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The Lorain Constitution
Elyria, Ohio, Thursday, March 20, 1873


The Finest Block of Elyria in Ashes.

Twenty –Two Different Business Departments and Eleven Offices, besides one of the Finest Public Libraries in the State, Destroyed.

Loss Approximating $250,000

Two Hundred Men and Women thrown out of employment

The Alarm
A little before midnight on last Saturday the rapid clangor of the fire bell called the citizens of our town from their peaceful slumber to witness a conflagration, equally destructive to our place as was the late fire of Boston to that city.

Origin of the Fire
Concerning the origins of the fire there is nothing positively known. There are many different theories and opinions. Some claim it to have been the work of an incendiary, while others attribute it to a defective flue, &c., &c. It was first discovered in the northwest corner of Ely’s block, on the second floor, in a room occupied by Starr Bros.& Co’s. tin shop. The wind, blowing a severe gale from the north west, carried the flames so rapidly forward that it was with difficulty that the clerks sleeping in the upper rooms of Starr Bros.’ Dry goods department made their escape through the windows. By the time the firemen had their engine in position to spout water, the heat had become so great that it was impossible to get near enough to reach the flames. There being large openings in the walls between the rooms, the fire was transmitted to all parts of Starr’s business establishment with such rapidity that not a penny’s worth could be saved from the destructive element. Mrs. Olmsted’s millinery stock being in a room likewise opening into the Starr Bros’. department, suffered a similar fate. All this time the firemen were working with unabated energy to stay the progress of the flames; but the furious gusts of wind began to blow down the crumbling walls, which forced them still further into the background, and made the operation of a hand engine to quench such a monstrous fire seem a mere child’s play. It was but a few moments until the fire forced its way into A.H. Pomeroy’s dry goods establishment. Through this part of the block extended a fire-proof wall twenty inches thick, and for a time it seemed that the farther progress of the flames would be stayed.

At this time the firemen made a desperate effort to get near enough to reach this wall with water, but the intense heat drove them back after a number of unsuccessful attempts. There was a momentary lull in the wind, and for a time hopes were entertained that the east part of the block would be saved, but it was only momentary, for suddenly a furious gust arising drove the fire forward along the wooden cornice above and the awning below, and in less than half an hour the eastern part of the block was one huge mass of flame. From this the fire was carried to the Mungaven House, which being a wooden structure and greatly exposed to the wind, burned down with inconceivable rapidity, the blaze next reaching the wood-shed near the passenger depot of the L.S. & M.S. Railroad. The further progress of the fire was prevented by keeping the walls and roofs of neighboring buildings well saturated with water.

Aid From Cleveland
Finding that our hand-engines were inadequate to check the flames from devouring the whole block and probably the entire east end of the street, including the depot buildings, J.H. Faxon, Esq., at the suggestion of some of our citizens, telegraphed Cleveland for aid. It was found necessary to run an engine to Ridgeville for this purpose, as the telegraph wires at the depot were very foolishly cut before any immediate danger threatened the building. This delay was a serious one. As soon as the dispatch was received in Cleveland, the chief engineer of the fire department called for volunteers, when ten men promptly answered the call and were shipped by special train with steamer No. 4 (the “Palmer”) under the direction of Assistant Engineer Mc Mahon, they arrived here about three o’clock, at the announcement of which a sigh of relief went up from the hearts of our citizens, and our Cleveland friends were welcomed by hearty cheers on all hands. Arriving too late to save any particle of the Ely Block or Mungaven House, they set to work to look after the Odd Fellows Block and the depot buildings. A difficulity arose from lack of water, all the cisterns but one, having been pumped dry. Hose were stretched from the cistern on the corner of Middle Avenue and Second Street, but fifteen minutes had not elapsed before it was emptied. A large water-cart was then placed north of the depot, and by replenishing it from the railroad water tank, kept full by their pump, a sufficient quantity of water was obtained. By these measures the buildings east and north of Ely Block were saved.

The Crowd
The continuous ringing of the fire bell called together a large crowd of people. Some nerved up by exitement, engaged with almost superhuman strength, in carrying great loads of goods from the burning building, others, overcome by excitement, ran about fretting and giving everybody instruction what to do, but failed to do anything themselves. Some gazed on in philosophic quietness, with their hands in their pockets, failing, even, to keep out of the way of those who would work, others, having an opportunity to smuggle a few swigs of liquor, ran about with muddled brains speculating on the future of Elyria. Some women with wrinkled brows and grey hairs, stood around wringing their hands in great distress, while others, of less faded appearance, complimented their lovers on their bravery and energy in fighting the fire fiend.

