1874 Main (Union) Street Fire – Full Story
Below is a re-print from the Frostburg Mining Journal. Volume III, No 4, September 12, 1874.
GREAT FIRE IN FROSTBURG!A Terrible Day for our City!
CUMBERLAND PROMPTLY TO THE RESCUE!
One Church, Nine Stores, 15 Dwellings, Eight Shops, One Office, Six Stables, One Public Hall, Two Saloons and One Bowling Alley Burned; and One House and One Shop Torn Down.
A Full Report of the Great Calamity!
At 1:20 o’clock last Saturday evening the roof of the store of Beall & Koch in this place was discovered to be on fire. The alarm was at once sounded both by cries upon the street and by the bells of St. Michaels. Before efficient means for its extinguishment could be devised and exercised the store was passed recovery.
Indeed, the location, and the memory of our experience on the second day of February last, seemed to stupefy the people with terror and render them nearly unfit for combat with the devouring element. It was not forgotten with what labor and discomfort this building and its important connections were saved from destruction then; now, as holding the “key to the fire position,” so to speak, almost superhuman effort was expended to save it and the Old Franklin House, together with a wide range of other houses, which must have gone down with them.
Hence, just here more strength was employed in saving goods then in stopping the fire. In a short time however, the necessity of prompt, efficient, universal action became apparent and every addition to the growing crowd furnished a fresh recruit for the contest. Furnished with what buckets and water that could be secured they plied their work unavailing. From Beall & Koch store the Franklin House caught and went down on the west and John J. Keller’s on the east. From the latter Marx Weinmann’s store also burned. Closely adjacent Hitchens Brothers brick building presented the first barrier to the progress of the fire eastward, while its western course was happily arrested by the brick dwelling of Douglas Percy, Esq., corner of Broadway and Union Street.
A slight wind blowing westward favored the new buildings on the site of the former fire, carrying the flames to Mechanic Street in the rear, igniting and burning stables and other outhouses. By this time the expedient of tearing down houses to prevent spreading was resorted to with good effect. By this means, Mrs. Keller’s and Mr. Heintz’s and a portion of the Hitchin’s Brothers properties on Taylor and Mechanic Streets were saved.
The conflagration, subsiding in this direction, was raging with fury further westward on Mechanic Street. Gorsuch’s large stable, Theophil’s icehouse, and Porters Hall on three corners of Broadway and Mechanic had caught fire and were consuming everything within reach and threatening Dr. Getzendanner’s office, dwelling, and the Presbyterian Church. Interested parties hung with perfect devotion to the task of shielding these edifices.
In this way on Broadway it’s course was stayed, but back of Porters Hall and across the street, the ice house, Anthony Gerlock’s mechanic shop, Dr. Englar’s stable, Tomlinson’s blacksmith and wagon making shops, Preston’s property, McCormick & Locke’s wagon making and Philip Michael’s blacksmith shops became successively involved and consumed. From there the fire stretched northward to C. Lapp’s, corner of Main and Water, burning John C. Weiss’s office, Joseph G. Dennison’s parlor and C. Seifker’s shoe shop. Reaching across Water Street the flames set fire to the English Lutheran Church, of which nothing remain but the walls. While this was burning and imperiling the closely adjacent Parsonage a “suction and steam” fire engine arrived on the ground with two corps of firemen. The water from the plugs could not be availed of, owing to the difficulty of adjusting the hose thereto, and resources to the neighboring wells was bad. The suction engine was drawn up to the well of James Jones whence a well directed stream was thrown on the Parsonage with good effect. The steamer was put in operation at R.R. Sanner’s well, and did good service, sending a jet of water to the Parsonage and one to the relief of Water Street. While the church was burning Fred Zals’ tin shop was demolished by order of the Mayor. Happily, the Parsonage was but partially consumed, and, being a brick edifice, it saved the frame dwellings beyond.
Meanwhile, a vast crowd of people were laboring heroically farther south on Water Street. To many in this section of the town the fire threatened imminent peril. Leaving Michael’s shop it followed on the same side a row of “tinder-boxes,” called Hobiltzell’s block, occupied successively by Joseph Preston as a saloon and bowling alley, John Street, Charles Coffman, Jim Green, George Britt, David Williams and William Fisher as dwellings, until there was not a “tinder-box” left, belonging to the same parties. From Michael’s shop, too, it had crossed and burned a house belonging to Mrs. Sarah Taylor, thence Levi Taylor’s dwelling and carpenter shop, and onto George Humberson’s one house, leaving nothing in its track. For a long while the point of interest centered in Henry Robinson’s dwelling.
On the opposite side the demolition of a shed and stable by Broadway citizens in some measure disposed of fear on their part, yet this might be undone by the destruction of Robinson’s house, which, for the time, stood a frail barrier before the fate of another long line of “feeders.” To save Robinson’s house water was brought from distant wells-from places remote but imperiled. This was verily the “point d’appui”- to the fate of which hundreds looked anxiously inside for insurance. It was a point which neither blocker or night would save. Fortunately, the shells of houses on the opposite side burned and dropped quickly, else the whole length of Water, and probably Broadway, would have been destroyed, with no knowing how much further the damage would have extended.
