The History of Taylor County Chapter One Hundred-Fifty-Seven

The Great Fire (continued)

The tall Shaw building like a huge torch flaming from top to bottom reached across Ethel Street and fastened on the newly reconditioned and refurnished Central Hotel, that had just been opened hardly six months and the old brick hostelry erected by Moses Robinett, a third of a century before and in 1856 became the property of Granville E. Jarvis and whose old walls sheltered his family or many years and become celebrated as the girlhood home of his daughter, Miss Anna, of worldwide fame as the founder of Mother’s Day.  The building was soon reduced to a heap of ruins, entailing a fearful loss to Colonel Thomas J. McAvey and his sister, Miss Ellen, who spent considerable money in conditioning the hotel for entertainment of the public.

Then it seized the old Mishael Boland home adjoining and it, too, fell a smoking ruin and the heat set ablaze the lodging house of James Jennings and it went the way.  By an unaccountable freakish quirk, the fire left the old Poswell Tavern that housed Grafton’s first post office, the hotel of Thomas McGraw and the little frame building at Burns Alley in which Mr. McGraw established the first store in the town on May 1, 1852 intact, the only building left standing in the square between Ethel Street and Burns Alley. 

Roes were placed around the bakery of John A. McCabe and tied to Engine 91 and dragged from its foundation in a desperate effort to stop the fire on Railroad Street but the heat from the Central Hotel set the drug store of William H. Goley afire, which spread to the restaurant and lodging house of Frank A. Warthen adjoining and on to the building of S.P. Kimmel next door.  Then the flames wrapped themselves around the old Harry Guseman’s jewelry store and the frame building on the east that contained the shoe repair shop of Michael Baker and the junk shop of Daniel Bareness.  Next it fastened itself on the old Mechanics Hall, owned by William D. Swaim, and wiped it out of its path to lick up the little confectionary of Mrs. Sophia Doll and the shoe repair shop of Edgar Doll, her son, then to the old building at the foot of Brinkman Alley that housed the tin shop William D. Ray and when the old Ray shop fell a smoldering heap of ashes and the fire left the home of Ben F. Vance across the alley intact, what a grateful sigh went up when the weary and exhausted drawers and carriers of water realized the fire was stopped and the rest of the town was safe. 

But what a spectacle greeted the eye on looking down the length of old Latrobe Street to see nothing left except a few naked chimneys, standing where just a few hours before were busy markets of trade.  The scene of this terrible conflagration at its height could not be described and had it not been for the fearful loss it entailed and the distress of those who witnessed their life savings swept away, the spectacle would have been sublime.  As far as the eye could carry, the heavens were alight with the lurid glare of those 33 buildings all afire at the same time, while myriads of burning embers and glowing sparks shot up and across the scene like shooting stars that brought it to the mind the Brockan scene from the stage production of “Faust”.

When Mayor Lewis Haymond realized the pitiful impotence of the people fight a fire of this magnitude, he hurried to the old Baltimore and Ohio station and wire a frantic appeal to the mayor of Wheeling, saying “To Mayor Seabright; A fire is now in progress at Grafton that we are powerless to fight.  Please send one or two fir engines and men as soon as possible.  Bring to B. and O. depot and will arrange for transportation.”

And from the neighboring city, which of all others had cause to cherish a kind remembrance of the generous hearted men of Grafton who had spent untold wealth among the Wheeling firms, came this answer to our despairing people, “Lewis Haymond Mayor of Grafton, The Board refuses to send engines.  I did all I could.  C.W. Seabright”. 

Superintendent Charles Dunlap of Baltimore and Ohio at Grafton had wired Wheeling to have an engine and cars ready and placed to rush the fire fighters and fir engines to Grafton and Milton B. Stover, driver of Engine No. 40 was in readiness to make the fastest run ever perhaps in the Wheeling division, but the disappointing telegram of Mayor Seabright robbed driver Stover of this honor.

Fortunately, not a single causality occurred during this time of excitement and had some narrow escapes in saving family, records and heirlooms. When the fire came close to Fox Hall the people came to George Brinkman, Sr., owner of the building, asked his permission to drag this old building from its foundation so that the spread of the flames might be halted.  He readily agreed and ropes were placed around the structure and connected to a shifting engine in the railroad yards in the rear of the building.  Signaled to go ahead, the driver started his engine and tightened ropes snapped like thread.  Chains were then procured and drawn about the building and again the driver was signaled to go ahead and the links of the heavy chain parted without the least movement to start the building from its foundation and when the fire had stripped the weather boarding from the frame it was clear to see why it could not be moved, the sills joist and uprights used in the building were hand hewn out of trees cut on the lot now occupied by the Blen Avon Hotel and morticed at the corners so strongly it was immovable and the people were forced to stand by and see it burn.

Fortunately, Mr. Brinkman some years before had the roof covered with metal that in a measure prevented the flames from reaching high in the air which was a great aid to the men stationed on the roof and behind the iron stutters in preventing the fire from entering the building and thereby saving the rest of the town. 

Despairingly, Mayor Haymond wired the mayor of Parkersburg for aid fro his seemingly doomed town and the response was quickly answered when Mayor Camden wired a fire engine and crew would be sent to Grafton’s aid.  Superintendent Dunlap had a train of gondolas that had been used to carry water to stations along the line in extreme dry weather filled and place on the siding at the foot of Brinkman Alley in readiness for the arrival of the engine and fireman from Parkersburg.  The Baltimore and Ohio officials at Parkersburg had a flat car and coach in readiness for loading a fire engine and a crew of fireman who were Joseph Barrows, chief, C. Ahrendts, Bud Bradford, William Bryan, Charles Bryan, W.H. Crawford, William Davis, John Bryan, Frank Heidenricht, Peck Jenkins, A. Logan, Clay Neal, William Ogden, William James, C. Pedro, Gus Flaig, and William Bowers. 

The crew and fire engine was quickly loaded aboard the waiting cars and Engine No. 738 with Patrick Flannery on the driver’s side, John R. turner at the firebox, John Handley ready to couple the engine and Captain Edward Pickett waiting for a meet order against the New York-St. Louis Express, then known as Train No.3.  Captain Pickett gave the order for coupling and then waved the go-ahead signal.  The wheels of 738 began to turn and when the yard limit at Parkersburg was passed, driver Flannery opened wide his throttle and in all the history of Parkersburg Branch never was there a more thrilling or faster run than that made on Tuesday July 5, 1887, which covered in two hours, six minutes, on this line of 104 miles with its numerous curves, bridges and tunnels.  Had his locomotive been provided with a tank of sufficient capacity that did not require conditioning and had Train No.3 shunted into the siding at Clarksburg, it is safe to assume Mr. Flannery would have covered the distance in less than two hours. 

At any rate this remarkable run has never been equaled in the 82 years of operation on that part of the Baltimore & Ohio system.  One wonders what Mr. Flannery’s reactions were when his train came over the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge and he saw what took slow years of hard labor to accumulate the money to purchase the old hotel building and see the fruits of this toll a smoking mass of crumbling brick and debris. 

He drove his engine down to the crossover and backed the flat car holding the fire engine up to the water filled gondola.  A hose was quickly dropped into the water, the pumper started and water thrown on the hot walls on the east side of the Brinkman building in great streams to prevent any outbreak in this structure that with the superhuman efforts of the citizens stopped the fire from destroying the rest of the town.