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|Left: The illustration from an 1897 Foot &
Shear Co. billhead - the Carter & Kennedy building. Click the
image to see the full billhead. From the Scranton Republican,
August 8, 1894, "The contract for the excavation and foundation walls
of the proposed Kennedy & Carter building on Washington avenue was
yesterday awarded to E. S. Williams."
Right: A postcard of the J. D. Williams & Bro.Co. store published about 1905 by Raphael Tuck & Sons, "Scranton, Pa." Signs in the windows advertise Tennis Goods, House Furnishings, Baby Carriages, and a "Rousing Tin Ware Sale." By 1908 they were again advertising in the Poli's Theatre Programme.
Fire licked up nearly $550,000 worth of property in the most valuable business block in the center city early this morning. It was the worst conflagration in many years as well as the most spectacular. Starting at five minutes past midnight it was 4 o'clock before it was gotten under control. The ruins are smouldering yet, and half a dozen streams are playing on them.
The building of J. D. Williams & Brother company at 111 to 117 Washington avenue and the Carter and Kennedy building at 119 to 121 adjoining, are totally destroyed.
Foote & Shear, in whose place the fire was discovered, occupied one half of the Carter & Kennedy building, and the furniture house of J. Scott Inglis the other half. Both firms were completely wiped out of stock and fixtures, but the biggest loss is sustained by Williams Bros. & Co.
A dozen firemen were hurt, but none seriously. Most of them were cut and bruised by flying glass and falling walls and debris.
Charles Lenther, of Engine T, and John Reif, of Hose 6 were the worst injured. Lenther had his hand badly cut by flying glass from a big plate window. Reif ran a huge splinter in his leg. Both men went to the State Hospital and after having their wounds bound, pluckily went back to the fire. Other firemen took such risks in trying to check the progress of the flames that Superintendent Ferber and Storms had to call them back several times. Superintendent Ferber himself had a narrow escape from being killed by a huge stone that was torn from its place on top of the Carter & Kennedy building by a falling cornice. It missed his head by the margin of a few inches and shattered itself at his feet.
The injured firemen with few exceptions were treated by Dr. R. B. White, who stayed at the scene of the fire with the Hahnemann Hospital ambulance until it was under control. The Hahnemann Hospital's ambulance was the only one on the scene and this morning Superintendent Ferber showed his appreciation by personally thanking the hospital managers.
Other Buildings Threatened
It was only by an almost superhuman effort that the fire was confined to the buildings destroyed. Several times it threatened the Connell building, but by a daring exhibition of nerve and intelligence the firemen under Chief Ferber saved it.
On the Lackawanna avenue side of the burning fire Assistant Superintendent Harry Storms with a squad of ten men did heroic work. The blaze here was for an hour and a half one of the fieriest spots burning. For the flames to have gotten over the low wall of the Williams building would have meant destruction at corner and extending down to Jonas Long's Sons store. By standing on the fall [sic] and on roofs of other places the flames were kept inside the wall.
A terrific explosion in the basement of Foote & Shear added to the danger of the firemen. Two of them were blown clean across the alley in the rear, while Assistant Storms and one of his men were almost blown from a fire escape by the force of the explosion.
Aside from the loss in buildings and stock, 300 men, boys, women, and girls employed in Williams' building are temporarily thrown out of employment. They will be at work soon, however, as E. B. Williams engaged a small store across the street to get things in shape. He announced this morning to the host of employees, some of them girls in tears, that preparations are already under way to start up business for the holidays.
Loss Over Half Million
The J. D. Williams & Bros. Co. loss is about $230,000. Of this $120,000 is stock. The total insurance carried is about $205,000.
J. Scott Inglis stated this morning that he, too, would start as soon as he could get a new stock. His loss is $125,000, partially covered by insurance. To a Times reporter he said he was having difficulty in finding a place.
Foote & Shear sustained a loss in stock of about $75,000 on which a heavy insurance is held.
The Carter & Kennedy building is a six story structure and valued at $75,000. The insurance is estimated at $45,000.
The damage to the Connell building is believed will reach $30,000.
The damage to offices of tenants is estimated at $2,250.
Damage was also done to neighboring roofs but the flames from sparks were extinguished almost as soon as they broke out and the loss in this direction is a matter of only a few hundred dollars.
The cellar of Connolly & Wallace is flooded with six inches of water [Connolly & Wallace ran an ad in this issue of the paper saying they were "untouched" except for the water in the basement] where it came through the walls of the burning buildings. A considerable stock is kept in the basement, but Mr. Connolly stated this morning that until the water was out it could not be determined what they have suffered.
The total loss so far estimated covers everything except Connolly & Wallace, and approximates $537,250. The insurance foots up about $270,000.
