Putnam County, Illinois History and Genealogy
Newspaper Articles
Fires and Other Disasters


Explosion of Steam Boat Nile
John Swaney School Burns

Taken From "The Courier" Newspaper, Henry, IL September 4, 1857

Explosion of the Steam Boat Nile at Hennepin
The engineer Killed and Several Wounded

We learn from the officers of FRED NOLTE, yesterday evening, that the steamboat Nile exploded her boilers at Hennepin on Wednesday afternoon, instantly killing Mr. HOBERT BACON, the engineer and dangerously wounding several other persons. The Nile was an old boat and used for towing barges exclusively. Mr. Bacon was formerly a citizen of this place and his untimely death will be a sad affliction to his numerous friends and relatives in this vicinity.


The train yesterday afternoon brought the remains of Mr. Bacon to this place. He lived only a few hours after the accident and died before he could be taken to La Salle. The funeral takes place today at 2 o’clock.

Taken From the Hennepin Tribune

September 4, 1857


The Steamer Nile burst her boiler on Wednesday afternoon last about 2 miles above town.  We have been unable to gleam any of the particulars as the Obvion came along and towed the wreck to La Salle before our citizens could reach the scene of the disaster. From two of the crew who came to town, we learn that there were 15 persons on board at the time of the explosion and that four were not injured, but that the remaining 11 were more or less seriously scalded. The chief engineer was so badly injured that his life was despaired of.

1883 Fire in Putnam IL

Henry Republican, Henry IL, May 24, 1883
During the day of yesterday a huge smoke was witnessed from the city in the direction of the village of Putnam. On investigation it proved to be the grain elevator and passenger depot of the C. R I. & P. at that point, both buildings being consumed. In the elevator was about 2000 bushels of grain belonging to the station agent and grain buyer, O. P. Carroll. Loss about $6000. No particulars as to insurance. The fire caught from the machinery and was first seen bursting from the roof. Further particulars will be given by our correspondent next week.

Henry Republican, Henry IL, May 31, 1883
On Wednesday of last week, just about noon, fire was discovered in the elevator. In a few minutes the entire building was a sheet of flames. The fire spread so rapidly and the heat was so intense that all efforts to save it were futile. In a short time the depot buildings were also devoured. Just when the fire was at its height the wind which had been from the east, changed and came from a southerly direction, which was indeed fortunate, for the entire village would have been reduced in a short time had it not been for this favorable event. We have seen fires and fire departments at work, but never before have we seen people unaccustomed to fire, fight and work so heroically to save property. The women and girls performed deeds that must have put some of the "lords of creation" to shame. Mr. Carroll expresses his thanks to the people for their timely assistance, and feels indeed grateful to them. The depot is a total loss to the R. R. Co., as they carry no insurance. The elevator and contents partially covered by insurance the loss is therefore nominal.

John Swaney School Burns

September 13, 1928

Mysterious Fires Ravage Swaney Edifices Sunday
Loss Estimated at $50, 000; Board of Directors contemplate Reconstruction

What was once the John Swaney Consolidated school building is now but a mass of ruins, fire of an unknown and mysterious nature destroying the building Sunday. The three-story structure, two miles south of McNabb, was razed to the ground when fire presumably started in the dormitory on the top floor sometime early Sunday aftenoon.

Plans for the reconstruction of the grade unit of the Swaney school which with the home of Superintendent G.E. Lowry was mysteriously destroyed by the fire, were begun by the board of directors Monday. The members of the school board can take no definite action in regard to rebuilding until an inspection is made. If an entirely new building must be constructed, the insurance on the old building will help materially toward paying for a new building, and there will no doubt be some salvage in brick and unburned timbers.

The work of an incendiary is hinted because of the strange cirumstances surrounding the blaze. It is also said that defective wiring in the building was the cause. A few minutes after the smoke was noticed coming out of the uper story windows of the school building, the home of Superintendent Lowry, half a mile away, was discovered to be blazing.

The Granville, Wenona and Henry fire trucks were rushed to the scene and all did excellent work, the latter succeeding in saving part of the residence with the water supply available. Lack of water in the adjoining wells, cisterns and creeks adjacent to the school building crippled the heroic efforts of the firemen and volunteers who swarmed from the countryside and surrounding towns when the alrm was sounded and the twenty-two year old structure is a mass of ruins, part of the walls standing, but the interior gutted by the flames, which had gained considerable headway when discovered.

The grade unit of the John Swaney school was erected in 1906 at an estimated cost of $50, 000. The home of Mr. Lowry was a modern residence and cost about $4,000. Insurance of $12,000 was carried on the school building, $3,600 on equipment and $2500 on the residence.

It was announced that clases will continue in the auditorium of the high school unit, and it is probable that some of the grade school students will be instructed in the old Grange building, near where the home of the superintenedent was burned. It is stated that although plans for reconstruction are already being made it is not probable that a new building will be erected immediately. Insurance adjusters were at once notified of the loss.

To date no definite explanation has been made for the simultaneous destruction of the two buildings. The defective wire theory has been somewhat eliminated, since it has been shown the fire started in the dormitory section of the school and where it is said the current had been turned off. Mr. and Mrs. Lowry were in Bloomington when the loss occurred, but their two children were home and at the scene. Much of the furnishings of the school and home were removed by those who gathered at the site of disaster.


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