Is Only Partially Insured Several Thousand People witness the Scene of Destruction-Loss Falls Heavily on Residents.
The town of Wakarusa ten miles west of Goshen, fell a victim of a very disastrous fire Sunday morning in which one of the main blocks of the town was totally destroyed, entailing a loss of more than $30,000 with not more that $12,000 in insurances.
There was a dance in the village Saturday night and a good many residents remained up until a late hour. The alarm of fire was sounded at about 6 o’clock yesterday morning by Mr. Knisley who occupied rooms over the hardware store owned by Knisley & Berner. The whole square, composed of frame buildings, by 9:30 o’clock were a heap of smouldering ruins.
At the first alarm Eli Wagner, S. C. Harrington, Dr. Sensenich and a dozen other residents rushed to the scene. The fire originated in the hardware store of Knisley & Berner about midway in the block facing Elkhart street. The firm kept a dog chained in the store and Mr. Knisley was awakened by the barking of the canine. When he opened the front door a great volume of smoke rushed out, driving him back. The whines of the canine had ceased, indicating that death had overtaken it. The front doors of the adjoining buildings were forced, but they were also filled with smoke and an entrance was found impassible. Up to this time no fire could be seen, but a few moments later flames leaped up in the three rooms simultaneously. A great crowd of citizens had begun to fight the flames, but it was soon realized that the contest was an unequaled and useless one. The rooms were separated by flimsy partitions and the fire soon ate its way in both directions. An effort was then made to remove the goods and in less then an hour the streets were filled with merchandise. The heart was so intense that the place was burned from buildings across the street and windows were broken. The fire was, however, confined to one square by the heroic work of citizens.
The building occupied by Knisley & Berner was owned by J. J. Eshelman. It was owned by J. J. Eshelman. It was a two story frame structure and was soon in ashes. Nothing was saved. Traveling northward the flames entered the big store of Frash Bros., general merchants, and everything went up in smoke. The building was owned by Daniel Eshelman and was a fine structure. The next victim was the Swartz block occupied by V.H. Hartman with a stock of groceries. But little stock was saved. Yoder Bros. hardware was the next to go. Very little was saved of the stock. The building was owned by Grant Searer and was a two story, the upper floor being used as a town hall and opera house.
The safe in which the town records were deposited went down, but it is thought they were protected from loss. The next building to fall a prey to the flames was the drug store of Wentz & Clay. The greater portion of the stock was removed, but was badly damaged by the handling. A soda fountain worth $800 was badly damaged. The Werntz building stood on the corner of Elkhart and Waterford streets and from there the fire went east until it reached the alley. In its course stood the post office and Melvin & Clay’s stock of groceries. This stock including the post office furniture and mail matter was saved. The building was owned by Tom Clay. The next was a one-story building owned by Elmer Freed and occupied by him with a barber shop. The boot and shoe stock owned by Jacob Pletcher was saved. The building was owned by Grant Searer. The next room was also owned by Mr. Searer, but was empty, but a furniture store was to open in it. The Macombee lodge room was located in the second story of this building. South from the Knisley & Berner store the flames had traveled down to the alley, where they were arrested within fifteen feet of the St. Clair residence. The first building south was owned by Albert Cordon and occupied by Jacob Weldy with a harness store. Most of the contents were saved. The next was a blacksmith shop owned by Tip Firestone. The building was owned by Abraham Holderman up until Friday night when it was sold to J. W. Buzzard for $300. The fire then entered the lumber yard, office, and wareroom of J. W. Buzzard and played havoc with the gentleman’s property. The shop of Myers Bros., wagon makers, was wiped out in short order. The building was owned by Ben Hughes, as old veteran, who loses everytin in the destruction of his residence and out buildings. …Night Watchman Overlease says about midnight he stood opposite the hardware store where the fire originated talking to Dr. Sensenich when noises were heard in the building. The rooms were dark and nothing could be seen, but the noise was dismissed at the time. Mr. Overlease said he kept a strict watch of the building, but saw nothing further to excite suspicion. He went home about 5 o’clock and the fire broke out one hour later. Many theories are advanced, but none seem practical. One man thought the fire might have originated from escaping gas used in the Frash store. This could not have been true, as no gas in such quantities would have caused the death of the sleepers above. Another more plausible theory is that the stores were robbed and fired to cover up the crime. The burning of the Ca… grocery at South West the other night is cited as an incident leading to this belief. The noises hear by the night watch also favor this theory. A farmer residing south of the town declares he heard a wagon pass his house driven at a terrific rate about daylight. Still these eye witnesses do not prove anything.
