On This Day in Frostburg/FFD History

November 20, 2018 Events  No comments

Cumberland Evening Times – November 20, 1936.

Old Frostburg Opera House Burns

Landmark Seventy Years Old Is Destroyed

The second fire in the business section this week completely destroyed the old Frostburg Opera House at the corner of Main and Depot Streets early this morning. The alarm was sent in about 2 a.m. by Russell Carter of Grahamtown and by 2:30 the building was a mass of flames.

Said to have been a spectacular fire, fed by grain stored in the basement and huge virgin white pine girders, melted the copper roof providing a fireworks-like display lasting most of the night. A four-story brick structure, it was owned by Mrs. Joseph H. Hitchens and for years housed the largest motion picture theater in the city. Recently, it had been unoccupied except for the store rooms on the second floor where the Melvin Schneider printing establishment was located and the W. H. DeNeen plumbing shop, Joseph Lyons, local grocer, used one room and had recently stored a car load of feed, which was destroyed. His loss was estimated at $1,900.

The fire, which originated in the rear of the building, of undetermined cause, spread rapidly and the sparks fell on the surrounding properties within a radius of 200 yards. Residents of the neighborhood prepared to move their furniture, but the fire was checked after the east end wall fell, crashing into the property owned by Mrs. Peggy James, occupied by M.C. Ferree. The flames leaped to the James residence which was undergoing extensive improvements. Two rooms of Mr. Ferree’s furniture were completely destroyed, and damage to the home was estimated at $8000. According to Mr. James this morning, the property is only partially covered by insurance.

The damage to the Schneider Printing Shop, publishers of the Frostburg Shopping Guide, sustained a loss of about $10,000, having just recently installed new equipment including an expensive Lino-type machine. Mr. Schneider carried no insurance and saved nothing except his books. Everything in the DeNeen Plumbing Shop was also destroyed. The exact loss was undetermined this morning.

One corner of the service station owned by the Lemmert Brothers on the west side of the opera house, caught on fire but the Frostburg Fire Department quickly checked the flames before much damage was done. The Lemmert Garage, located at the rear of the opera house, on the eastside was saved. All cars were removed. The garage is in danger of being demolished by two huge chimneys, which are swinging with the wind today. All traffic has been detoured from Main Street, because of this and the bricks lying over Main Street, result of the caving in of the walls of the building.

Leroy Skidmore, 20, a son of Mrs. Ida Skidmore, Borden, was treated today at 4 a.m. for a fractured collarbone and a sprained ankle, when he was struck by a car that was being removed from the Lemmert Garage. Mr. Skidmore, an employee of the St. Cloud Motor Company, was assisting in moving the cars.

The firemen were hampered, when two hose lines burst by heavy water pressure, but did an excellent piece of work, saving surrounding buildings, which would have been destroyed, had it not been for the way they handled the situation.

The building was erected about 70 years ago by the combined Odd Fellows Lodge of this section. Mrs. Hitchins carried only a small amount of insurance covering less than a quarter of the present value. The fire was said to be the worst since the big fire of December 1917 when the Durst and Shea Building’s burned. The entire town and surrounding area was illuminated by the blaze, which removed one of the best-known landmarks of the city, as many people recall the times spent either in the theater witnessing a silent motion picture or a hometown production, or on the fourth floor where all the big dances and social events were held years ago.

FFD Note: Estimated losses were more than $70,000 and the cause of the fire, though never proven, was thought to be arson. This fire was just four days after the Wittig and Laporta block on Main Street was partially destroyed by fire.

The following two articles appeared in the Cumberland Times on Sunday, November 22nd:
Street Now Open At Frostburg after Destruction of Opera House Friday
Work of pulling down the remaining walls and chimneys left standing of the old Frostburg Opera House, destroyed by fire, early Friday morning, was expected to be completed by today. Main Street was opened today to traffic. Assisted by employees of the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company workers pulled down the east end wall using ropes.
The fire, which destroyed the only four-story building in the city, once known as Ravenscroft’s Opera House, did considerable damage to surrounding properties and not only caused heavy financial loss, but placed a number of people out of work. The Schneider printing plant had two regular and two part time employees and six carrier boys, who distributed the company’s weekly paper; the only local publication.

W. H. Deneen plumbing shop proprietor, sustained a loss of about $5,000. He was left without a set of tools to resume his work. He has been in the plumbing business 33 years.

Frostburg has experience an epidemic of fires this week with the Frostburg Fire Department responding to five calls, three of which were of minor importance. Two fires, however, destroyed or damaged nine places of business and put four families out of their homes.
FFD Note: The FFD held its 25th Silver Jubilee at the Ravenscroft

Gentlemen: The Ursuline Sisters wish to express their deep appreciation and gratitude to Mr. Bernard Hughes, Chief, and to the members of the Frostburg Fire Department for the prompt way in which they responded to the call for help within the past few days. And also, for the splendid manner in which those fires were brought under control and the properties of other residents saved from destruction. May God bless these noble men.
Respectfully and gratefully, The Ursuline Sisters

The following was entered into the FFD minutes on 24 NOV 1936.

Chief Bernard Hughes reported two fires at John Reese’s in the Wittig Building on November 16 causing considerable damage also a fire at the Frostburg Opera House destroying the building. He stated that the department covered themselves with glory at these fires and that no complaint to make against any member.

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