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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Harveysburg Suffered Devastating Fire In 1939

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 23 July 2004
Source:
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland:Heritage Press, 1979) page 33
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

"It was the nearest I've been to eternity." These were the words spoken by Charles Thompson concerning the worst fire in Harveysburg's history.
On January 27, 1939, at 1 A.M., a devastating fire swept downtown Harveysburg and destroyed three businesses and a portion of a residence and garage. The blame was placed on an overheated stove in the poolroom of Charles Thompson.
According to Mayor Carroll Smart and Marshall Carl Pottorf, the Lebanon fire department, with Fire Chief Dunham, Ralph Palmer and Jack Wills in attendance, made heroic efforts to extinguish the fire during the five-hour battle. The Wilmington fire department was also called upon and worked courageously. Harveysburg Fire Chief Adam Campbell and his volunteers, numbering about 175, worked until weary.
The wind blew briskly from a northerly direction causing the flames to move rapidly and spread to the residence of Thompson, where his wife and son-in-law were sleeping. McDonald's barbershop, the Harveysburg post office, the drug store, and the rear of the Carroll Smart garage were engulfed in flames. High-tension wires in the center of the village melted causing total darkness until about 4 a.m. This event proved hazardous to the firefighters trying to contain the fire.
"Bob," Charles Thompson's dog, was the only fatality of the blaze. Thompson's loss, besides the building, was about $200 in silver and about the same amount in bills. The silver was found in a melted state and returned to Thompson by one of the firefighters.
Thompson retired to his room above the poolroom about 9:30 p.m. The downstairs business was left in the care of Howard Debord. According to Debord, he closed up about midnight. Thompson stated that about an hour later he was terrified by the smell of smoke. Choking and coughing, he staggered downstairs and into the restaurant where he saw the flames advancing up the wall behind the stove. Thompson fought his way to the door and fell into the street. Louis Snell had just returned from work in Dayton and spotted the commotion. He immediately rushed to the town hall and sounded the fire alarm. Members of the local volunteer fire department instantly reacted to try to control the fire before it spread to the other buildings. Mayor Smart, seeing the fire was out of control, called upon the Lebanon, Wilmington, Dayton and Waynesville fire departments for their aid.
The local post office was in jeopardy causing the Postmaster, Charles Madden and his assistant, R.E. Hurst and others, to rescue the mail. It was transferred to the Jeffries restaurant across the street. All the Government property was saved except the lock boxes. The water in the four fire cisterns and five deep wells was almost depleted, but to no avail, the flames still spread in a frightful manner. Flying embers from the fire landed on the roofs of the Smart garage and Doster's feed store causing damage. After five grueling hours, the fire was quenched. The trucks of Frank McCarren of Harveysburg, and A.C. Roblitzer, Waynesville, busied themselves hauling water from Waynesville to fill the depleted wells in case of another fire eruption.
The temperature held at or about 18 degrees causing much of the water to freeze. The next day, and for some days afterward, curious on-lookers from many different neighborhoods frequented the site of the fire.
School was dismissed by H.C. Milligan, superintendent of the Harveysburg schools, because of the loss of water, and also because many of the students were tired in body from fighting the fire.
The garage was owned by William McCarren and operated by Carroll Smart; it was covered by insurance. Sabin McDonald was the owner and operator of the local barbershop and was not covered by insurance, although he was in the insurance business.
The poolroom was owned by Thompson and was covered by insurance, but not the contents. Thompson's residence, owned by J.W. Snell, was nearly an entire loss and was covered by insurance. The post office building was owned by Anna Madden, wife of Postmaster Charles Madden, and covered by insurance.


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This page created 23 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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