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Local History

Ash Grove Fire 1894

Swept by Flames

“A fire lasting three and a half hours swept a portion of Main Street and buildings north of it at Ash Grove yesterday afternoon. The blaze was discovered at 3 o’clock, and it was 6:30 before the danger was put out of the way.

“The fire which is of unknown origin, started in a frame building of J.M. Carter and occupied by Myer’s shoe store on the south side of Main Street near the Gulf depot. The fire was well under way before discovered, and soon reduced the building to ashes. As the city had no means of fighting fire, the town was at the mercy of the flames. There was a strong wind blowing from the south at the time, which fanned the flames to such an extent that within five minutes two adjoining buildings were in ashes. One was occupied by Searcy’s drug store and the other by Mrs. Shilling’s grocery store. Both were frame buildings and burned like so much straw.

“The flames were by this time at their height and the heat was simply fearful. It was impossible to come within forty feet of the burning structures.

“A bucket brigade was organized but water was scarce and the work done amounted to little or nothing. Next to these frame buildings on the east was Searcy’s stock of drugs in a brick building and it was soon in ruins. The fire passed on to T. J. Murray’s grocery and hardware house on the east, but that brick structure was not wholly destroyed.

“From these buildings the flames leaped across the street and soon Dr. Watts’ drug store was in a blaze. A.T. Weir’s brick building adjoined Watt’s drug store and it, too, was swept away by the flames. Mr. Weir is manager for the T.A. Miller & Co. lumber yard, next to his building. It is quite an extensive concern and was not spared by the devouring element.

“Carlock’s livery stable was also in this block and only a few minutes were required to make it a thing of the past. The fire then began a movement north and L.L. Carlock’s residence, as well as that of John Rountree and some smaller frame buildings, went down in quick succession. Harshbarger’s Dry Goods store, east of Watts’ Drug Store and across a north and south street, was badly scorched, but not seriously damaged.

“The air was full of sparks and it seemed to be raining fire. One spark was carried a quarter of a mile north to the residence of A.P. Murphy and almost before the people were aware of the fact, the house was a pile of ashes. The streets were full of excited and confused people and the entire town north and northeast of Main Street was in peril and hundreds of people went to the assistance of the residents in that part of the town, who were preparing to resist the spread of the fire.

“The air was still full of smoke and sparks, and W. H. Hailey’s residence more than a quarter of a mile from where the fire started caught. Dr. Watts saw the blaze in time and succeeded in extinguishing the fire before it made any headway.

“The people were astonished and utterly demoralized. They were not used to big blazes and did not know with what rapidity a big fire travels with plenty of material at hand. This astonishment was not lessened when the water tank of the Memphis railway was consumed just the same as anything else. It has placed the railroad company at great inconvenience.

“The fire originated in a dangerous place and the citizens have long looked for a calamity of this sort, as the buildings wherein the fire originated have been generally regarded as fire traps. There is already talk of rebuilding as well as organizing some kind of a fire department.

“The fire destroyed six business houses, a lumber yard, livery stable, two residences, a water tank, and damaged three other buildings. Much furniture, etc., was carried out and saved. Mrs. Shilling, whose grocery store was destroyed, is in the city, a witness in the Boone case now being tried before Judge Neville. A.T. Weir is also in the city.

The losses were:

The Democrat, April 7, 1894

A map of Ash Grove in 1893 that shows many of the buildings mentioned in this article can be found at the Digital Library, University of Missouri.

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