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The city fire of '93. -- Progress of the flames. --I ncidents. -- Dr. Dick dies. -- Telephone system introduced. -- The Spanish war. -- Our local volunteers. -- Off they go to meet the foe. -- Scene at the depot. -- Dewey's victory. -- Volunteers return disappointed. -- Methodist church burns. -- M. C. Keith dies. -- The story of his life. -- City schools; teachers and pupils.


      On the morning of April 7, 1893, a vast prairie fire, rushed by a fierce wind and entending from river to river was seen approaching the city from the west. Locomotive whistles shrieked an alarm and the fire bell rang to warn the citizens of coming danger.

     The fire brigade turned out, and people ran westward to fight fire and help to save property. People whose homes were in the path of the fast approaching wall of flames made hurried preparations to save property, and a few were more or less success-



ful. Charles Wyman by strenuous exertion succeeded in saving his dwelling house and barn, but pens, fences and hay burned. Wash Hinman, considering his home doomed, had much of his household goods conveyed to some ploughed ground. Despite the precaution, fire reached them, and they and all he possessed was consumed. The Freeman family had barely time to escape from their blazing home and lost everything. The McDonald ranch and everything combustable about it was consumed. Between this ranch and the western outskirts of the city was a space burned over by a previous fire which was considered sufficient to stay the progress of the flames.

     It would have been under favorable circumstances, but the fierce wind sent burning embers flying, and wafted the fire around it. Despite the almost superhuman efforts of citizens, fire got among the houses with astonishing rapidity and in brief space many were in flames; and blazing shingles wafted by the wind spread fire in very direction . Women and children fled in terror, while men scorched by heat, and well nigh blinded by smoke did what they could to save life and property.

      People whose home were in the path of the



fire, and no great distance from it, loaded their household goods on wagons in an endeavor to reach a place of safety but blazing shingles, in some instances fell among the goods and they burned so rapidly that there was scarcely time to unhitch the horses. Many people expecting their houses to burn, conveyed furniture and needful articles to supposed places of safety, but there were instances where the fire became freakish and instead of burning the house consume the articles removed.

      Numerous buggies and wagons were kept busy conveying women and children to the round house and places of safety, and the city being considered doomed, a train was held to help convey people out of town.

      Towards evening, the fire, much subdued, reached Locust street, having been checked near the Iddings property, and dividing, burned fiercely north and south of town, sweeping the Miller and Peniston additions, at the time sparsely built up, and eastward to the river, consuming barns, sheds, fences and sidewalks, yea, everything in its course. The bottling works were wiped out, and the creamery, in which some $8,000 had been invested was a total loss. Some



thirty-five houses were burned to the ground. Several people were rendered homeless and many lost all they possessed.

      Strange acts are sometimes performed by individuals when crazed by excitement. One man is said to have heroically dragged his cook stove out of the kitchen into the yard, and returning, he gathered up the breakfast dishes and threw them out the window.

      Another, in a frantic endeavor to save his house with water from a half inch hose gave up in despair, and falling upon his knees, prayed fervently that his property would be spared as it was all he had. The fire was getting hold, and the house was in a fair way of being burned down when the practical Joseph Weeks of the fire brigade happened along, and taking in the situation, yelled :"Get up, confound you, and take a hose." He did, and his home was saved.

      Ninety-four and ninety-five passed without any very important local event occurring, but on December 29, 1896, the community was startled by the announcement that death had claimed Dr. F. N. Dick, a pioneer citizen and one of the early resident physicians. He was popular in his profession, in social



and Masonic circles, and his familiar personality and pleasant manner are doubtless remembered by many.

      He was a native of North Carolina, and a graduate of the University of Virginia, and Washington college of Balitmore, Md., and came to North Platte in 1868. His drug store was at the corner of Sixth and Locust streets and served as office and dispensary, and in it he practiced medicine and ministered to the afflicted until death laid it icy hand upon him.

      In 1867, the North Platte Telephone company was started by G. T. Field and O. W. Sizemore, and a franchise was granted them by the city council to run lines in the streets and alleys.

      The first exchange was located in the rear of Sizemore's barber shop, and was started with some thirty-three subscribers.

      As the business grew, these quarters proved too small, and in 1900 the exchange was moved to the present location in the McDonald block on Dewey street.

      In 1903, Mr. Field bought Mr. Sizemore's interest, and the same year incorporated the North Platte Telephone company; and on June 1, 1907, sold



out to the present company; who have made the service highly efficient, and communication can be had with places near and far.

      When President McKinley called for 200,000 volunteers to help settle our little difficulty with Spain, April 21, 1898, the boys of North Platte were eager to enlist, and many joined Company E, second regiment, Nebraska Volunteer Infantry, organized in the city, November 21, 1893. Like Job's war horse, Company E sniffed the battle afar, and being anxious to go to the front, assembled at the Union Pacific depot on the morning of May 9th to go to Lincoln to be mustered into the United States service. A big crowd was there to see "the boys" off.

      Flags fluttered in the morning breeze on many buildings, a band played, and cheers rent the air, but a sad feature of the scene was the tearful faces of wives and sweethearts of volunteers who had come to say good-by to loved ones, not knowing but the parting might be forever.

      When the train pulled out, bells rang, locomotive whistles shrieked and cheer after cheer woke the the (sic) echoes, and a then popular Episcopal minister in exhileration threw his hat in the air, so joyous was



he that North Platte would be represented at the front. From Lincoln, Company E went to Chickamauga, and shortly thereafter were joined by some twenty recruits, enlisted at North Platte.