It was exactly two minutes after midnight when the fire was discovered. Philip Klein, of Klein Bros., the restaurateurs, at the corner of Duping court and Spruce street, was closing the place for the night when he smelled smoke. He looked down the alley and saw that there was a fire. Hastily running into the baker of Williams Bros. in the rear, he notified the baker on duty and together they made an investigation. Smoke was coming out of the cellar of Foote & Shear's. Rushing down the alley they stumbled onto Patrolman Thomas Gemmel, who also saw the smoke and was looking for the fire, and breathlessly told him the block was afire. Gemmel turned in an alarm at once from box 231, at the corner of Wyoming avenue and Spruce street and then telephoned to police headquarters, Lieutenant Palmer took a squad to the scene. Later more police and ropes were sent from headquarters and very available man was put on duty keeping the crowd back. In this direction the cops did great work.
Had Narrow Escapes
There was no disorder and the firemen went to work unhampered. As soon as Superintendent Ferber got to the fire he directed a chemical line to the top of the rear of the Foote & Shear building. Assistant Superintendent Storms and Link Tillman scrambled up the fire escapes, but a moment later it was discovered that the whole interior was already a mass of fire. A big hose was then ordered turned on. Sims and Shea of the Hook and Ladder, were up against the building with the hose in a jiffy, while Chief Storms and Tillman were being forced from their post on the fire escape by the heat, when suddenly there was a terrific roar and a blast of scorching flame blew up through the building and out the windows. Sims and Shea were hurled to the ground and rolled across the alley up against an opposite wall, while the hose twisted and rolled on the ground like a serpent.
Meanwhile a general alarm was sent in by Chief Ferber and the entire fire department responded. Those who answered the first alarm were battling valiantly against overwhelming odds until they were reinforced. The paints and varnishes and other inflammable material in the Foote & Shear building burned like fury and in a remarkably short time the roof went in.
Broke Through Wall
Only a terra cotta wall divided the building from the half occupied J. Scott Inglis. This was eaten up like laths and allowed the fire to move towards the Connell building. Soon the heavily stocked floors of furniture in the J. Scott Inglis side, were alive with fire from the first floor to the top. Floors fell with crashes that sent myriads of sparks and burning wood high in the air, when the wind carried it for blocks away. Other dropped on surrounding buildings and placed the whole block in danger for a time.
Walls Topple Over
The Williams building had been practically untouched until then. Firemen were put on the roof of the Connell building and tons of water were poured into the burning buildings. The regular department was assisted by the Independent Hose company, of Dunmore, which of its own accord, brought its apparatus all the way into the city and volunteered their services to Chief Ferber. It was gladly accepted. Every man was needed; some to relive the men who were exhausted and smothered by the dense smoke, and had to be order out into the air. Good work was especially done when the flames crept around the rear of the big Connell building, into the areaway and into some of the offices. One of the most desperate fights was made on the sixth, seventh and eighth floors, principally the two top floors, all unknown to the thousands of spectators that left their couches to see the fire.
At 1 o'clock the walls of the Foote & Shear building fell, just as the firemen dreaded, on to the roof of the Williams building, which was three stories lower than the Foote & Shear building. The heavy brick walls on the south brought with it tons and tons of iron, planks and bricks. It all crashed through the Williams building and piled up in the northeast corner. Had it not been for this the Williams building would have been saved as the firemen were doing great work, but with the falling of the walls the flames spread to the rear and the bakery and storehouse containing sugar and other inflammable stuff caught fire.
Horses Taken Out
Liverymen took their horses and vehicles out and lined them along Spruce street, early in the progress of the fire.
Once when the firemen got working with their combined streams it looked as though the fire in the rear was under control, but it was only laying low as it were, for without warning a burst of flame, that curled and twisted itself into fantastic and weird shapes on the sky above, shot high in the air. The wood work crackled and sparks swept through the air onto the crowd below as if from a volcano. The cops pushed the crowd that jammed the street back out of danger and the firemen went to work with renewed energy.
The pile of debris, twisted iron and burning timber, in the corner on the first floor of the Williams building, where the wall had crashed through, blazed up with increasing fury, while the rear fire kept creeping up towards the front, along the south end of the store. It was only burning the roof in the front of the building and strenuous efforts were made to nip it, but it was only a matter of half an hour when the blaze came through the first floor and up through the roof went flames that circled a hundred feet in the air.
