Big Fire in Plano in May 1902
Published in the Kendall County Record,May 14 1902
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson
The most destructive fire that has occurred in Plano in over twenty years took place early Saturday morning. The fire swept away the livery stable and two residences owned by J. B. Robbins. One of the residences was occupied by Mr. Robbins and the other by W. H. R. Wallace an optician. The fire was first observed by William Bell at the powerhouse. He immediately sounded the four long whistles as a signal for a fire in the business district. The time was a few minutes before one a.m. The fire had burned through the roof of the livery stable before the firemen could get the hose in operation. The cottage on the corner was also in flames.
Mrs. Wallace and her little daughter were awakened only when the flames burst into the room where they were sleeping and the escaped only partially dressed. The greater part of their clothing and furniture was lost.
The streams of water were playing on the flames as soon as possible, but from some unaccountable reason the streams were very weak. By that time Mayor Steward was on the site and he directed that that the hose be kinked and the nozzles be taken off. It was discovered that they were both partially obstructed. One was obstructed by a piece of wood and the other by a corncob. These were removed and the streams were then tremendous, for by that time, the direct pressure of both pumps driven by both water wheels had been placed on the mains and cut off from the tank. By then the house occupied by Mr. Robbins was in flames, however, all of his goods had been removed.
The meat market of F. S. Erwin, the barber shop of G. W. VanKirk, and the grocery and restaurant of C. E. VanKirk were rapidly emptied and the contents taken across into the railroad park, as the buildings were already on fire. The Dirks block owned by Mrs. J. E. Turpin was also on fire. Since there was no hope of saving the Robbins property, Mayor Steward directed that both streams be turned on these buildings, the flames were promptly extinguished, and they were saved.
The building in the rear of the barbershop, owned by the Dewey estate, was by this time entirely destroyed. Henry Stahlle used it as a warehouse and contained about $500 worth of new farm machinery, all of which was burned. Seven horses in the livery stable, about twenty harnesses, ten buggies, and as many cutters were burned. Dr. F. H. Lord lost two horses, two buggies, four harnesses, all his whips and robes, a cutter, a case of surgical instruments, and his case of medicines, amounting in all to nearly $700 in value. None of which was insured. Miss Ada Jordan lost her horse and buggy in the livery. Mr. Wallace lost about $250 worth of furniture and clothing; C. M. VanKirk lost about $150 worth of goods stored in a small building in the rear of his store. Another small barn on the Shont's place, belonging to Mr. Robbins was also burned, but the contents were nearly all removed. The fire company did splendid work. Saving the buildings on Main Street was almost a miracle. The plate glass window in front of Sears' grocery across the street from the livery barn, and fully ninety feet from the livery barn, was cracked by the intense heat. A window of the Masonic anteroom was also broken by the heat, and the window sash and venetian blinds were somewhat charred. The windows on the north end of the Dirks block were protected by iron shutters, which became so hot when the livery barn was burning that they could not be touched. At on time, the rear end of the roof was blazing, but a well-directed shot from the hose stopped the flames. The oil-house in the rear of Stahlle's store was burned. Mrs. Turpin's coalhouse was badly damaged.
W. B. Powell had occupied the Livery barn for the past three years. Four of his horses, most of his buggies, cutters, robes, etc. were destroyed but his loss is nearly all covered by insurance. One of his teams, a recently purchased span of roans, was as good a team as he had. The other two horses were not so valuable. One of Dr. Lord's horses had been recently purchased and was a splendid black, worth at least $200. The other was old Jerry, which has carried the Doctor over so many thousands of miles during the past twelve years. It seems peculiarly sad that he should have met such a terrible end.
Our waterworks and water supply proved equal to the emergency. Both pumps and both waterwheels were in operation, producing a pressure of ninety pounds per square inch. The water in the well was scarcely lowered at all. We believe the city should have another hose cart and about one thousand feet of new hose.
It is said the Professor Freebern, who lives diagonally across the street from the corner burned, told his wife to put on her best clothes during the fire so that if their house was burned the garments could be saved. This may explain why that excellent lady was so elaborately clad while making herself useful to others on the night of the fire.