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Water Street Fire of 1863.
Bay City, Michigan.
  • Transcribed August 2006.
  • Bay City Press and Times, June 29, 1864 - Page 1, Col. 3.



    The great fire which occurred in this city on the 13th of July 1863, and which swept four blocks of buildings out of existence, will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. It seemed to all that Bay City had then sustained her full share of loss from fire. The disaster stimulated our citizens to make better provisions for the protection of their property against the destroying element. Two first-class engines were procured by our authorities – (to replace the “Old Red Rover,” which was destroyed in the conflagration) – which are manned by wide-awake companies, to who is due the credit of saving our city from the destruction which threatened it on Sunday night.

    About midnight the alarm was raised, and the people rallied out to find the flames flashing up from the new building, opposite the store of Binder & Co., on Water street, which was being finished for the First National Bank. It was fully an hour and a half before the flames were subdued, and nothing but the fact that much of the lumber in it, and the plastering were yet quite green, enabled the firemen to save it. The roof and gable ends were destroyed. There was quite a strong north-easterly wind at the time, and it is almost a miracle that the fire was not communicated to the adjoining buildings, which were as dry as tinder.

    And now we come to that part of this occurrence which shows it to have been the develish work of some desperate villain whose neck should be graced with a hangman’s halter.

    No sooner did it become apparent that the fire on Water street would be extinguished, than another was kindled in the carpenter’s shop, owned by Mr. Jas. Fraser, on Saginaw street, which, being filled with dry pine lumber, and light combustibles, was soon, enveloped in flames. The wind was now quite strong from the North, carrying the flames and sparks directly to the dwelling of Mr. Clark Moulthrop, immediately in front of our office.

    “Ah, then there was hurrying to and fro.”

    A rush was made for the new scene of danger, and by the most desperate efforts, Mr. Moulthrop’s house was saved, although fire caught in it several times. A man attached to a circus in town at the time, here rendered valuable service. Quickly climbing on the roof, he maintained his position there in spite of flame and smoke, and kept the roof drenched with water passed up to him. No one thought the building could possibly be saved. Our office being so near, we made up our mind to see it share the fate of the other, but better luck was reserved for us.

    As soon as possible, after the second fire was discovered, the engines were in position, doing their best, but the fire had got such headway that the shop, with all its contents was consumed.

    Notwithstanding Mr. Moulthtrop’s house was saved, it was very much injured, through the thoughtlessness of the crowd, who, in their efforts to save the goods, broke in all the windows, wrenched the doors from their hinges, and ruined most of the furniture. Mr. Moulthrop’s loss, about $500, is covered by insurance.

    Mr. Fraser’s loss is probably about $1,500. The bank building, which was owned by him, was fully insured, but there was no insurance on the shop or lumber destroyed.

    Mr. Campbell, agent for Mr. Fraser, had about $300 worth of tools burned, but was insured. The carpenters employed in the establishment lost nearly all their tools, which could not have been valued at much less than $1,000, – a serious loss.

    To Those kind friends who came so promptly to offer their services to us, to save what could be saved of our effects, we tender our heartfelt thanks. The quiet and sincere manner of their assurance of aid in that emergency will not be forgotten.

    For several days previous, fired had been quite frequent in the vicinity of the city, principally in the woods, those along the Kawkawlin road and the Salzburg being the most serious. At the latter place, on Saturday last, the entire village was greatly endangered; the fire which had raged in the woods the previous day having crept into the immense wood piles in the vicinity of the Salt Works.

    The citizens were compelled to pack up their household goods and make preparations to decamp on short notice. They worked nobly to check the advance of their enemy, and in the meantime sent to this city for aid. Protection Company No. 2, quickly responded to the call, arriving there just in time to save the village. But one building was destroyed – the barn of Mr. Wm. S. Tallman. A large proportion of the cord-wood which had been piled up near the various salt works, for summer use, amounting to several hundred cords, was consumed.

    On the Kawkawlin road the fire did not reach the settlements to do any damage, except the destruction of the barn of Mr. Dean, the loss being inconsiderable. These fires probably originated from the burning of brush heaps.

    The rain which came to bless this region last night has, no doubt, put an extinguisher to this source of danger.

    Related Notes & Pages

    Map Downtown Bay City

    Includes location listing
    of 1893-94 buildings.
    Related Pages
    Moulthrop, Clark
    Pictorial: BC Fire Dept.
    People Referenced
    Fraser, James
    Moulthrop, Clark
    Tallman, Wm. S.
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City
    Binder & Co.
    Carpenters shop
    First National Bank
    Kawkawlin Rd.
    Old Red Rover
    Protection Co. #2
    Saginaw St.
    Salt Works
    Water St.
    Other News In Paper
    On Tuesday the 28th inst., at the residence of the bride's father, by Rev. A.M. Lewis, Rector of Trinity Church. Mr. Dexter A. Ballou and Miss Molly G. daughter of Henry M. and Annie Fitzhugh, of this city.
    A new paper entitled the Peninsular Herald, has been started at Romeo, published by J. Russell & Son. It is devoted to temperance, literature and moral improvement. The first number presents a very creditable appearance, and contains an unusual amount of interesting miscellaneous reading.
    Coat Found. -- A summer coat was found near our office on the morning after the fire. The owner can have it by calling at our office.
    Additional Machinery. -- Several new lathes and drills are soon to be set up in the machine shop of Mr. John McDowell, this this city.
    "Postage Due." -- The postage quarter ends June 30th., after which time, all matter on which postage must be pre-paid by law, will not be delivered until the quarter's postage is paid. The new postage law expressly prohibits the postmaster from violating this rule.
    A Double-Headed Robin. -- We recently received quite a curiosity, accompanied by the following note:

    Editor Bay City Press & Times:
    Herewith I send you, for exhibition, a young robin, with two heads, two bills, and three eyes. My little girl found a nest with two young robins and an egg in it. I had the curiosity to break the egg, and found in it this double-head bird. --- H. Lovejoy.
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.