The Goods Saved
The proprietors of the business rooms in the eastern part of the block made an early and determined effort to save their goods, and a large amount was caried out on Broad Street, Middle Avenue, and the town park. These places contained all manner of goods; boots and shoes, flour and groceries, drugs and medicines, clothing, counters, safes, books, furniture, &c., &c. This afforded a favorable opportunity for stealing, and we are sorry to say that there are those amongst us who are so devoid of humanity as to take advantage of a fellow man thus in sore distress; for we are credibly informed that a large amount of goods were stolen. Mr. Mungaven, especially, lost a large amount of his stock in that way. As is usual under such circumstances, a large amount of goods were wasted and destroyed by removal. For a time, Cheap Side, corner of Broad Street and Middle Avenue, was threatened, which made it necessary to move a large portion of the goods a second time, which was attended with considerable loss and damage.

The Losses
It is impossible to give anything like a correct idea of the losses sustained directly or indirectly. We have worked hard to this end, but have found it utterly impossible to come to a definate conclusion. We give below a list as nearly correct as we were able to secure it:

  Losses Insurance
Heman Ely buildings$80,000$25,000
Heman Ely, office furniture and safe$2,000none
Starr Bros., groceries, etc$70,000$30,000
Mrs. Olmsted, millinery$6,000none
King Solomon’s Lodge, F. & A.M.$2,000$1,250
John Mountain, merchant tailor$800none
A.H. Pomeroy, dry goods$10,000$5,000
T. H. Linnell & Co., clothing$5,500$2,500
J. Manville & Co., druggists$6,000$2,500
F. B. Sanford, boots and shoes$3,500$2,500
Sampsel, Clark & Co., wholesale confectioners$20,000$10,000
Hoyle Bros., Grocers$4,000$2,000
H. Bruan, produce dealer$675none
C. Downing, Justice of Peace$250. . .
J. Myers, law office$1,700$1,700
S.W. Burrell & Son, dentists$800none
N.L. Johnson, law office$400none
C.H. Doolittle, law office$100none
H.H. Poppleton, law office$1,000none
Topliff & Ely, office furniture and safe$550none
Albert Ely, same$1,000none
Geo. P. Metcalf, attorney$100none
Stewart & White, dentists$500none
W. W. Boynton, office furniture$700none
Geo. Olmsted, J. P.$100none
Geo. E. Bronson, picture frames$50none
Elyria Library$18,000$10,000
Elyria Lodge Good Fellows$500$300
J.C. Potter, photographer$2,100$1,000
L.B. Smith, office fixtures$75none
John Finn, manufacturer of jewelry$400none
J. M. Stich, artist$100none
Jay Terrell, insurance agent$600none
J. J. Mungaven$10,000$3,200
J. V. Coon, sewing machine manufactury$500none
W. Kewly, tailor$2,100none
H. M. Redington, private library$1,700none
Odd Fellows$50$50
Lord & Cunningham, tobacconists$3,000$3,000
Spencer O. Emmons, billiards$200none
T. Tunnington, tailor$100$100
Mrs. Julia Poppleton, furniture$1,000none

In addition to the above there are a large number of private losses of clerks and others who were doing business of occupying sleeping apartmentsm in the building. The Starr Bro’s. are the heaviest losers. Mrs. Olmsted’s insurance had run out a few days before, and as she was about removing her stock of goods to new quarters she had neglected renewing it, thinking it unnecessary to do so until properly settled. A.H. Pomeroy also had an insurance policy on his stock which run out only the day before (Friday) otherwise he would have sustained little, if any, loss. The total loss, deducting salvage, will amount to about $230,000.

Insurance Companies
The insurance companies in which the above were insured, and their losses, are as follows:

Underwriters’ Agency$2,750
North British and Merchantile$5,000
North American$7,800
Old Hartford$750

The Scene in General
At times, when a severe gust of wind would start the apparently lingering flames into renewed impetus, the conflagration would present a scene of such terrible grandeur as is seldom witnessed. This was especially the case when the flames reached the library. The burning books threw off massive flakes of fire that floated off in the atmosphere in magnificent grandeur falling harmless on the roofs of buildings yet wet by a kindly shower that had fallen in the early part of the evening.

