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Next to air and food and water comes fire as among the most indispensable of the servants of humanity. But it is also sometimes among the most dread of scourges, in cities and villages, coming as its destructive visitations do, unheralded, "like a thief in the night." Especially during the earlier growth,  when buildings are of wood and inflammable material abounds on every side, is a sudden conflagration among the most serious of disasters, meaning destruction to the proceeds of years of hard labor, and sudden poverty to many whose earthly possessions are all in their humble homes or residences. Grand Rapids has not escaped the common lot; its citizens have experienced their full share of calamities by fire. A list of them is of interest to the reader of local history. In that here appended only the most notable are given brief mention, as waymarks along the pathway of years. It could not be well made complete; but includes the most prominent of the fires of the past fifty years in this city, accounts of which have caught attention in the researches connected with this work. In most cases the losses mentioned in round numbers are the minimum estimates, and the figures only approximate; it being much easier to estimate than to appraise such damages. Only in losses of $10,000 or upward are the amounts given.

1844: July 12, the Courthouse which stood on the Public Square. A two-story wood building, originally costing about $5,000.

1849: February 11, burning of the school house of District No. 1, the first one built here.

1850: January 14, the Catholic Chapel, a house erected by Richard Godfroy in 1834; south corner of Monroe and Ottawa streets. Mrs. and Miss Kilroy, mother and sister of the priest, perished in the fire.

1851: December 16, C. W. Taylor's tannery at Coldbrook; loss, $10,000. He received through the postoffice the following: "Grand Rapids, Dec. 16, 1851 Damn you, you have got it at last. I told you I would have revenge. Yours truly, in trouble." The engine house, which stood on Prospect Hill, was burned the same morning.

1853: April 8, John Westcott's house, corner Monroe and Spring streets.

1854: January 15, saw mills of H. S. Wartrous and David Caswell, Mill street, just below the Bridge. May 16, four buildings on north side of Monroe above Ionia street. Another torn down to stop the progress of the fire.

1855: February 5, Taylor's Coldbrook tannery, second time; $12,000.

1857: February 27, several buildings west of Canal street and south of the Kent Mill. March 19, Hovey & Company's plaster mill, below city line, west of river. September 25, south side of Monroe between McConnell's and Luce's blocks, and the other side opposite and up to Ottawa street. $75,000.

1858: January 27, roofs burned from three stores at foot of Monroe street. March 22, two buildings next north of Lovett Block on Canal and row of buildings east on Pearl, to the Arcade. April 5, Bridge street bridge and two or three factories at the eastend; $24,000. November 9, the "Old Red Warehouse," on river bank, below Louis street.

1859: February 7, nine buildings, including half a dozen stores, from Crescent avenue south, east side of Canal street; $30,000

1860: January 23, Taylor & Barns' block, county records, and postoffice building; $90,000. April 15, fifteen wood buildings east of Canal, between Lyon and Crescent; $15,000. July 11, Steamer Michigan.

1863: July 13, Nearly all the north half of block next south of Bridge, between Canal and Kent streets, burned over twenty-five buildings; $20,000 to $25,000.

1864: January 17, Comstock, Nelson & Co.'s Furniture rooms, west side. Canal street, south of Huron; $8,000. February 1, C. C. Comstock's pail factory, Newberry street. October 6, tannery on South Division, near Oakes.

1866: May 1, Twamley block and all buildings north of Lyon, between Canal and Kent, as far as opposite Huron, including Union Hotel; $100,000. May 31, thirteen buildings, including the "six sisters," on Ottawa, below Louis; $15,000.

1867: May 31, C. W. Taylor's tannery, third time, burned; $12,000.  October 11, three stores, west corner Monroe and Ionia. December 12, Berkey Bros. & Co.'s office and finishing rooms on canal bridge, north of Bridge street; $10,000. The total losses of this year, as estimated by the Chief of the Fire Department, were $33,350.

1868: October 5, Valley City Woolen Mills, on river bank below Erie street (Collar & Seymour); $25,000.

1869: September 7, Letellier & Robinson's sash and blind factory, corner Canal and Trowbridge; $15,000.

1871: February 14, buildings south corner Monroe and Ionia; $10,000. April 11, large fire; began on Mill street, opposite Erie; burnt Wilkins Brothers' Shops and Comstock's saw mill; crossed the canal and burnt Peirce's store, Empire Hall (Collins block), and all west of Canal street for several hundred feet; losses estimated at over $250,000; insurance over $108,000. May 27, Bronson House, corner Canal and Crescent, and several stores; $25,000. The great Chicago, Holland City and Manistee fires occurred October 8-11, 1871.

1872: February 20, Sweet's Hotel burned; $30,000. May 3, twelve buildings between Kent and Ottawa, south of East Bridge street, including the Reformed Church; $40,000. May 8, Squier's Opera House and flouring mill, $55,000. September 20, National Hotel; $28,000. September 21, Butterworth's brick building by the river west of the canal basin, used as a coffin factory; damage, $30,000. October 30, buildings each way from the Lovett block, corner Canal and Pearl; $210,000; insurance upward of $100,000. November 26, old Congregational Church and other buildings between Division and Spring, at Monroe; $12,000.

