1883 Bloomington Fire

- shared by Connie Shotts who says:

While going through some old files, I found some newspaper clippings. Unfortunately, most of them are not specifically dated, but I believe the following item to be from Mar 24, 1883 and appeared in The Saturday Courier, Bloomington IN.  It is a long article, but it is interesting and mentions several Bloomington people and businesses.  A bonus was the map that was published along with the article showing that the fire occurred on the quarter block of the block on the northwest corner of the Courthouse square, bounded by Fifth Street on the South and College Street on the east.  (see bottom of page for map)

The James Alexander mentioned is James Alvin Alexander, son of William James and Elizabeth Chandler Alexander.  James Alexander is my great-grandfather.  Connie

Bloomington (Indiana), The Saturday Courier, Mar 24, 1883.

Note:  I believe the date to be correct, but it may be that this article comes from a different issue in Mar 1883.

The Fiend Gets in its Work!
And Wipes Out a Large Part of the Business Portion of the City.

Several Narrow Escapes From Death

Hon. R. C. Foster Caught by Falling Timber.

About 5 o'clock Friday morning our citizens were aroused by the cry of Fire!
followed by the ringing of the alarm bells.  In a moment later flames were
seen shooting upward in the vicinity of the public square. 

The Courier reporter arrived upon the scene about fifteen minutes after the
first alarm, and found the Mullikin corner three story building enveloped in
flames.  This large structure was soon devoured and the fire spread to
Shoemaker's drug store, next door north.  Men were busily engaged carrying
out goods from the buildings still further north of those burning.  Next
door north of Shoemaker's was McCalla & Co.'s dry goods store.  John
McCalla, John Ehni, his clerk, and Robert Foster entered this room for the
purpose of removing goods.  Presently a crash came and the walls of the
Shoemaker building fell in on McCalla & Co.'s room.  The immense crowd was
horrified thinking that three men, and perhaps others, had been buried
beneath the ruin.  It was soon ascertained, however, that McCalla and Ehni
had escaped but that Foster was actually buried by the debris.  A stream of
water was direct late the room and Foster was found in the cellar wedged in
by some falling timber.  Efforts were at once made to rescue him and after
fully a half hour's work by several brave men he was brought out of the
ruins amid the shots of the excited populace.  He was carried to Lindley's
drug store, where it was found that he was fully conscious, and, apparently,
not seriously injured.  In a few moments more he was removed to his home.
In the mean time the flames were spreading north and it was not until they
reached the alley in in (sic) the center of the west side of the square were
they under control.  The west walls of the Mullikin corner building fell in
on the rear, and fronting on Fifth street, crushing in the roof and
completely gutting that building.  The Pioneer Fire engine did excellent
work, and the water supply from two cisterns held out until the flames were
extinguished.  The burnt district consists of all that business portion of
the west side of the public square from Mullikins corner north to the alley
and west to the alley in the rear.  All these buildings were totally
destroyed in about three hours.  By some good work the flames were kept from
extending further west than the alley.  If they had reached the frame
buildings Dunn & Co.'s large grocery house could not have been saved.  There
was not much wind blowing; if there had been there is no telling how much of
the town would have been destroyed.  As it is it is the largest fire
Bloomington has experienced for many a year. 

Kahn & Tannebaum, clothers lose about $17,000 on their stock; insured for
$5,500.  Frank Hunter, John Graham and J. F. Pittman, who had law offices up
stairs, lose all their furniture and law books.  J. W. Shoemaker, druggist,
lost about $14,000; insured for $7,000; C. R. Perdue, books and shoes, loss
about $6,000, which is all insured.  McCalla & Co., dry goods, loss about
$4,000, insured for $2,000; E. P. Cole, book store, fully insured; J. O.
Howe, jewelry and express office, valuable jewelry saved in safe and express
goods carried out; W. P. Reed, harness, most of goods carried out.  The
Mullikin corner building belonged to W. P. McNary, W. J. Allen and J. H.
Louden.  It was insured for only $3,500.  They also owned the new building
in the rear, which was insured for $1,500.  Redrick Wylie owned the building
occupied by McCalla & Co., and it was insured for $1,500; Jerry Howe owned
the building occupied by Perdue, and it was insured for $1,800.  The book
store building was owned by Mrs. Watts, of Texas, and was insured for
$1,500.  The express office was insured for $1,500, and the building
occupied by Reed's harness shop belonged to Miss Rena Howe and was insured
for $1,500.  J. A. Baldbridge had a grocery in the new building in the rear
of the corner, but the stock was mostly carried out.  It is hard to estimate
the total loss at this writing, but it will not fall short of $75,000 on
buildings and goods.  The fire originated in the basement of Kahn &
Tannebaum's, where a lot of anthracite coal and kindling wood was stored.
Many think it the work of an incendiary, but probably its true origin will
never be known.

Ther (sic) was a roller skating rink in the third story of Mullikin's
corner, and the proprietor, Pearson, lost 25 pairs of skates.

Kahn & Tannenbaum will occupy Mrs. Kahn's room, on the West side of the

There are no empty rooms for the burnt out merchants to occupy.

Frank Hunter lost all his Insurance books and papers and about $30 in money.

John Graham lost all his books and papers and a diamond stud.

Belcher's peanut stand was a total loss.

A second alarm of fire, about 5 o'clock was caused by some flying sparks
ingniting (sic) the roof of the residence of W. F. Browning.

