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Nashville, Illinois
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Fire: The Dread of Our Ancestors
By Wanda Groennert

Article furnished by Jo House
Shown here with permission of Wanda Groennert

      Fires, during the times of our ancestors, were devastating. In the earliest times, manpower, a bucket brigade and a good source of water was the only way to fight a fire. People would line up close enough to each other to pass a bucket from one to another, from the water hole to the fire. Through the years many improvements were made in the equipment to bug fire trucks that we now have.
      Nashville's main business district was devastated by fire three different times. On January 21, 1883, a fire started by an arsonist burned the business district from the corner of the Eagle Bank east to the Franklin Jewelry Store. The courthouse was also set afire at the same time, destroying a number of records, causing a ten year gap in our history from 1836 to 1846.
      On February 6, 1904, another fire destroyed the block on West St. Louis Street, extending west from the corner of the Farmers and Merchants Bank to the Family Medical Center and south to where the Post Office now stands. (St. Louis Street west and south on Kaskaskia to Adams Street).
      Twenty-nine years to the day from the 1883 fire (January 21, 1912), another fire struck the business district destroying what today is Williamson Hardware, Beatty Economy Store, Montgomery Ward Store, and partially damaged the Meyer building (Franklin's Jewelry).
Courthouse and Part of the
Business District Destroyed
      On January 21, 1883, the people of Nashville were startled by the cry "fire" about midnight. The day had been one of the coldest of the year with a steady northwest wind. The fire was discovered by Mr. Weinman, who with some others had been at Kaufman's saloon to get some oysters. About midnight Mr. Weinman started out the door of the saloon and saw flames bursting out of Mr. Tatman's office and at once gave out the alarm. Louis Neuhaus kicked in the door at Meyer Brothers and they in turn woke up Mrs. Seawell in the rooms above. All of the people in the Holston and Sewell buildings got out in time to see the flames reach Mrs. Seawell's portico. Dense smoke filled the rooms quickly and the occupants barely had time to put on clothes and get out in time to save their lives.
      The large brick building of Mr. Holston's was so well secured with iron doors and shutters that they were secure for a time, but the intense heat soon bent the hinges on the shutters and flames crept in, and in a few minutes the building was on fire. The light frame house east of Holstons was soon licked up by flames and it seemed that all east of that building would go. It became a question of whether the brick walls of Mason and Jones drug store could hold the fire.
      the fire was contained, but before it ended and nearly an hour into the fighting of the fire another cry went out that the courthouse was on fire. The crowd scattered and helped to get records out of the courthouse. the fire there originated on the second floor and there was time to get almost everything out. There was no chance at all to save the courthouse due to the high winds. The Meyer-Akins began to smolder also.
      To fight the fire the buckets from the pump were handed along and taken up ladders to the awnings and then into the buildings. The fire on the south side of Main Street finally burned out, the roof of the courthouse caved in and the fire was finally controlled at 3:00 a. m.
      The following is a list of what burned:
Corner brick owned by M. M. Goodner; grocery store of Jack Marlin in the same building; saloon of Mr. Ragland in the basement; office of Charles Rose; office of G. W. Cone; tailorshop of Henry Steinman; property of Mason and Wagner; Brick building and drug store of J. C. Brown; abstract books of C. H. Tatman; D. Hays law office; Dr. Westermann dental office; Mrs. Margaret Sewell's building and household; grocery and dry goods of Meyer Bros.; W. L. Troutt drug store; Chris Keyler, Jr.; Clark and Volz store and tin shop; Prof. Kuershner's household furniture; Henry Holston brick house and the frame next to Sewell; H. W. Brethauer-Ajar store; frame building east of Holston's owned by T. B. Needles; John Marlin clothing store; Chris Bredemeier's butcher shop; John Seyler household furniture; Thos. Knoblock building had considerable damage; drug store of Joshua Mason; Masonic Lodge; grocery store of Scott and Mitchell; Back's store, the bank was all damaged; Garvin's store on the opposite side of the street; and all occupants of the Oddfellow building had some damage.
      The prevailing opinion is that the fire was the work of an incendiary. It was thought someone poured coal oil on the floor and set it afire. When the fire at the courthouse was discovered, it spread rapidly on the floor, as if there was coal oil there, also. some petty stealing went on, but it was thought that no one in Nashville would be depraved enough to set fire for that reason.
      As an added note of interest, the paper also stated before the fire was hardly out when Okawville decided they wanted the new courthouse built there. They would put up $20,000.00 and the ground if the board would assure them that the people could vote on the issue in April. Nothing came of this proposal and the new courthouse went up in 1884 on the main street of Nashville where it had stood since it was moved from Covington.
Fire of 1904
      One of the most destructive fires to ever hit main street occurred on February 6, 1904.