Loss and Insurance
Elmer Freed $600 $150
Grant Searer 4,000 1,500
Jacob Pletcher 500 500
Yoder Bro. 1,000
J. W. Buzzard 2,900 1,350
Albert Gordon 500
Jacob Weldy 300
Frash Bro. 8,000 4,000
Grant Searer 500
Bauer & Rummel 1,000 1,500
D. V. Warntz 300
Warntz & Clay 400
Thomas Clay 700
Clay & Melvin 500 300
Notes of the Fire
Appeals were made by telephone to Goshen, Elkhart, Millersburg, and Nappanee for aid, but the telephones were burned before a reply could be received. Both the Independent and Central Union companies had phones there. The Independent sent linemen over and made repairs last night.
Among the visitors from Goshen were J. W. Kronk and daughters, U.C. Berkey, Oscar Jay, Capt. Salsbury, Councilmen Kohler and Mishler, Photographer Clapp who took views of the raisins, Mr. and Mrs. E. Culp, and perhaps a hundred others.
Water works was discussed by the citizens. The council was on the point of purchasing a hand engine when the fire occurred. They simply waited for a committee of business men to report.
The Tribune office and the buildings of S. C. Harrington were saved with difficulty.
Tod Knepple, the barber, lost his furniture. Both barber shops and both hardware stores were destroyed.
Frash Bros. had goods at the Wabash freight house worth $700. The draymen failed to deliver them Saturday night and they were saved.
The boys of the town made free with the liquors in the Werntz drug store and as a consequences, went to sleep in the alleys.
A dozen safes stood up out of the rains.
The only dental office in the town was destroyed.
The good ladies of the town headed by Mrs. Freed supplied hot coffee and sandwiches to the fire fighters.
The … have a depressing look.
Knisley & Berner lose everything. They had just opened their hardware store. They wept over their loss.
So far as could be learned only one man was injured. John Doering received a bucked on his head, dropped from a building.
Cinders and fire …were carried fully a mile by the wind.
W.O. Elliott, George Krutz, R. E. Chattern and M. H. Kinney drove over early yesterday morning and viewed the ruins.
The flames rolled up many feet in the air.
There were very few … Some persons received alight burns and other had their fingers pinched in removing good from the doomed buildings.
“It seems strange that a dog is burned up every time we have a fire,” remarked a citizen.
The Eshelmans will rebuild at once.”
The council will be asked to pass an ordinance fixing a fire limit.
There was not a fire wall in the whole burned block.
BG. Whitehead, of the News. Was rendered ill by eating cheese at Wakarusa yesterday.
The Hyde & Brooks agency had 20,000 insurance and the Arc. Roots &…
Goshen Democrat 10/30/1899
The First Edition of the Wakarusa Tribune of the Fire - Oct. 29, 1899 (handwritten account)
Wakarusa Great Loss
Fire Destroys Sixteen Buildings in the Business Center
Loss at least $60,000
Fire destroyed sixteen buildings at Wakarusa Sunday morning and entailed a loss that is estimated at from $60,000 to $100,000 with the total insurance only about $20,000.
Commencing at the principal corner in the village, the devastated portion extends one full block south excepting only the corner house on the east side of Elkhart street, and half block east on the south side of Waterford Street.
The building that escaped was the residence of Mrs. Mary St. Clair, which was protected by the use of carpets and blankets dampened with mud and hung along its sides as a shield against the onslaught of the flames.
The work expended on this building undoubtedly saved others across the street as it stopped the progress of the fire.
The burned buildings, beginning at the south on Elkhart street, are as follows:
In addition there were four ice houses and several shed to the east.
The following were on Waterford street:
Clay & Melvin’s grocery, owned by Thomas Clay
Elmer Freed’s barber shop, owned by Freed
I. Pletcher’s shoe store, owned by G. Searer
Ware room, owned by G. Searer
Dr. Sonderson had dental parlors over Frash Bros. store
The town hall was over the Hartman’s grocery.
The Macabee Hall was over Pletcher’s store.
The Post Office was in Clay & Melvin’s grocery.
Meyers Bros. had a gum store in the Hughes’ shop.
During the fire there was an explosion of powder, but as warning had been given, on one was in peril. The Eshleman building was a double front, with two stories, Swartz & Searer’s building was the same, as was also the G. Searers’ building.
The Wentz building was a single front, two stories high.
The post office building and the Freed building were one story high, and with a sing front each. The fire started in the basement of the Knisley & Burner hardware store, and was discovered at 5:30 a.m. The town is without fire apparatus, and the only recourse of its citizens was to the bucket brigade. The encroaching flames were valiantly fought by this means, but the wind from the north west com… the flames to adjoining buildings and the flames simply burned itself out, despite the heroic efforts of the volunteer fighters, except, or above stated, in the case of the St. Clair residence. The intense heat cracked the window panes in buildings on the opposite sides of the streets, and here dampened carpets and blankets were also brought into use.