1873: January 2, Kent Woolen Mills (John E. Earle, owner, Earle & Reynolds operators), Mill street, north of Bridge; $23,000. May 16, brush factory, west end of Pearl street bridge; $63,000. May 23, Perkins Bros. and Co.'s tannery, near railroad junction and north city limits; $15,000. July 13, about fifteen acres north of East Bridge, between Kent and Ionia, burned over eighty-eight city lots; nearly one hundred buildings destroyed, and about 130 families burned out. Losses not estimated with any approach to probable correctness. Among them was the Grand Rapids City Flouring Mill, corner of Canal and Hastings streets, Rice & Tearse; valued at $35,000. Insurances aggregated upward of $166,000. The Christ brewery, a large establishment, and many other fine buildings, of brick and of wood, were included in the property destroyed.

1874: May 26, six buildings, north side of West Bridge between Scribner and Turner; $12,000. June 4, Verdier and Brown, hardware store, 102 Canal street; $14,000. July 7, Michigan Central R. R. depot buildings; $10,000. July 8, wholesale millinery store and other buildings on Kent, near Lyon; $23,000. August 21, woodenware works and other shops and warehouse, between Hastings and Trowbridge, east side of Canal street; $25,000. October 11, Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad freight depot, West side (the first, a smaller one was burned July 16). November 27, Pearl street, between Lovett block and Arcade; $65,000.

1875: June 19, great conflagration on West Bridge street; an area of several blocks on both sides from the bridge westward; upward of sixty business houses, stores, shops and residences destroyed; $240,000. July 18, furniture shops northwest corner of Kent and Hastings, Berkey & Gay; $20,000. July 26, Koster & Kruger's tannery, corner Division and Prescott; $20,000. December 17, steamer Jenison burned at the lower landing.

1876: May 31, Michigan Barrel Works, Canal street above Leonard, damage about $13,000. July 28, Rathbun House, Lyon and Botsford blocks; $55,000__Edward T. Parish lost his life. August 28, store northwest corner Fourth and Stocking, with stock; $11,000.

1877: September 12, the Chief made report that there had been seventy-one fire alarms to date in that year, but the aggregate loss of property was only a little more than $17,000, as estimated by the Department. In 1872, the total loss by fire had been $187,000; in 1873, $421,000; in 1874, $121,000; in 1875, $353,000; in 1876, $80,000. This great change was attributed to the acquisition of good water works and improvement in the Fire Department service.

1878: January 29, prisoners attempt to burn the jail; damage near $10,000. April 15, Powers & Walker burial case factory, Front street, north of Pearl street bridge; $13,000.

1879: June 5, factories on the East Side canal, south of Bridge street; $25,000. December 17, Powers & Walker coffin factory burned again; $11,000.

1880: March 26, fire in Mohl block, east side Canal street, near Bridge. May 26, Grand Rapids Plaster Company works (Eagle Mills); $35,000. June 9, Luther & Sumner agricultural works, and Hartman's foundry, Front, near Valley street; $16,000.

1881: January 31, drug house, Ledyard block, corner Pearl and Ottawa; $28,000,____. Mrs. Rose Lowe died by suffocation.  February 1, Novelty Iron Works (Milmine & Co.)., Front, a little north of Bridge. October 21, I. L. Quimby's mill, Canal, north of Leonard; $12,000. November 4, Kusterer brewery, ice and malt houses and part of main building, southwest corner of Ionia and Bridge; $15,000.

1882: February 25, Putnam & Brooks' candy factory and wholesale house, 63-65 Canal; stock and building, $31,000. March 20, the New England Furniture Company's warerooms; $25,000. July 24, the barns and other buildings and lumber yards of Michigan Barrel Company, at upper end of Canal street, fire extending east and southeast and across the railway; $80,000. July 25, Grand Rapids Bending Works and saw mill, Prescott street; $11,000. August 16, Mechanics Block, northeast corner Louis and Campau; $14,000. November 21, Kent Furniture Company warerooms and Long's saw mill, Front, North of Leonard; $74,000.

1883: February 5, Eagle Hotel; $18,000. April 21, Grand Rapids Furniture factory, Butterworth avenue; $40,000. May 25, Carpet Sweeper factory, near upper end of canal; $13,000. May 26, Noble  & Company plaster mill; $40,000.

1884: June 29, Grand Rapids Manufacturing Company works, South Front, near Chicago and West Michigan Railroad bridge; $30,000. July 18, DeGraaf, Vrieling & Co., planing mill, corner South Ionia and Bartlett; $25,000. September 13, in Giant Clothing Store, McReynolds Block, $20,000.

1886: February 5, G. R. & I. R. R. Car Shops, near south line of city; $22,400. October 7, Union Furniture Company factory, saw mill and stock, north of railroad junction, above city line, in Walker; $70,000. December 24, in Strahan & Long furniture factory, Front, near Pearl street bridge; $11,000. December 25, Powers & Walker burial casket factory, north of west end of Pearl street bridge; $15,000.

1887: June 9, boarding stable, Ottawa near Louis; eleven horses burned, including seven trained ponies. November 27, Nelson, Matter & Company furniture warerooms and office building, extending from Lyon to Huron, east side of Lock street; $150,000.

1888: August 2, fire in shops of Grand Rapids Steel Nail Company, Worden Furniture Company and Blackmore Art Company; Front, near Pearl street bridge, building owned by W. H. Powers; $10,000. December 6, at the Harrison Wagon Works; $15,000.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Ronnie Aungst
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/20fires.html
Created: 2 August 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]