We have hurried over a scene which occupied four hours – a scene whose diversity of effect challenges detail. It developed a “costly sublimity” at the expense of all concerned, many of whom, while they viewed, exhibited every feature of distress. Others submitted and fought bravely to subdue it for the sake of dismayed, imperiled neighbors. It thus developed much of the best qualities of humane character. On the other hand many shamelessly abandoned the noble work of combating the flames for purposes of plunder and debauchery. People stole goods and became drunk that day that hitherto have ostensibly maintained blameless lives.
Beyond this, too efforts to fire buildings, in order to continue the conflagration and the opportunity for plunder, were discovered; exposing a species of villainy which it is alarming to know lies dormant in our midst. Not only store goods were stolen but private residences, not immediately endangered, were pillaged despite the entreatment and remonstrances of the owners. Articles of all kinds were carried away; provisions were remorse lustfully appropriated; stolen bread, meat, etc. furnish materials for Sunday feast, were, if Grace was said it was to thank God for the blowing of a good fire.
From the beginning to the end the crowd grew. From the closely populated vicinity; from Eckert, Pompey Smash, Borden Shaft, Midlothian, and as far off as Mount Savage and Ocean Mines, people came breathlessly to the rescue. The heroic miners laid aside pick and shovel, through their party energy and endurance into the breach, and were the last to quit the noble work of staying the flames.
A notable and timely arrival on the scene of action was made by the Cumberland fire companies in response to a telegraph request of Mayor Clary. Two engines and 300 men, added to the force already employed, soon exhibited good effect notwithstanding the inability of the engine to obtain water from the fire plugs, owing to the this proportion between the hose and the plugs. Conspicuous among the Cumberland gentleman who braved the heat, and coolly and intelligently battled with the flames, was Col. W. H. Loudermilk, editor of the news. Standing in the upper story of the burning Parsonage he directed with telling precision a stream of water which kept at bay of fire which, otherwise, would have ravaged the square as far as the Methodist Church. To all the Cumberland firemen our people are deeply grateful for their generous and timely aid. But for them the disaster might have been far greater, and we know we but faintly express the feelings of our entire community when we accord them all on her for their noble work in our behalf.
In this connection we have to regret the want of sufficient power at the depot to draw the engine up the hill to horses, thoughtfully provided by A. C. Green, Esq., could be found for some time causing a serious delay of an hour. After reaching the scene of conflagration the lack of water compared the full efficiency of the engines-a fact repeatedly and eloquently expressed by the firemen as they responded to cries for help from various quarters. Again, when control of the fire was obtained our people, boarded in the task of looking after lost goods, assisting distressed neighbors, etc., overlooked attention to the Cumberland gentleman in some measure. Fortunately, the hospitable table of Peter Payne and John Hamm, Esquires afforded good suppers to a large number.
The losses on Main, or Union, Street were as follows:
Beall, Koch & Co., dry-goods dealers, building and goods, $30,000; J.J. Keller, grocer, building and goods, $15,000; Marx Wineland, dry-good dealer, building and goods, $45,000. These establishments were insured to the value of two-thirds of the property destroyed. John Huntley, hardware dealer, $3,000, said to have been uninsured; Madame Van Klaiser, millinery, $1,500; T.S. Metzger & Co., stationery, $1,000, insured; August Theophil, confectioner, $1,000. These four establishments were in what was known as the Franklin Block, owned by the Hoblitzell heirs, loss in building about $6,000. English Lutheran church, damaged to the amount of $10,000, insured; Lutheran parsonage, some $1,000, insured; Hitchins Bros., dry-goods dealers, damage to stock by removal, $300; Frostburg Mining Journal office, damage to stock by removal, $100; Peter Payne, damage to property, $300.
On Broadway the following losses occurred:
L.M. Gorsuch’s stable, owned by Hoblitzell heirs, $1,500, insured; L.B. Porter, liquor dealer and grocer, Porter’s Hall building, containing Porter’s establishment, barber-shop, and saloon, $15,000, insured; Douglas Percy, damage to buildings, $600, insured; William R. Percy, grocer, damage to building and goods. $600, insured.
The losses on Mechanic Street were Hitchins Bros., three tenement-houses, $1,800, insured; Mrs. Joseph Keller, two tenement-houses, $1,000, insured, $700; Philip Michael’s, black smith and wagon-maker, $1,000, insured; McCormick & Locke, wagon-makers, loss $1,200; Nelson Beall, small dwelling and office, $800; Dr. Englar’s stable $800, insured.
On Water Street the following property was destroyed:
Mrs. Joseph Preston, corner Mechanic and Water, saloon and bowling-alley, $500; Hoblitzell heirs, three double dwelling-houses, $4,500, insured; J.W. Tomblinson[sic], wagon-maker, shop and stock, $1,000, no insurance; Mrs. Sarah Taylor, brick residence, $2,000; Levi Taylor’s residence, $1,200; Geo. Humberson, three dwellings, $1,800, no insurance.
Totals, Main, or Union, Street, $114,700; Broadway, $17,600; Mechanic, $6,600; Water, $11,000. Aggregate loss, $149,900.