Iowa Liberal, May 29, 1878
About 7 1/2 o'clock Saturday morning smoke was seen issuing from one of the
northern windows of the Depot Hotel, and an alarm was sounded. An
investigation of the matter showed the hotel to be on fire, room No. 15
being in a blaze and the flames communicating with frightful rapidity to
other parts of the building. The fire apparatus belonging to the building
was brought into instant play, but the fire had gotten too much the start,
and the order to remove all valuables at once, was acted upon. In a very
short time the greater part of the furniture and fixtures of the hotel and
boarders was removed, and the attention of our firemen and others was
directed to saving adjoining property. Although there was little or no air
stirring at the time, the intense heat of the burning building placed
Greer's elevator, Cadwell's liyery stable, Loring's lumber sheds, Corkery's
livery stable, Little's coal office and sheds, and Gilbert's coal office in
great jeopardy, and but for the almost superhuman efforts of the Big Six
boys and those who were managing the stone force pumps, the destruction must
have been ten-fold greater than it was. The force pump in Cadwell's livery
stable with willing hands working it, kept that and surrounding buildings
well saturated with water, and a line of hose from the same kind of a pump
in Aleck Reichmann's store was ready in case of need at Greer's elevator.
Just here we wish to speak a word of praise to the workings of this pump; it
did heavy duty on Saturday, and every business man in the town should see to
it that his property is protected by such an easily obtained but invaluable
In less than an hour from the time the first alarm was given the building
fell, and Main street was opened. Of course it is impossible to give
positively the origin of the fire, but the most generally-accepted opinion
is that the occupant of room No. 15, who left on the St. Paul train, forgot
to blow out the light; that the lamp exploded at about 7 o'clock, setting
tire to the inflammables in the room; that a spark set fire to the cambric
ceiling of the room, and that from this the combustibles in the attic were
ignited; all this before the smoke had made known the presence of fire. This
supposition appears the more plausible from the fact that Mr. Emery the
proprietor of the hotel, went to the attic as soon as the alarm was given,
and found the flames and smoke so thick that he barely escaped with his
life. The building was old and dry and the fire had so muchthe start of the
fighters that nothing could be done to save the old land-mark. As a matter
of course many theories as to the cause of the fire have been indulged in.
Some persons declare that a man was seen jumping from the window of room 15
just previous to the alarm of fire; others say that the young men at the
hotel were experimenting with the Babcock extinguishers, building fires in
the room for the fun of putting them out, and that the flames got ahead of
them; still others state that the sparks from an engine set fire to the
roof; but all these theories lack foundation. The fire caught in the room
above named, and was not the result of carelessness on the part of any
person connected with the hotel. On Friday night thirty-five persons slept
in the depot hotel, and had the fire occurred three hours earlier than it
did the probabilities are that many lives would have been lost. As it was
everybody got out safely and boarders and guests were enabled to save nearly
all their property. Beside the loss sustained by Mr. Emery, the proprietor
of the hotel, that of the girls employed in the house was the most severe.
Their rooms were in the attic and all their clothing and other personal
effects were destroyed. When this fact became known, O. G. Norris and J . 0
. Welliver canvassed the village for aid for the girls and before nightfall
one hundred and eight dollars were secured; this gave each one of them about
twenty-one dollars, which greatly assisted them in purchasing now apparel.
All the goods safes, moneys etc., belonging to or in the charge of the
railroad company was saved, and in a short time after the fire Jerry Rudy
was selling tickets, and Coney transmitting telegrams from the old VanSickel
The building destroyed, known far and wide as the Depot Hotel, was erected
by the railroad company in the winter of 1869-70, the western portion of the
lower story being devoted to railroad business, while the balance was used
as a hotel. L.K. Bowman was the first landlord, he remaining as such until
April, 1876, when Mr. Emery took possession. As a hotel this establishment
has always borne an excellent reputation, and the traveling public will
greatly regret its disappearance.
The Illinois Central Depot Goes up in Flames.
While our citizens were enjoying their cup of coffee last Saturday morning,
the cry fire, the clanging of bells, and the tooting of steam whistles, cut
short their matitudinal meal and brought them into the streets. It was soon
discovered that the Illinois Central Depot was aflame, the lurid light
flashing through the windows of the second story, and smoke issuing from the
roof near the west end of the building. The work of removing the furniture
from the Hotel, a use to which the greater part of the building was put, and
the freight from the freight-room was soon effected, for from the inception
of the fire, there was not the slightest hope of saving the structure. As J.
M. Emery, who ran the hotel, stowed all his employees in the attic, the poor
hired girls, five in number, lost all their clothing with the exception of
what they had on. The Big 6 was promptly on the spot, and made heroic
efforts to prevent the fire's spreading to the neighboring elevators and
lumber yard, and after the most gallant conduct on their part, succeeded in
doing so. Mr. Emery's loss is comparatively light, and is understood to be
amply covered with insurance.
The sum of $108.75 was raised by the citizens and divided among the girls,
for which act of generosity they expressed the liveliest gratitude.
The fire is said to have originated from a lump left burning in room 15.
The room at once filled with flame, and in less than an hour the huge depot
was in ashes. The chief loss falls on the company, for though the building
was not the most elegant, it was roomy, and had cost a good deal of money.
The depot was built in 1870, and was among the very oldest buildings in
town. L. K. Bowman was installed as landlord for over five years. In the
early days, the large dining room was used as a public hall, through
Bowman's courtesy, and many a time had oft have the solemn appeals of the
pioneer minister made our worldly burghers quake. But oftener still has the
wicked fiddle inspired the chivalry and beauty of the Gateway to trip gaily
through cotillion and waltz. The Masonic brotherhood organized there, and so
did the Plymouth County Agricultural Society. In fact nearly all the
earlier meetings of our citizens were held there, and there was a warm spot
in our hearts for the old pile.
And yet the depot has always been a great eyesore to our people. It stood
right across Main street, obstructed the view and interfered with travel.
Less the sympathy for the losses sustained by the parties concerned,
everybody is heartily glad it is out of the way. Steps have been taken to
open up Main street by declaring that part of the right of-way, between the
north and south sections of the street, a public highway.
We do not know where the now depot will be built, but nothing could give
more satisfaction to our citizens than to have Union Depot at the junction
of the S. C, & St, P, and the Illinois Central. It can scarcely make any
difference to the company and it would add greatly to the convenience of
travellers and freighters to have the depot at the junction.
Jerry Rudy and his assistants succeeded in getting out everything from the
office, and their headquarters are now in the tool house, a little west of
the old depot.