The night watchman heard an unusual noise in the Knisley & Berner store about 1 a.m. but it was not thought worth investigating. This is the only development that would furnish a basis for a theory as to the fire’s origin. Some think thieves might have endeavored to cover the evidences of their visit by firing the building.
When it was realized at 6 o’clock that the fire was uncontrollable efforts were made to reach other towns by telephone, to ask for assistance. None of those “rung up” answered but Elkhart, and Chief Sanford was sorry to be compelled to reply that the steamer could hardly be got ready and taken to the village in time to be of any aid. The distance from the city hall to the scene of trouble is 13 ½ miles, and with the roads in bad condition from recent rains it was impossible to think of hauling the steamer overland. To go by rail a change would be made at Millersburg, that Lake Shore to the Wabash, or from the Big Four to the Wabash at New Paris. In either event much time would have been lost in arranging with the railway companies. Had their been direct rail connection this steamer could have been used to good advantage as there is a pond within 300 feet of the burned district.
Twenty minutes after the telephone message was received an attempt by Chief Sanford to call up the Wakarusa station was fruitless, neither on of the telephone lines responding. One telephone was in the Frash store and the other in the Werntz & Clay drug store. The operators had been forced by the fire to vacate. Lack of information caused much apprehension here. The active work of fighting the flames was over by 8 o’clock.
In the meantime farmers from all over the district contiguous to the village had assembled and lent their assistance.
All the building, it is said were frame – some had galvanized iron fronts.
The origins of the fire was not known a last accounts.
A large number of Elkhartans drove to the scene, many out of curiosity, but others because personally acuquainted or related to those who had or might suffer.
Wakarusa Tribune 1899
A $75,00 Blaze Cruel flames lick up one third of the main business places of the celebrated town.
Started in the Knisley & Burner Hardware (located where Yoder Bros. Furniture Store now is located). Above the hardware were the living quarter of the Knisley and Burners also Dr. Sonderson’s Dental parlor and living apartment of he and his Mother.
On the north of this building was Frash Bros. Dry Good store above this store was the Band Room and Council Chambers, next on the north was Hartman’s Grocery Store. – there to the north was the Opera House, next to the north was Baurer & Rummel Vehicles and Implements.
Fred Young’s shoe shop was next.
The Corner Drug Store occupied by Werntz & Clay was on the corner, next on the East of this was Thomas Clay and Melvin Grocery and Post Office, next east to there was Elmer Freed Barber Shop, next east was Pletcher Shoe Store and the 2nd floor was occupied by the Maccabbes.
Now from where the fire started on the south was Joe Welty’s Harness Shop – next was Abe Holderman’s Blacksmith Shop then next to the south was J. W. Buzzard Lumber Office and ware rooms and yards – there next south was Myers Bros. Wagon and woodworking shop.
On the same lot was Mr. Hughes residence which was burned to the grounds, here the fire was gotten under control with in 20 ft. of Mrs. Mary St. Clair’s residence.
The origin of the fire is a mystery.
(This account is from someone associated with Walter Lumber Co.)
A $75,000 BlAZE.
Cruel Flames Lick Up One-Third
Of the Main Business Places
Of the Celebrated Town.
Comparatively Little Insurance Carried
As the majority of our people were enjoying their Sunday morning sleep, little suspecting that danger was at their doors, the cry of fire rand out loud and clear on the frosty morning air, followed by the ringing of church bells. In a comparatively short time the town was alive with people hurrying to the scene of fire, which was found to be in the Eshleman block in Knisley & Burner’s hardware.
The fire was discovered between 5 and 6 o’clock by Mr. Knisley, who roomed above the store. He was awakened by the barking of his dog, which was tied in the rear of the hardware. The piteous barking of the dog for help, aroused Mr. Knisley and he hurredly dressed and rushed down stairs, only to discover that his store was on fire. On opening the front door the smoke drove him back so he could not enter. He then yelled fire with all his might and rushed to the back door to try and save the dog. He opened the door and crawled into the store on his hands and knees, but the smoke was so suffocating that he was compelled to retreat for safety. By this time the crowd had arrived and the work of controlling the fire was commenced.
It was apparent to all that without any fire protection and only the bucket brigade to depend on, the entire block of stores on the east side of Elkhart street to the public square, was doomed to destruction and their energies were bent to saving the buildings on the west side of the street, and save what was possible of the contents of the burning buildings.
That people worked bravely and heroically, goes without saying; many times endangering their lives to save property. The wind was in favor of the west-siders, but many times it looked as though nothing could save them. Dr. Sensenich’s office and residence and the Tribune building, just opposite the burning Eshleman block were badly scorched and the Tribune office was on fire at one time. Wet blankets and carpets thrown over the front of these building is what saved them.
