Stanley fire among most damaging

This is how the east side of Stanley looked after a May 18, 1906 fire. More than 80 families were made homeless, but by nightfall nearly all had been taken in by obliging townspeople. The fire started in one of the barns at the Northwestern Lumber Company and was fanned by a brisk wind.

     It was like any other spring day in Stanley, Friday, May 18, 1906, except the wind was a little stronger than usual, coming out of the west by northwest and creating a breeze over the east side of the community.
     But within a few hours much of the physical appearance of Stanley would change. More than 80 families would be left homeless and a number of businesses destroyed by fire.
     Because fire came in the daytime, there were no deaths, although several persons were injured fighting the fire or escaping it.

Routine afternoon

     At 2 p.m. women were shopping, children were in school and crews were busy at the Northwestern Lumber Company mill, then one of the busiest in the area. The fine stand of white pine timber in a tract which ran from south to north, with Stanley about in the middle, was being logged. Stanley was also on the Wisconsin Central Railway.
     The mill, main employer in the community, was just east of what is now Chapman Park and part of the residential area extended to the east.
      When the first cry of "fire" came from horse barns at the mill, lumber company firefighters went into action.

Fire spread rapidly

     But by the time they arrived the building was not only engulfed in flames but adjoining buildings and sheds east of the mill were afire.
     The fire apparently had gotten such a start that when it burst from within the buildings flames were so high the brisk wind carried burning embers and sparks to the other buildings, all made of wood.
     Stanley volunteers and company crews no longer could control the fire in the mill yard and it spread from building to building.
     The editor of the "Stanley Republican," which was spared, wrote:
     "The firemen from the company and community directed streams of water to try to quench the Vesuvius, but in less than a quarter-hour, the freight building, warehouse and the grist mill 30 rods to the east were on fire and burning out of control."

Spread up hill to east

The Stanley water tower was scarred by the fire of May 18, 1906. Houses in background, however, were protected from the blaze which destroyed more than 75 buildings including some property of the Northwestern Lumber Co., where the fire started.

     Wind spread the fire from building to building and headed up the east knoll through the main residential area.
     Businesses destroyed were the J and N Olson Furniture Company, Christenson and Konsella Implement Warehouse, Long and Nass market and Northwestern Lumber Company store. United Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church and the public library were also destroyed.
     The water tower in the middle of the city park was charred and the trees were ruined. First damage estimates were $200,000.

80 families left homeless

     Seventy buildings housing 80 families were destroyed, along with smaller businesses, including the Peter Holleen Blacksmith Shop.
     School buildings were out of danger and students watched the blaze and smoke roll toward the east. They were let out of school and flocked to the scene, causing problems for fire fighters.
     For two or three days residents appeared dazed, discouraged and disheartened, but the "Republican" reported:
     "The folks in the city met the temporary needs of the people and provided housing in their homes, some were housed in the school buildings, some in vacant houses and others withdrew from the city to go with relatives, but the hardest hit were the families with little children."

Strengthen bonds of people

     "The fire will also have the effect of strengthening the bonds of fellowship among the people of Stanley, for the considered regard, self-sacrifice and generosity manifested by those who escaped loss cannot help but be gratifying to the people who lost their homes and in some instances all their belongings. From this a more beautiful and better Stanley will arise from the ashes of the old."
     During the fire word was sent to Eau Claire for assistance. A steamer and a quantity of hose were shipped immediately by rail, but by the time it arrived the damage had been done.
     Firemen patrolled the community during the night to make sure another fire did not erupt, for it was impossible to quench all the burning embers. Many ruins smoldered for several days.

Start to rebuild city

     Although some residents left the city following the fire, plans started almost immediately to rebuild. One announcement came from the Central Wisconsin Railroad which sent a letter to the mayor:
     "The Central Wisconsin Railroad sympathizes with the city in its loss. We will start erecting a new depot at once."
     Within a few weeks Northwestern Lumber Company et contract to rebuild its warehouse and store; other businesses followed suit.
     Northwestern Brick Co. hired new workers, and its business started to boom.
     One item in the fire account read:
     "D. R. Moon brought the Northwest officials from Eau Claire in his automobile in a record one hour and 35 minutes."
     And another read:
     "The fellow who wielded the nozzle on the northside of the Shultz Building was entitled to a place on the tablets of fame."

Black River Falls fire

     Other towns were threatened by fires before and after the run of the century, including Black River Falls on Sunday morning, March 18, 1860, when the district was destroyed with the exception of three business houses - the Jackson County Banner newspaper office, F. F. parson's Store and the Mason Hotel.
     When that fire burned itself out, 40 buildings had been destroyed and damage topped $39,000, a hefty sum in that age.
     Files of the Jackson County Banner carried this account:
     "The fire broke out about 3 o'clock a.m. in the old building known as the "old Ball Alley" in the upper part. On the west side was the barber shop of Joseph Friand, which was consumed.

