One of the most devastating disasters to hit towns in the late 1800’s-early 1900’s was a fire in the business district. The buildings were usually wood – the interiors filled with flammable items, the sidewalks made of wood. Several Wright County towns suffered losses from fires.
Eagle Grove was our first town to be hit by fire in February, 1884. The town was not yet three years old! The fire started in the East Side School. The alarm was sounded, and people rushed to help. However, the school building and a building to the west were both gone. By tearing out a shed between the west building and Eagle’s store, the valiant fire fighters were able to stop the spread, though the heat did crack much glass
and scorched paint in nearby buildings. This loss served to remind people to examine their flues and chimneys every few days.
A decade later, in April 1894, the Glendy & McDougall planing mill in Clarion was
burned. The Monitor reported that in in three minutes the engine was at the south
cistern, and hose was laid to the building. It was thought sparks from furnace flew to a
pile of shavings. The building was saved, although badly scorched. Another fire broke
out in October, 1899 when kerosene caught fire and burned almost the entire first block
of North Main street. This fire brought up the point that Clarion needed a water works.
The town of Dows was not so lucky. In 1894, 25 buildings – more than half the town,
were gone. It is believed the fire was of spontaneous origin, starting in the basement of
the Union block. Not only did the fire take that block, but jumped the street and took that
block also. By the time it was out, the damage was close to three blocks. The Iowa Falls and Clarion fire departments responded to this blaze, with Clarion making the trip in
17 minutes. People worked hard to salvage goods out of buildings before they went up
in flames. Soon, the streets were filled with items that then had to find other storage.
Businesses struggled to reopen. Perhaps most interesting was the Farmer’s State Bank
– which planned to open as soon as the safe cooled down. They were back in business
with only a table and a revolver!
Belmond lost their Union Block on February 8, 1898, to have it rebuilt a year later. It was
35 degrees BELOW zero on that day!
Rowan had a fire in January 1904 which took five buildings and all the items in the
stores. Even the bank, which was brick, lost the wooden front door and some windows.
Because the fire was well under way by the time it was discovered, the monetary loss to
the business owners was quite high. Rowan had no fire department, and it was up to the
townsfolk to put out the flames.
Woolstock had a destructive fire in June, 1908. A special train was sent from Eagle
Grove to assist. Seven business blocks and three barns were lost. The fire started in
the Carpenter Meat Market, where lard was being rendered. Woolstock did not have a
fire department at the time, relying on volunteers. The high winds that day had the
townsfolk fearing the entire town would be lost.
Holmes had a run of bad luck with a July 3, 1930 fire, which took out about 8 buildings.
In 1931 the Farmer’s elevator was consumed by fire. Then, in 1933 a tornado roared
thru town, taking the lumber shed and heavily damaging the Lutheran church.