Fighting the Flames
Three brave fellows stood on the wall silhouetted against a
of fire with a hose. There was no room for more, and with the dense
blinding and choking them, they fought desperately to keep back the
One relieved the other as the smoke become thicker. The crowd watched
bated breath as the flames crept nearer and the men edged back. How
stood it is beyond conception, but they held their ground for an hour,
not moving as much as a foot. Below them the first and second floors
a red, angry mass, eating up like a hungry monster the frail toys and
in the store. When it seemed as though the flame would leap the wall
spread to the places on Lackawanna avenue whose rear faced the burning
Williams building, a white-coated figure, followed by half a dozen men
in wet black coats and dripping red helmets made its appearance. It was
Storms at the head of his men with a mighty stream. Crash into a window
went the water, up went a whirl of flame and smoke greater than before,
as if in mockery. So it kept on, Storms on the side and Ferber around
fighting the fire on the first floor, going right inside with the
leaping all around.
|An hour and a half it kept up, the
ceaseless battling with
the raging fire, every man doing his utmost and more than nature ever
him to do, all this without exaggeration, for never in the history of
fire department did men fight more grandly. They went right into the
pile and with hooks tore down hundreds of feet of sheet metal ceiling
prevented them from getting at the burning roof from the street with
streams. The crowd watched all with a peculiar silence. Now it looked
though the fire was subdued and under control when it would only
with greater strength in another part. Several times, too, the firemen
in the street were forced to go back to the Foote & Shear
and the force up in the Connell building were called upon to keep back
the flames a they swept up whenever a roof or part of a wall would
It was a spectacular sight and the heavens were lit for miles around.
Director of Public Safety F. L. Wormser and Superintendent of the Bureau of Buildings F. L. Brown were on the scene early and helped direct the work of the firemen.
Finally at four o'clock the fire was under control and Chief Ferber began sending some of the fire companies home. Not until then did Director Wormser leave the scene. Chief Ferber and assistant, Superintendent Storms, stayed on duty all night and were on duty this morning. Hot coffee was served to the firemen.
Foote & Shear Hardware Store. "This fire was still burning on Dec. 11th. A new six story building will soon be erected."
James Connell told Chief Ferber during the fire to let his men have all the coffee and sandwiches they wanted at his expense.
Once when the fire was extremely hot William Reilly of Hose 5 was blinded by the heat, and on the verge of staggering into a dangerous part of the building when the quick eye of Chief Ferber caught him. "Come out of their Reilly," he ordered. "Take him down to Thompson's Hospital," to another, and Reilly was taken down to the hospital to have his eyes fixed up. He came back later and went to work again.
Upon the eighth floor of the Connell building the flames did $800 worth of damage to the Fire Insurance Underwriters offices; $400 damage to the office of the International Salt company; on the seventh floor Attorney Jos. F. Gilroy suffered $100 in damages, the Board of Control $800. Secretary Fellows' books and papers in his desk were soaked with water. Other property ? was damaged by the same force. G. N. Edson, the architect, reported damage of about $50, and W. S. McMillan 200 to optical instruments.
All the awnings in the areaway and in the rear of the building and the window casings were burned.
During the fire Chief Ferber kept a couple of hose carts in the west end and in the upper end of the city in case of emergency.
Poor Fire Wall
Building Superintendent Brown was on the ground this morning again with Director of Public Works Charles Acker. With Superintendent Ferber they made an examination of the burned buildings. Chief Ferber stated that had it not been for the fact that the "wall" between the Foote & Shear building and the J. Scott Inglis building was only terra cota and practically nothing more than a thin partition the fire would not have touched the Inglis store. Superintendent Brown also spoke of the poor partition.
Insurance underwriters and experts who inspected the burned buildings this morning were loud in their praise of the manner in which the fire was handled. The burned area is in what the insurance trust termed the "conflagration district" some time ago, and it was the opinion of local insurance men that the fire here would give their to have the rates reduced a black eye. But they were more than pleased at the way the fire was kept from going down Lackawanna avenue.
Clouds of Steam
The heavy iron girders in the Williams building stood a severe test. It is believed there will be some salvage in the building when the smouldering in the ruins is extinguished. Big clouds of steam and smoke are arising from the blackened and charred mass and only the walls of the Carter and Kennedy building are standing. They will probably have to come down. The work of saving what is left in the front of the Williams building is already under way. With an inspiring courage despite their great loss, E. B. Williams said this morning: "It is a great blow, but we will be in the ring for the holidays. We are getting ready to resume business now."
The Commonwealth building, down on the corner, nearly a block away, was in danger. Fire was discovered in the headhouse, over the elevator shaft and was making headway when it was attacked and put out.
Megargee's paper warehouse, directly in the rear of the burning building was in the danger zone and a large quantity of paper was damaged by water.
The Scranton Times, November 16, 1906.
As soon as the walls of the Carter & Kennedy building are torn down and the insurance adjusters finish their work the owners will ... contract for the construction of a handsome new building on the same site. It will be no smaller than the one destroyed and will likely be much taller, to conform with the proposed new Williams building and the Connell building on either side.
When seen by a Times reporter this morning Mr. Kennedy said that he and Mr. Carter would consult with the Foote & Shear company and J. Scott Inglis, their former tenants, before starting work on their new building with a view toward following out their suggestions in case they care to renew their leases.
These firms will be given first call on the stores, which will rank among the largest and finest in the city and it is likely that the whold building will be occupied by them as formerly. No plans have been maded for office rooms or the upper floors. [For a larger version of the first postcard shown above, click here.]
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