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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Fire Took One Of County's Landmarks In 1909

Dallas Bogan on 23 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 90
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

One of Warren County's landmarks was erased by fire the night of December 23, 1909. The old Oregonia Merchant Mill had long been the pride of the community. On a cold, dark, sleepy Thursday night in December, the little village of Oregonia was awakened by the sounds of roaring flames. Nearly all the residents shouted cries of "the old mills on fire". Flames were already leaping at the darkness of the skies when a rescue by the citizens was attempted. Smoke completely covered the valley and eventually filtered away into the night.
There was no organized fire department in the small village and a bucket brigade was formed. Efforts were made to extinguish the flames, but to no avail. Seeing clearly that the mill could not be saved, and fear of the fire spreading, screaming women and weeping children ran from their homes in a desperate panic taking all the possessions they could carry.
Men were sprinting here and there, shouting orders and readying their efforts to deter the flames from their homes. For miles around, the fire could be seen. The eerie red smoke filled scene saturated the skies of the extremely cold night with a cast of spooky fright. One by one the walls fell, a puff of smoke and cloud as their witness.
The heat from the fire was so intense that it was deemed necessary to throw water upon the clothing of the men fighting the fire to keep them from burning to death. The nearest building was 75 feet away and it received a good scorching, as did Cody's store and other houses.
As dawn filtered through, a mere skeleton of a once thriving business, a landmark, was evidenced. Fire and its disastrous efforts once again triumphed. The cause of the fire remains to this day unexplained. The flames were first seen in the southeast corner of the third floor. The main chimney was located at the northeast corner; the belief that possibly an overheated flue was the culprit. Another theory was that perhaps it was started by the sparks from a passing train, or by internal combustion. One source says a firecracker started it. The mill was named Spencer & Monroe and was owned by John K. Spencer and Charles Monroe.
It had just been recently sold to W.E. Schwartz of Clarksville, Texas. The new landlord was to have taken over on New Year's Day. With the transfer of the property, the insurance ran out and had not been renewed.
An estimate of the loss to the property and the contents was placed at $12,000. The value of the building was fixed at $7,000. The contents were still owned by Spencer and Monroe, which were partially covered by insurance. The estimated loss was $4300 with $2000 insurance coverage.
A couple of names mentioned as joining the ranks of the brave were Will Craddock and Bert Hollingsworth. The housewives made a grand effort by supplying coffee and the essentials to the firefighters.
The Morrow fire department was called upon for assistance. The men were loaded on a Pennsylvania special ready for departure when a call came that nothing could be done.
Spencer spoke to The Western Star about the tragedy. He said:
"The old mill was the pride of my life, as it was to almost every resident of Oregonia. We were cleaning up our business and the afternoon before the fire I took a walk through the entire mill to see if there was anything yet to be done before we turned it over to the new management.
"I was happy when I saw how our foreman John Myers had left things in as neat condition as it was possible. But there were pangs of regret that I was about to turn my back upon the old mill probably forever. Little did I think that in a few hours it would be a mass of charred ruins?
"When first told of the fire I hurried to the mill and opening the doors, dashed for the third floor to turn on the pumps that would start our own fire fighting apparatus. I saw at once that it was impossible to do this and no sooner had I run out of the door than the floors fell in and I saw the building was doomed." Nebo Gaunt built the first mill on this site in 1802. On Christmas night, 1852, fire totally consumed Gaunt's Mill. Two years later, Isaac Stubbs and Jonathan Sherwood brought the machinery of the famous Whitehill Mill (located below Lebanon on the Warren County Canal) to Oregonia and set up a top quality-flouring mill.
In 1885, Albert Stubbs bought the mill and operated it until the spring of 1903. Spencer and Monroe then purchased it.

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