The fire from the hardware soon communicated with Frash Bros. general stoe; in fact, these two places seemed to take fire about the same time.
Beginning the fire in Knisley & Burner hardware, the loss to the stock was total…so hot was it when the fire was discovered that nothing could be saved. Above the hardware was Dr. Sanderson’s Dental Parlors and living apartments. Their loses are nearly total – Dr. Sanderson saving a few musical instruments and bicycle and contents from his safe, which were found to be in good condition. Dr. Sanderson’s mother, who lived with him, was rescued from the burning building just as the front fell in. It was a narrow escape.
While flames were gutting Frash Bros. big general store, a few of the best dress goods and wraps that were in the front of the store were saved. Above Frash Bros., was the band room and council chambers. The loss here was total, many fine band instruments and $125 worth of music was burned.
From here the fire communicated with the Swartz & Searer block, taking first Hartman’s grocery stock, of which nothing was saved. Then Yoder Bros. hardware. A few stoves and some other stock were carried from the burning building and saved. Above the last two named business places was the Opera house, the contents of which, with an organ, which was the property of the band, was consumed. The fire still working its way north took Grant Searer’s building, occupied by Bauer & Rummel, with vehicles and implememts, much of which stuff was saved. Men and women worked faithfully from here, clearing the contents of the threatened buildings. Fred Youngs shoe shop was next to go but the contents were saved. The fire from here whipped around to the north-west corner of the block taking the Searer building, the lower floor of which was occupied by Jacob Pletcher’s shoe stock, the contents of which was saved. The upper floor was occupied by the Maccabees, who lost their furniture and some papers. The other lower room in this building had just been put in shape for Yoder Bros. furniture stock, which was at the depot ready to be moved in. Elmer Freed’s barber shop was the next to feed the firey elements. Contents saved.
Then Thomas Clay’s building, which was occupied by the post office and Clay & Melvin’s grocery stock. The contents were all saved but the mail was found in a badly mixed condition.
The Corner Drug Store, the oldest business building in town, owned by D.V. Wentz and occupied by Wentz & Clay with a drug stock, was the last to fall, and here, by a united and mighty effort the fire was prevented from getting across the street, which if it had, either north or east, the whole business portion of the town would have been laid in ruins. The contents of this building was saved.
The above burned district is all north of the Kinsely & Burner hardware store, where the fire originated, and the fire was no less furious in licking up the buildings south of the store. This first being Al Gardner’s building, occupied by Joe Welty’s harness shop, the contents of which were mostly saved in a damaged condition.
Abe Holdeman’s blacksmith shop was next in line, the contents of which were saved. The fire then paid its attention to J. W. Buzzard’s lumber office, warerooms, and yards the contents of the office only being saved. Then the big wooden structure owned by Benj. Hughes and occupied Myers Bros. wagon and woodworking shop. Contents saved. On the same lot was Mr. Hughes residence which was consumed but contents saved. Here the fire was gotten under control within twenty feet of Mrs. Mary St. Clair’s residence, which was badly damaged and much of the contents ruined. It was a mighty clever piece of work saving this building, which was done by covering the structure with wet carpets and blankets and men working in the intense heat, keeping the same wet.
The fire wipes out many of our leading merchants with their big fall stock on hand. Their loss can hardly be estimated, the Eshleman black and the Swartz & Searer buildings being the pride of the town.
The town was fully at the mercy of the flames, being totally without fire protection. Had we have had a hand engine the case would have been different, the incident would have been otherwise and thousands of dollars worth of property could have been saved. We certainly believe that with a fire engine and hose the fire might hage been confined to the hardware. At any rate a fire fighting apparatus would have paid for itself many times over Sunday morning. For two years the Tribune has been advocating fire protection. But it’s all over. We can only look with regret at what might have been. But, honor bright, now fellow citizens, can we afford to do longer without protection?
The origins of the fire is a mystery and many theories have been advanced. Some think it was set by mice gnawing matches; others that a cigar stub might have been left in Knisley & Burner’s celler. Some thought the fire might have originated from escaping gas used in Frash’s store; yet this could hardly have been, as gas in such quantities would have caused the death of the sleepers above. A number of the opinion that the stores were plundered by robbers before the fire as started and then the building fired without regard to loss of property or life. Just before the alarm was given, different parties claim to have heard a team driven at a furious rate out of town east; Harvey Wise and Noah Davenport claiming to have heard them. Another thing to make the robbery theory plausible was that night watchman, Leonard Oveleese heard noises in the hardware store about 12 o’clock, when his attention was again called to the store but he detected no one on the inside. Mr. Overleese left the streets for his home just before five o’clock and says everything appeared to be all right then.