      The fire originated in the frame row known as the old bank corner, opposite the post office. The fire originated under a stairway in one of these buildings. It spread rapidly even before firemen had a chance to set up the machinery. The fire wall and row of buildings south of the corner caused the fire to spread south, consuming the Wagelhals Furniture store and warehouse. Within a half hour this entire row was a pile of ashes. High winds swept the flames into the rear of the Adloph Knobeloch brick building and within a short time it was a pile of ruins. Not until the flames consumed the city hotel where there any signs that the fire could be stopped. The fire had an estimated loss of $40,000.00 to the following people: D. E. Wagenhals, building and stock, total loss; W. L. Troutt, owner of the old bank corner frame, total loss; Miss Ida Scheurer, total loss of millinery; Miss Lissie Proutt, stationery and news store, total loss; Bonner and Co., bakery and confectionery, total loss; Brockman and Hohman, boot and shoe store, total loss; Chas. Buhrman, grocery stock, total loss; P. E. Hosmer, warehouse south of Wagenhals, total loss; Adolph Knobeloch, brick building, total loss; City Hotel owned by D. M. McClay, total loss; Miss Anna Voelkel, partial loss of furniture; Dr. Liebrock and Dr. Goodner suffered losses in the Knobeloch Building; T. S. Lecompt lost all his goods and clothing; Harry Sternberg, barber, lost some goods but saved his furniture.
      High winds carried burning embers over the Camp Spring Mill. Heat scorched the post office and broke every window on the west side of the bank. Falling sparks set fire to the Vernor residence west of the courthouse, the jail, M. Broeckmans barn and a building on Judge Akins lot, but all were put out before too much damage occurred.
      There was no doubt that the fireman had earned their pay for putting out this fire. all of main street could have fell to the high winds and burning embers.
Fireman, Nashville, IL.
Photograph courtesy of Harrl Beatty Photograph Collection
Fire of 1912
      Sunday, January 21, 1912, was a devastating day for a portion of the east business district. The fire originated in the Adloph Knobeloch building at 2:30 a. m.
      Miss Anna Voelkel, who had living quarters on the second floor, was awakened from a restless sleep, when burning embers fell beside her bed. she quickly threw a comfort around herself, ran out on the front porch and over to the east side of the building to alert Mr. and Mrs. George Nolte. The Noltes dressed and ran over to the engine house and turned in the alarm. Meanwhile, Miss Voelkel, after getting dressed, ran back into the Nolte apartment and rescued three year old Elda Nolte, whom the parents left sleeping and apparently forgot in all the excitement.
      The volunteer fire department responded quickly. they quickly set up four water hoses, one from the front, one from the back, one from the roof of the Hohman-Gewe Hardware Co. building and the other was played on the holes cut in the fire wall.
      After two hours of fighting the fire it was thought to be confined to the Knobeloch building, but it was not to be. Like Murphy's law -- if anything can go wrong, it will, and it did. The gasoline engine became hot and had to be turned off to allow it to cool. At the same time the big well in front of the engine house gave out and the steamer had to be moved to the large cellar on the corner of Main and Mill Street (commonly known as Beisers Corner). After the change was made, it was discovered the steam gauge did not work. The fire box had to be raked clean and the engine pulled back to the engine house to fill the boiler.
      A delay of over 30 minutes caused the fire to get out of control again, spreading to the K of P hall on the third floor and the H. A. Reither dry goods store on the first floor. Having only one hose playing water on the fire was like pouring water down a rat hole and the flames quickly spread to the Weihe-Hasemeier building. After nine hours of fighting and moving engines from well to well, the fire was finally quenched, but not before severely damaging the Theo. Meyer building in addition to other buildings lost.
      August Neuhaus, Jr., chief of the fire department badly sprained both ankles, when he slipped on the icy boards and fell 15 feet. Harry Eise, assistant fire chief, filled in ably for the injured fire chief. Will Paul and Sam Markham both sustained sprained ankles. Henry L. Krughoff broke a finger and severely lacerated another when he hurriedly cranked the gasoline engine and got his hand caught in the spokes of the shaft wheel.
      Anna Voelkel, a seamstress, lost valuable dresses and material, not only to this fire, but was wiped out in the fire of 1904.
      Citizens of Nashville helped the store owners carry out what they could and most of them were able to set up for business in temporary quarters within a few days. One family "missed" two rugs and asked the finder to kindly return them.
      The Monday morning trains brought in eighty people from Ashley and Beaucoup and as many from the west, due to an exaggerated report the the First National Bank had been consumed by fire.
      Word of the fire spread out over the country phones and brought many sightseers to town. Nashville lost two of its three story buildings, in this fire, leaving only the H. C. Buhrman building on West Main Street.
      The fire of 1912 proved to be the last major fire for the business district until a gas explosion ripped open and destroyed several businesses in 1952.