      Much to its disappointments, Company E never got to the front, for Spain, finding resistance useless, made overtures for peace, and on August 12, 1898, a protocol was signed by representatives of both nations providing for cessation of hostilities, and on October 24, Company E was mustered out, and the boys returned to their homes and occupations, not altogether without causalities, for John Krajicek, a private, died in the hospital. Harry Brown returned sick, and shortly thereafter died, and is buried in our cemetery. William D. Adamson came back on crutches being seriously wounded. It seems he was taking his blouse off a peg in a tent when a revolver dropped from a pocket of a comrade's garment, and exploding sent a bullet through the calf of his leg.

      Company E was wholly made up of men belonging to North Platte or its immediate vicinity, and if it did not find reputation at the cannon's mouth, and return covered with gore and glory, it



displayed a patriotic spirit, and a willingness to maintain the dignity of the United States.

      On May 2, 1898, Admiral Dewey's victory in the bay of Manila caused great rejoicing in North Platte. Flags fluttered from house tops, and the Union Pacific company's offices, workshops and hotel displayed Old Glory. Everybody wore a smile of satisfaction and wished in some way to honor the hero of the most brilliant navel battle in the world's history. The city council in a burst of patriotism, devised a cheap and efficient plan to do so, and announced that the principal street in town should no longer be called Spruce street, and so it came to pass; and Spruce street is known as Dewey street until this day.

      A noteworthy local event of 1899 was the death of M. C. Keith, an early pioneer resident, and the most financially successful man in the district. No figure was more familiar than his as he rode in his buggy through the city streets behind a team of spirited horses. Of a retiring disposition, he took no part in local affairs, yet, with keen business instinct he saw the future of North Platte and invested large-



ly in real estate and erected buildings in the city at a time when there was little encouragement to do so.

      Morell Case Keith was born at Silver Creek, New York, November 21, 1825, In early manhood he married Susan C. Smith of Smith's Mills, New York and shortly thereafter moved to Topeka, Kansas, where he conducted a hotel. From there he moved to Applegrove, Iowa, and engaged in the same business, but having an opportunity to try his fortune in another line, he went to St. Joseph, Missouri and secured freight contracts from the government, and for a number of years freighted between St. Joseph and Leavenworth, and also between Leavenworth and Denver when the route was infested by Indians, and beset with many danger. It is not exactly known when Mr. Keith relinquished freighting and came to Lincoln county, but it must have been about the time the scream of the locomotive whistle first broke the stillness of the prairie. It is known with certainty, however, that he early associated himself in the cattle business with Guy C. Barton, and that the firm of Keith and Barton had a statewide reputation.

      When civilization moved westward, homesteaders



gradually encroached upon the vast cattle ranges and several who had invested in cattle retired; Keith and Barton being among the number. Afterward, Mr. Keith did considerable contract grading on the Union Pacific railroad and associated with Mr. Barton, conducted the Union Pacific hotel for some time, being succeeded by David Cash. His ranch at Pawnee Springs east of town greatly interested him, and he derived much pleasure attending to it up to near the time of his death.

      Mr. Keith's wife died September 23, 1877, leaving a daughter named Mollie, a much esteemed young lady. Mr. Keith afterwards married Cassie Casey, a popular teacher in the city schools, who, after a brief married life, died February 3, 1884. Mollie Keith married the Hon. William Neville, and after a short yet happy married life, died March 1, 1884, leaving a baby boy who was named Morell Keith Neville who grew to manhood and inherited the Keith estate. The Hon. William Neville died April 5, 1909, and is buried in the Keith burying place in North Platte cemetery. M. C. Keith and his first and second wife lie side by side, and Mollie Keith and her husband repose at their feet.



      In 1899, serious rents appeared in the walls of the high school building that called for immediate attention, and the Board of Education requested an architect to make an examination and report. The result was, the building was pronounced unsafe, and, after due consideration, the board decided to have it replaced by a modern and more commodious structure, and that while the work of destruction and construction was going on, schools would be conducted in the court house and Unitarian halls. As already stated, the brick, or high school succeeded the log school house, and being comparatively new, its collapse could not be well accounted for.

      The at one time, much admired high school was speedily torn down, and before the year 1900 closed, it had become a memory; and on its site stood a school building worthy of the city, and equal to any in the state of Nebraska. It contains an auditorium, seven school rooms, five recitation rooms, offices for secretary and superintendent, toilet rooms, shower bath and athletic dressing rooms.

      Besides this well appointed school building, there are schools in the First, Second and Third wards. That in the First is a substantial four-room frame



building. The Washington school in the Second ward, and the Lincoln school in the Third ward (both built in 1909) are spacious two-stored buildings constructed of diamond brick and of the same architectural design. Each contains an auditorium, six school rooms, principal's office, library, toilet rooms, manual training and domestic science rooms.

      A board of six members have general oversight




and control of school affairs, and annually elect a city superintendent who is under their jurisdiction, and has immediate control of the system. Each school has a principal appointed by the board who is responsible to the superintendent for the regulation and government of the school under her charge.

      The district maintains eight grades, and it takes



nine years to complete them. Pupils starting at five years of age may graduate at eighteen by taking a grade each year. The graded schools teach all of the common branches and music.

      The high school is accredited to the State University, the State Normal schools, and the North Central association of Colleges and Universities. Graduates may enter the Freshman class of the State University without examination, and it is recognized by the State Department of Education as a normal training school, and receives a grant of $350 a year. A music supervisor gives instruction from the first grades to the twelfth.

      Including teachers, supervisors and administrators, there are thirty-one men and women connected with the schools who teach all or part of their time.

      The total enrollment numbers 1055 scholars, but this is under the average. It is gratifying that edution has kept pace with the growth of the city, and that from a beginning of a none room school, one teacher and eight scholars, such educational facilities have developed.

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