Fire in Yorkville in 1876
Published in the Kendall County Record, September 28, 1876
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson
George O. Howard's drugstore, the post office and J. H. Bridgen's store burned to the ground. Loss of about $6,000, insured for about one-half.
At about twelve o'clock Wednesday night a fire broke out in George O. Howard's drugstore. In two hour's time the drugstore, post office, and J. H. Bridgen's dry goods store were in ashes.
Mrs. J. H. Bridgens, who lived over the dry goods store, first discovered the fire. She raised the alarm, and Mr. D. D. Lowry of the Fox River House, was soon on the ground. He says when he got there the window glass and the handle on the door were so hot he could not keep his hands on them.
He immediately dispatched a messenger up to Mr. Howard's residence, and the alarm of fire was spread with the utmost possible speed.
Mr. Lowry did not think it advisable to open the door and let the air into the building, as he did not know where the valuable articles were kept, and he could not clear the store alone. It was but a few moments before Bridge Street was alive with persons with buckets and pails in hand, eager to do what was in their power to avert the calamity.
The fire seems to have started in the rear of Howard's drug store, and in the vicinity of the oils. It was under too much headway when the people got there for anything but a showcase to be saved. The post office was in this building, and it, with all the contents, was destroyed.
The flames soon caught on Bridgen's building. A large number of people immediately turned their attention to saving his goods. His merchandise was carried across the street into the room formerly occupied by Mrs. Logan, and nearly everything was saved. The family of Mr. Bridgens lived upstairs, but was unable to save any of their furniture, which was devoured by the flames. We believe their clothing and bedding were saved.
During this time, Morton & Johnson had not been idle. Their store, which is the brick store just south of Howard's had been emptied. Their stock of dry goods was moved across the street to Thompson's shop, the Record office, and Haigh Brother's store. John Fitzgerald moved the type and books out of the News office, which is in the same building.
Ira Lozier also moved all his furniture and goods out of the corner building across the street. If he had waited a while all his trouble would have been saved, but in the excitement of the moment it seemed as if the whole side of the street would burn.
The cornice on Morton & Johnson's store was soon discovered to be on fire. A ladder was procured, and a number of brave men were soon on top of the building. Water was drawn up by the aid of ropes and the fire soon put out. The cornice and roof of the building were considerably damaged, but will easily be repaired.
Fire was soon discovered in the roof and windows of Seely & Moore's brick drugstore. It seemed as thought that building must go too, but the people could not work too hard, and it was soon brought under control. However, the building was considerably damaged.
Dr. Grant's office was in the second story of Howard's store. All its contents were destroyed. The Doctor estimates his loss at about $200. It will be hard on him, as he was beginning to get together a fine library.
William Newton, the Village Clerk, had all the records and papers of the village in the drugstore and they were destroyed.
L. G. Bennett unfortunately left the seal of the Circuit Court in the drugstore over night. It is a total wreck.
The Kendall County Bible Depository, in the drugstore, was also destroyed.
The cause of the fire is unknown. Some seem to think it was a spontaneous combustion in the drugstore, while others think it was an incendiary. Billy Newton, Mr. Howard's clerk, says he thought he heard someone in Dr. Grant's office during the evening. He supposed it was the Doctor and took no notice of it, but it seems the Doctor was not in the office during the evening, and it might have been an incendiary.
There had not been any fire in the drugstore for a long time. It would have been impossible for it to be set on fire by carelessness.
The following is an estimate of the various losses so far as can be ascertained.
G. R. Lee, frame building worth $1400; insured for $800 in the Home, New York.
G. O. Howard, stock of drugs, valued at $2800; insured for $1000 in the Etna, Connecticut.
Dr. Grant, library and instruments, $200; no insurance.
J. H. Bridgens, frame building worth $1600; insured for $1000. His stock was mostly saved, but considerably damaged.
Morton & Johnson's stock was damaged to the amount of about $300, but is well insured.
Dr. Hopkins building is probably damaged to the amount of $150; no insurance.
Seely & Moore's damage to building is estimated at $800.
After The Fire
Thursday morning, a temporary post office was opened in the Record office. E. K. Green has started to build a new set of boxes for Mr. Howard, which will be ready in a few days. Thursday, the drugstore safe was pulled out of the debris and opened. The contents were found to be safe. There was a loaded revolver in the safe, which had not discharged.
The post office was moved to the Record office after the fire, and we find Messrs. Howard and Newton, most excellent companions. Mr. Howard has rented the store north of Willett's in Union Block, and will have the office there the last of this week.
He has met a severe loss by the fire. He had just got his stock arranged, and become acquainted with the people. He had made many friends and was prepared to do business well when the fire came. However, he has courage, and will soon be ready again to put up prescriptions. We understand he will get a new stock of goods immediately. Three showcases were saved from the fire, one large and two small cases. Billy Newton pulled up the largest of the cases from the counter where it was screwed down, and carried out alone, which was a feat of considerable strength. Mr. Howard has the sympathy and respect of all our people, and will command a good trade when he opens another store.
One man, who sleeps on Bridge Street, became so excited the night of the fire that he rushed downstairs and into the street clothed only in a bob tailed shirt. When he saw the crowd on the walk he gently climbed the stairs and arrayed himself in his nether garments.
The daughter of Mr. Mike Sullivan deserves special commendation for her efforts to arouse the people at the fire last week. She took a large dinner bell and went through Bristol village ringing it, and alarmed the hard sleepers in that burg. Miss Sullivan did a good work, and the businessmen on Bridge Street thank her.
Morton & Johnson have their goods back on the shelves, and business is going on as usual. It is said that Morton & Johnson lost about $350 worth of goods by removal at the fire. As none of their goods were burned, they must have been stolen.
There is a strong feeling among the people that the drug store was set on fire, and suspicion's finger is pointing at a supposed guilty party.
J. H. Bridgens has engaged the small building next door south of the Record office where he has removed his remaining goods. He will buy new additions and commence business at once. Jesse deserves the support of the public, as he has met with a heavy loss. He will re-build on the old site as soon as possible, and be better prepared for business than ever. W. F. Thompson has moved his tailoring shop to the room over Morton & Johnson's store, just vacated by Dr. Hopkins. Dr. Hopkins takes the small room on the southeast corner of the building. Mr. Thompson has been very kind in giving up his room to Mr. Bridgens.
Some of our Yorkville subscribers failed to get their papers last week by reason of the fire. They were put in the post office Wednesday afternoon and were burned.
Seely & Moore desire to return thanks to the gallant ladies, men and boys who so bravely fought the fire last Thursday morning and by their untiring exertions saved their building from the flames.
It is hoped that new and substantial buildings will be immediately put up, as they are much needed.