $150,000. The first floor was devoted to the sale of groceries, shoes and general merchandise. The second floor was arranged for the display of men’s, women’s, and children’s wear apparel, house furnishings and floor coverings of all kinds. The third floor was the stocking and supply room. The store had been in recent years remodeled and equipped with modern display cabinets and counters.

Forty-Five people were employed in the different departments, and the Hitchens Company was regarded as one of the most aggressive business houses of its size in Western Maryland. The firm has been in business for over a half century.

New Reservoir Used

The firemen were aided in combating the flames by the turning on of the water storage of the new reservoir, recently built. It had 4,000,000 gallons capacity and gave a steady high pressure of water. During the fighting of the flames, Chief Bernard Hughes and John Pritchard were holding a nozzle on the first floor when a heavy pressure from the new reservoir suddenly came one. The kick of the play pipe knocked both men heavily to the floor. They sustained severe bruises but returned to the firefighting.

During the progress of the flames, Emory Hitchens went personally to the firemen who were at work and thanked them for their aid and help. After Ofc. Griffith sent in the alarm, he with Upton B. Edwards, assistant manager of the store, went into the building about 5:30 o’clock. They were able to reach the stairway to the third floor when the fire, heat, and smoke drove them back. The entire third floor was then a raging furnace.

Fire Causes Total Loss

Emory Hitchins commenting on the destruction of the store, claimed a total loss. The steel safe containing the records and accounts, which was located on the third floor, fellow to the basement when the rear walls and flooring fell in. It was later recovered and indications were the documents and account books inside were intact.

Pioneer Business Firm

The Hitchins Brother’s Company is among the pioneer business houses of Frostburg and its beginning dates back for more than half a century. In 1854, Adam E. Hitchins, then a young man, recently arrived in America, entered the employment of James. H. Hoblitzell, whose business had been established a number of years. After several years, Adam E. Hitchins purchased an interest in the business, the firm then being known as the James H. Hoblitzell and Company. Early in 1862, Owen Hitchins and Adam Hitchins purchased the interest of Mr. Hoblitzell and changed the name to Hitchens Brothers. This was continued until February 1891 when the Hitchens Brothers Company was incorporated with capital stock of $50,000.

After the death of Owen Hitchens and Adam Hitchens, the stock of the firm was acquired by members of their respective families. In 1909-1910, the Hitchens Brothers Company remodeled and enlarge their store building to a three-story arrangement with basement. The store was equipped with all the modern appliances for handling an immense trade which it enjoyed.

A reprint from the Cumberland Evening Times, Page 14, March 13, 1925


A few Hours After Fire Ravaged Their Great Emporium They Resume Business

This morning found members of the Hitchins Bros. Co. in their temporary quarters at 8 and 10 East Union Street, the shelving and building counters for workmen in the arrangement stocks which have been ordered for immediate delivery. Before the last tiniest flame had been extinguished by the police and firemen who worked dauntlessly all day yesterday to continue the disastrous blaze to the Hitchins Bros. store on East Union Street the courageous and aggressive spirit of the firm was exemplified.

On every hand the destruction of the Hitchins Bros. Co. store is regarded as a terrible loss, not only to the firm in dollars and cents, but to the community as shopping center, as it has been known for over a half century.

Temporarily the location will be in the Citizen’s National Bank building and the room adjoining, but as soon as the debris is cleaned away from modern department store building will be erected.

Emory Hitchins, general manager of the company wishes to thank all firemen, policemen and others who rendered aid and further states that everyone in any official capacity is to be commended for the manner in the fire-eaten structure a new and which they performed their duty.

An advertisement placed in the Cumberland Evening Times, Page 14, March 14, 1925


At this critical moment in our business life, when a conflagration destroyed the store built up by two generations of our family, we find ourselves greatly indebted to the good people of Frostburg, the fire departments of Frostburg, Cumberland and Lonaconing, and the many business houses with whom we have dealt for their efforts in our behalf.

We shall treasure the recollection of the noble work put forth Thursday morning, March 12, 1925, by the firemen and friends who did everything humanly possible to save our property, and we gratefully make this public acknowledgment of the many expressions of sympathy and offers of help that have been made by people who express the hope that we may again become established as a business unit in Frostburg.

It is our desire and intention to again re-established ourselves and the accomplishment of this purpose will certainly be made easier by the kindly support we are receiving from friends and business associates. We feel that everything possible was done on Thursday morning to prevent our loss and also an even greater disaster that might have extended to other business houses adjoining us.

Trusting that we may soon be in a position to resume business relations with the public, we are

Gratefully and Sincerely
Frostburg, MD

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