Monday, December 19, 2011

Fire Destroys Saloon, Bank, and Other Buildings in Grangeville [otd 12/19]

Early on the morning of Sunday, December 19, 1897, a major fire broke out in downtown Grangeville. The fire started in a two-story brewery/saloon. The account in the Idaho County Free Press noted that, “In a few minutes the entire building was a mass of flames.”
Historic Grangeville. City of Grangeville photo.

Although there was no wind, the roaring flames quickly spread to a photo-gallery on the west side and continued into the restaurant next door. The newspaper itself had offices in the nearby Camas Prairie Bank building, which caught fire from the “fierce heat” of the saloon fire. That structure soon became fully engulfed, and the heat and sparks began to threaten the Grange Hall, located across the street to the east.

Volunteers scrambled to form a bucket brigade to wet down the exposed wall. The Free Press said, “This, together with the melting snow upon the roof, proved sufficient to keep the flames from spreading east of Hall street.”

Finally, the bank building fell in upon itself and the flames subsided. Many of the fire crews rushed to the west, where the fire had momentarily stalled at the twenty-five foot wide vacant lot on that side of the restaurant.

A tailor’s shop occupied the spot beyond the lot. The Free Press report said, “Fortunately the latter is only a small box of a building, and speedily a corps of workers were astride its ridge pole spreading blankets and deluging them with water in the very face of the roaring furnace, and after thirty minutes of hot work the restaurant collapsed and the danger was over.”

The eighty-foot width of Main Street offered some protection to structures on the south side. However, sparks did ignite the fa├žade of the Palace Hotel as well as a nearby meat market. Fortunately the hotel owner, one W. F. Schmadeka, “had equipped his premises with a fire pump and 250 feet of rubber hose. A steady stream of water was kept playing on the entire front of the block.”
Grangeville businesses, ca 1897. Idaho State Historical Society.

The firehose work extinguished all the sparks and secondary fires, but the heat from the primary conflagration was so hot “it cracked the plate glass of Schmadeka’s new brick building and blistered the paint all along the front of this block.”

Considering the spectacular nature of the fire, business losses were relatively light. Although the bank was a total loss, employees did manage to save the books and records.

The Free Press saved it’s files, ledger, books, and an editor’s desk. They somehow replaced their presses and managed an issue, with the story of the fire, five days later.

The report declared that winter weather, including recent heavy snow, helped prevent a worse catastrophe: “But for the snow thus protecting the roofs, a dozen fires would have been started in as many different points and the entire town would have gone up in smoke.”
                                                                                 
References]: [Illust-North]
“Grangeville Fire,” Idaho Statesman (December 22, 1897).

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