The hurrying to and fro of the excited crowd, the crash of falling timbers, the heavy thud of tumbling walls, mingled with the shrieks of locomotive whistles, and the hoarse notes of the firemen’s trumpet, together with the crackling and roaring of the fire, created an impression of horror that will not soon be forgotten by those who were spectators of the scene.

The Future
Our merchants did not allow themselves to become despondant over their losses, but like true philosophers, immediately set to work to put up tempory buildings on Ely Park, a privilege wisely granted by our council, and at the present writing there are already a number of these buildings enclosed, and in less than ten days the great business center of Elyria will be found to occupy the Town Park, so that the patrons to the Elyria trade can expect with certainty that all the burnt business departments will shortly be in readiness with new goods to open the spring trade. As for the block burnt down, Mr. Ely has already taken the necessary steps to rebuild it. The front, we are informed, is to be of Milwaukee brick. The basement and first floor are to be ready for occupancy by the first of October. Mr. Ely has both the means and energy to drive business, and ere six months will draw to a close, we will see a finer block than the former occupying the place of the present gaping ruins. It is true that the losses are severe, but the losers are all men of pluck and good business capabilities, so that we can reasonably expect Elyria will suffer no permanent injury and scarcely a temporary delay in her progress.

The Lessons the Fire Has Taught
There is no doubt but that the fire could have been brought under control, when it reached the fire-proof wall between Pomeroy’s and the Library if the fire department would have had a steam engine at their disposal.

2. That our water conveniences are inadequate, and that there should be steps taken at an early day to secure ample supplies.

3. That there should be a special police force appointed, who should report for duty at the call of the fire bell and assist the fire department, preserve order, guard goods, etc., etc. Such a force could have done an immense amount of good in guarding and saving goods on last Sunday morning.

The Safes
Starr Brothers safe was dragged out of the ruins on Sunday evening and allowed to cool until Monday, when it was opened and everything in it found in a good state of preservation, which was a source of gratification to the firm and a number of private depositors. Mr. Heman Ely’s safe was also opened on Monday and the books, papers and coin contained therein found unharmed. The others being mostly of a smaller dimension were dragged out before the fire.

At the present writing Mr. Ely has about fifty men at work clearing away the debris.

A large number of visitors from all parts of the country around have been in to visit our place since the fire. Prominent among these was a bevy of students from Oberlin, some of whom so far forgot their manhood as to become beastly intoxicated and were obliged to take on lodging in jail for the night. We give particulars elsewhere.

A Generous Offer
At the meeting of the Odd Fellows at their rooms on Tuesday evening, the following resolution was adopted:

Elyria Lodge No. 103, I.O.O.F.
March 18,1873
To the Master, Officers and Members of King Solomon’s Lodge of the order of Masons, Elyria, Ohio
Whereas, Elyria has come in for her full share of calamities in the destruction by fire of her best business block in town, and knowing that your hall, regalia, furniture, etc., were all destroyed by said fire, therefore, Resolved, Tht we tender you the use of our hall to meet and transact business until such time as you may be able to get other quarters.
O. Bowen, Perm’t Sec.

Action of Council
At the council meeting held at the mayor’s office on Monday evening, the following preamble and resolutions were introduced:

Whereas, In view of the recent calamitous and destructive conflagration, which occurred on Sunday morning, the 16th instant, destroying the Ely Block, a large portion of the business of our village, depriving many of our most enterprising and energetic men of places and facilities to transact their legitimate business, therefore:

Resolved, By the Town Council of the Incorporated Village of Elyria, that section 2, of an ordinance passed January 5, 1872, restricting the use of Ely Park for certain purposes, be suspended for the term of one year, and further,

Resolved, That any person who was doing business in the Ely Block, or who has been deprived of their place of business in consequence of said fire be permitted to occupy Ely Park, for the purpose of erecting or moving upon said park tempory structures demanded by the present emergency, under the direction of the Mayor.

The foregoing preamble and resolutions were put upon their passage by yeas and nays, and resulted as follows: Yeas: Adams, Hill, Jones, Phipps, Nichols and Spitzenberg; nays, none.


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