A considerable amount of goods from McCalla's, Purdue's, and Coles were

Having lost my entire office library by fire, Buskirk & Duncan have kindly
offered me desk room in their office for the present, where I will be found
ready for business.  Jeremiah F. Pittman.

James Neeld and Willie Young, the latter a clerk in Bowman's drug store,
werre (sic) in McCalla & Co. room when the wall fell, and were badly bruised

Some very efficient work was done in rescuing Bob Foster by W. H. Slocumb,
Geo. W. Reeves, Ren Smith, Ed L. McGee, Jim Alexander.


Bloomington (Indiana) The Saturday Courier, Mar 30 (?) 1883:
Note:  I believe Mar 30 is the correct date but it could be earlier in the

News and Notes About the Big Fire

Last week the Courier gave the full particulars of the fire by 10 o'clock
the morning of its occurrence.  Of what happened on that fatal night there
is nothing new to tell.  Some interesting fire items will, however, be found
further along in these columns.  What we have to relate here is the details
of a horrible climax to the sad event of the day before.  It was Saturday,
and a large number of farmers were in town to look at the burnt district.
On the morning of that day the City Marshal had a force out tearing down the
walls that were tottering and threatening the lives of those whose curiosity
impelled them to go in among the ruins.  While the work of razing the walls
was going on some of the property holders ordered the Marshal to desist,
threatening to hold the city responsible for the destruction of the walls,
as they might be utilized in rebuilding.  Accordingly, the Marshal quit work
just after throwing a rope over the wall between Shoemaker's and McCalla's
and rocking it to and fro several times.  A heavy pole was then placed
against the wall, on Shoemaker's side, as a prop.  On the night of the fire
some $18 in money, part of the proceeds of the contest performance had been
left in Shoemaker's for safe keeping.  On Saturday afternoon, between two
and three o'clock, several men were engaged in digging in the debris for
this money, while a number of lookers-on stood on the pile of bricks which
cover the sidewalk.  Suddenly, terrific shouts of Look out! The wall is
falling! rent the air, and in a second more the huge wall fell with a
tremendous crash directly on the spot where the money-hunters were at work.
Loud exclamations of horror went up from a hundred throats, followed by a
rush to the rescue.  The first man found nearest the front was Andrew
Phelps, formerly an employee of Bollenbacher's spoke factory, who had been
knocked down but not covered by the falling bricks.  He was promptly carried
to the Court-house yard.  The next one found was a deaf and dumb young man
named Bauchman.  His lower limbs were buried, and he was dug out and taken
to Lindley's drug store.  About the same time James Alexander, a son of Mart
Alexander's brother, was dug out and also taken to Lindley's drug store.  Ed
Pauley, the carpenter, was next rescued and taken to the Court-house yard.
A hundred hands set wildly to work removing the brick searching for other
victims, but it soon became apparent that all had been rescued.  Of those
hurt it was found that Pauley and Alexander was the most so.  They appeared
to be injured internally and Pauley had a sprained wrist.  Alexander
complained a great deal of his head.  Phelps walked home with assistance,
having received but a few severe bruises.  Bauchman was hauled home in a
wagon.  He was badly bruised about the face and head, his hands were badly
burnt by the hot brick, and his left ankle was dislocated.  It was a
touching site to see this poor deaf and dumb boy suffer, and unable to tell
his wants.  He received no internal injuries, and the chances are favorable
for his recovery.  The City Council met in the afternoon and ordered all the
standing walls torn down, which was accordingly done before night.  The
walls of the new brick building on Fifth street (Baldridge and Neeld's
rooms) were standing complete, but they also were torn down.  Our people all
went home Saturday night worn out with the excitement and work of the week,
but hardly had they gone to bed before
was rung from the Court-house tower.  The hills in the southeastern part of
the city were illuminated with a glaring light, and in that direction
hundreds of people rushed, wondering what calamity was to befall our people
next.  It was soon ascertained that Prof. Wylie's stable was on fire.  The
family had discovered it in time to save a cow, horse and carriage.  The
horse had to be blindfolded before he would be led out.  The building was
rapidly consumed and the flames spread to the tops of some tall trees which,
finally had to be cut down.  The cause of the fire cannot be accounted for
in any other way than that it was the work of an incendiary.

The business men who were burnt out may be found at the following places:
Kahn & Tannenbaum, half a square further North; J. W. Shoemaker,
headquarters at Stuart & McPheeter's; Dr. Crain, over Greeves' corner store;
C. R. Perdue, in Mendelssohn Hall; E. P. Cole, in the Wilson property on
South College Avenue; J. O. Howe and express office, in the room with Kahn &
Tannenbaum; W. P. Reed, in room next to National House; D. L. Demaree, in
room with L. Cochran; J. A. Baldridge, at mill.

The escape of R. C. Foster alive from the burning building was most
wonderful.  He was on the first floor of McCalla's when the roof fell in,
carrying the second floor and the floor which Mr. Foster was on into the
cellar, and he went down with all.  The timber formed an arch over him, and
there, with the lower part of his body wedged in, he lay for over a half an
hour waiting for his brave rescuers to complete their work.  While he was in
that position, with death staring him in the face, he never for a moment
lost his presence of mind.  With the fire, heat and smoke surrounding him he
calmly said:  "Boys, if you see that you can't save me, save yourselves."
His rescuers had to crawl down a front cellar door and under the rubbish to
where Bob lay and saw and cut away the timber.  Last Sunday, surrounded by
the comforts of his own home, Bob was the happiest man in town.