Dixons Big Fire 1903

June 23, 1903 (Dixon Evening Telegraph) Reprinted in the 1951 Centennial Edition
One of the most disastrous fires Dixon has suffered in many years occurred this morning and nearly consumed the Opera House block. The roof was burned off and the second and third stories entirely consumed excepting the walls. The loss by fire and water will probably exceed $40,000. On the first floor were the post office; R.A. Rodesch's music store; D.F. Greenawalt, dry goods, clothing and shoes; Edmund Neville, hardware and jewelry. In the basement was P.Babcock's bowling alleys and part of D.F. Greenawalt's stock. No fire reached the first floor, but the water loss will be heavy.

The front part of the second floor was occupied by J.N. Sterling and A.C. Warner & Son with real estate and insurance offices. The front of the third floor was occupied as a lodge room with ante room. The lodges and societies having furniture, records and other property here were the Grand Army of the Republic; the Women's Relief Corps; the Sons of Veterans; Camp 56 adn Camp 841, Modern Woodmen of America; Camp 127, Royal Neighbors; Ancient Order of United Workmen. Nearly everything in the lodge rooms were consumed, including the piano belonging to the Relief Corps, and only a few of the lodges carried insurance. The G.A.R. will be the heaviest loser.

The fire had gained such a headway before being discovered that a second and third call for volunteers was rung from the fire bell and the entire volunteer department as well as a number of extras were put out. Galena avenue was soon crowded with people who for two hours watched the firemen fight the flames. From first appearnace and later investigation there is no doubt but what the fire started on the stage. It is a known fact that a gang of young fellows frequent the hall and dressing rooms and often sleep there. They have been driven out a number of times, but they have keys to the hall and make it their club house. Theya re of cigarette age and there is no question but what the fire was started by the carlessness of these youths.

The fire department was given a good test and proved its efficiency in fighting the fire. Special credit is due Chief Detrick, Assistant Chief Francis Coffey and ex-Chief Andy Graff, although the entire paid and volunteer department worked like heroes through the smoke and drenching water. The providential change of the wind from the west to north saved the Baptist church from catching fire and a probably fire loss. The fire was discovered about 6:15 a.m. by Mail Messenger, Earl R. Smith, who drove into the alley and up to the back of the building with the early mail from the depot.

On Thursday Aug. 13, 1903, The Evening Telegraph carried the report that "Mrs. E.M. Truman and daughter , Miss Eleanor J. Truman, have let the contract to rebuild the opera house to W.J. McAlpine who will proceed at once to remodel the building in accordance with the accepted plans. The work is to be completed in 90 days so that the hall will be open for engagements by the middle of November.

The interior of the second and third floor will be changed completely in arrangement. The stage will be on the east side. It will be 32 feet deep, twice the depth of the old stage, will be 62 feet wide and 50 feet high and will be fitted with modern scenery and appliances... The interior will be artistically decorated, finished off in hard wood and seated with opera chairs providing for 1,000 people. The opera house was reopened on November 16th wiht the military comic opera "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," presented by the Whitney Opera company.

Fire, which started from a pile of paper in the furnace room of the Dixon opera house block, owned by Mrs. Eleanor Starrin, at 12:20 this afternnon, crept rapidly between the walls and floor of the building and before 1 o'clock flames were leaping from the windows of the third floor and smoke was pouring from the cornices. Every bit of available equipment of the Dixon fire department was pressed into service, but at 1:30 the flames had n ot been gotten under control and the fire threatened to become the most serious in the history of Dixon since the destruction of the I.B. Countryman building directly across the street three years ago.

The building is occupied by Mrs. Celia Jones' undertaking rooms, the Kennedy Music company, C.A. Todd's hat store, Walter Cromwell's electrical shop, the Dixonian billiard parlors, Huggins shoe shining establishment, Dr. A.F. Moore's offices, the Socialists' hall and the Dixon opera house. The fire had its origin in the furnace room under the Kennedy Music store, into which it ws recently moved, and was first discovered by Mr. Kennedy and Miss Myrtle Rice, his cleer,.

Dense smoke settled over the business section of the city to the east and south of the building and the deadly gasses hampered the firemen in their efforts to combat the blaze. So rapidly did the fire spread that it was but a few minutes after 1 o'clock when the roof of the opera house building fell in, floor soon followed and at 1:15 the firemen were forced to abandon all efforts to save the opera house and to turn their attention to neighboring property.

Dixon Evening Telegraph 17 Feb 1920

A blackened stone wall - built, it is said, in the "seventies" - amd a pit filled with charred smoking and steamin debris, are today all that remains of te three story building known as the Dixon oper ahouse block, the home fo five business institutions, a physician, a shore shining parlor and the city's only "legitmate" playhouse. In less than three hours after Lee Rice, son of M.E. Rice, manager of the opera house, first detected the odor of smoke on the stage of the playhouse, where he was engaged in cleaning up preparatory to the advertised production of "The Visitor", the big building was a mass of burning ruins, heaped into the basement, and property valued at about $100,000 had been destroyed. The insurance will probably not exceed $75,000 or $80,000.

Dixon Evening Telegraph Feb. 18, 1920

Lee County Historical Society
"History of the Dixon Opera House"


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