      The destroyed buildings were occupied as follows: Henry Reither dry goods and clothing; Steve Kwiatkowski, saloon on the first floor; Miss Anna Voelkel and George Nolte's occupied the second floor; the K. of P., I.O.O.F. Modern Woodmen, Tribe of Ben Hur, G.A.R., Rebekahs, and Royal Neighbors all occupied the third floor in the Knobeloch Building. Occupants of the Weihe-Hasemeier Building were: S. H. Hasemeier, groceries, Henry Paul, hardware, on the first floor; Mrs. Thomas Gorman occupied the second and the third as hotel.
      Others who had losses due to the fire were as follows: Theo. Meyer, damaged building; Harry Gewe, lost some jewelry; Jesse Eisenhauser lost some household goods; and the Nashville Electric Company lost $1,000.00 worth of equipment that was stored in the basement.
History of the Destroyed Buildings
      The Knobeloch building was erected in the year 1867, shortly after the Civil War, by Dr. J. H. Means, Dr. W. D. Carter and George Anderson at a cost of $13,000.00. The lots were purchased from Livesay Carter, father of Dr. Carter. Before the new building was built a one story and a two story frame home stood there. David Jenkins, Amos Burnett and John Hook did the carpenter work, Phillip Wolf the stone mason work and Robert Guthrie and Drury Blair were the bricklayers. this building was almost destroyed shortly before it was completed. During the dinner hour, a workman lit up his pipe and threw his match in a pile of wood shavings. The blaze was put out after a hard fight. This same building, with its high "fire wall" checked the big fire of 1883.
      The Weihe-Hasemeier building was built at the same time by Ernest Keller. Mr. Keller purchased the property from David Lang for $2,800.00. This property also had a two story frame house sitting on the premises. Cost of the building was about the same as the Knobeloch building as they were similar in construction. The brickwork was done by Christ Wiese and his son Christ. James Gordon was the brickmason and Phillip Wolf built the rock foundation. the rock for both buildings was quarried by Nicholas Walker. Mr. Keller sold his building to John Huegley Sr. in 1874 for $11,000.00, after conducting a butcher shop for a number of years. Mr. Huegley later transferred ownership to his two sons-in-law, W. O. Weihe and S. H. Hasemeier.
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Building Boom In
Nashville -- 1883
      Nashville had an epidemic in growth and building in 1883. Buildings and homes were built at an estimated total cost of around $150,000.00. 1884 held the promise of doing about the same amount of business with the building of the courthouse, the new Presbyterian church and some very nice homes in the west part of town. Many new projects were undertaken to induce manufacturing establishments to locate here.
      In the hopes that some of these places are still standing and in an effort to locate them and date them as being over 100 years old the list follows with estimated values. If anyone thinks they own one of these places please let the Historical Society know.
North of Main Street
Henry Reither, frame house, $3,000.00.
Simon Weiss, frame house, $1,000.00.
Wm. Martin, frame house, $600.00.
Robert Finley, frame house, $600.00.
W. O. Lively, frame house, $600.00.
S. L. Carson, frame house, $600.00.
Will Scheurer, 2 story frame, $1,000.00.
James Adams, 2 story frame, $2,000.00.
P. Froelich, 2 story frame, $2,000.00.
P. Schemiull, 1 story frame, $600.00.
H. Burton, 1 story frame, $700.00.
John Huegley, Cooper shop, $1,000.00.
John Huegely, Elevator, $4,000.00.
Chas. Akins, frame house, $200.00.
J. Lorenz, brick house, $4,000.00.
Hy. Altmansberger, brick shop, $2,000.00.
F. E. Leise, frame house, $800.00.
M. M. Goodner, brick store, $2,000.00.
Emil Schmidt, frame house, $700.00.
Sawyer-McCracken, warehouse, $2,000.00.
Eade & Seyler, Carpenter shop, $1,000.00.
G. Whittemore, frame house, $1,000.00.
F. Stricker, Carpenter shop, $500.00.
South of Main Street
L. Krughoff, brick business house, $12,000.00.
Mrs. M. Seawell, brick business house, $12,000.00.
H. Holston, brick business house, $14,000.00.
T. B. Needles, brick business house, $9,000.00.
Clark Brown, brick business house, $7,000.00.
M. M. Goodner, brick business house, $10,000.00.
H. F. Reuter, frame house, $3,000.00.
H. Sandmeyer, frame house, $1,000.00.
Wm. Wiese, brick house, $2,000.00.
Hy. Drumsick, brick house, $1,000.00.
A. J. Scott, frame house, $1,500.00.
M. E. Church, brick, $4,000.00.
Hy. Rohlfing, 2 story frame, $1,000.00.
C. Meyer, frame, $1,000.00.
Zack Means, frame house, $1,000.00.
Amos Watts, frame house, $1,000.00.

© 2014 Wayne Hinton

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