Swept down street

     "The fire then came toward the river and burned the buildings in the following order: boot store and shop of S. John Specht; baker shop of Julius Schnur; grocery store of Mrs. Broderick; jewelry store of T. Collins; building owned by Levi Boothe;
     "Dwelling house of T. Collins; office of Dr. James Robie. Here the further progress of the fire was stayed.
     "In the meantime, the fire had crossed Main Street, and commencing in the old corner store of Garrett & Curts, ran with speed both up west Mains Street and north on Water Street.
     "The entire length of the Main Street on the north side was swept clean from the corner of Wing's building (to Water Street).
     "The following are the buildings burned: Garrett & Curtis, corner store, occupied by E. S. Crossett, groceries; a building occupied as an office and store house, belonging to Garrett & Curts; the next building occupied in the lower room by the post office and James Barber, justice of the peace, town clerk.

The mall was saved

     "The mall was all saved, Justice Barber's books and town records saved, but several bundles of town papers lost.
     "Next the warehouse of Garrett & Curts; next the Bump store, empty; next Chandler's store and hall, empty; next T. J. Hill's saloon and house; next Wing's new block, one store occupied by J. V. Wells, hardware.
     "By strenuous exertions the fire here was stayed from crossing (the street) to Mason's Hotel.
     "Coming back to Water Street, commencing at the corner (northwest) the fire burnt, first, the warehouse of Gutman & Lennon, in it was a little grain stored; store of Merrill & Loomis; store and house of A. Wehinger; store and house of Joseph Johnson; store occupied by C. Blakeslee;
     "Double store and hall of John K. Quail, stores occupied by A. Clinton; Shanghai House of J. Spaulding; and several small buildings to the end of the street (Harrison St.).
     "Crossing over to the river side (northeast corner of Water and Harrison Streets) it cleaned out the saloon of R. D. Squires, Shanghai House stable, Black River store, warehouse and livery stable.
     "Store occupied by James Darrow; drug store, occupied by W. B. Porter, above by L. Weeks, artist, and S. W. Bowman; meat shop of John Brown; saloon of John Pollock; building of James Chandler, rented, and his own house in which he lived, and the building next south, occupied by I. R. Greeley.

Fire stopped again

     "Here again the fire was stopped, leaving standing next south the store of F. F. Parsons, which is the only one left unburned. Thus the whole of the business portion, with the exception of the corner on which is our office. We were so fortunate to be spared."
     About 40 buildings burned, with the loss estimated at $39,045.
     In present-day terms the fire started on the south side of Main Street (between Water Street and First) in abut the middle of the block and spread east to Water Street. The Banner office which escaped the flames was located at the present Jackson County Bank parking lot (northwest corner of Water and Fillmore).

Thirteen parish at Phillips

Fires often plagued communities in the late 1800s and into the 20th century. Here a fire blazed through part of Shell Lake in 1894. Modern firefighting equipment was not available and most buildings were wooden. Once started, a fire was difficult to control.

     Phillips, located on the north and eastern part of the Chippewa valley drainage, was devastated by fire in 1894. When the flames were quenched, 13 residents of the new community had perished.
     The village, platted in 1876, was a center of lumbering activity on Elk River, a tributary of the Flambeau.
     As early as 1877 fire destroyed most of the fledgling village, leaving only seven buildings standing. It rebuilt and continued to grow, becoming a chartered city in 1891.
     Fire started in the forest on the 27th of July, 1894, and blazed out of control, reaching the city despite efforts to halt it.
     Once in the city, the blaze devastated most of the buildings and left most residents homeless.
     Like many communities damaged by fire, those remaining there worked together and rebuilt. One year after the Phillips fire, the city held a celebration to dedicate a new brick courthouse, other county buildings and a schoolhouse. Churches and homes were being completed weekly.

Spooner businesses burned

     Spooner's business district burned June 17, 1904. From 1:30 to 6 a.m. a large portion of the business center became smoldering ruins, the loss estimated at $60,000.
     The "Spooner Advocate" reported: "One of the greatest fires in the history of northern Wisconsin visits our city and in a few short hours the greatest portion of the business center is wiped away."
     The account indicated fire started in either the Vosen saloon or Darnell's restaurant on the south side of Walnut Street.
     Firemen attempted to stop the flames by dynamiting a barber shop.
     There were dozens of communities damaged severely by fires during the turn of the century. Many fires came abut because of all-wood construction, closeness to the forests, lack of water to control fires and limited equipment of firefighters.

--Arnie Hoffman
--Jean Anderson

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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