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Acres in Ruin (1892)
The great fire of July 25, 1892 in the south end of Bay City.
  • Transcribed September 2004.

  • Jul. 28, 1892: View south from Fremont avenue of destruction on Water street.
    Bay City's most disatrous fire took place on July 25, 1892. The fire started in the city's south end near the Miller and Turner mill off Harrison street along the Saginaw river. Fed by gale force winds it destroyed about 350 homes and businesses in a forty-block area. Over 500 hundred people went homeless losing most of their possessions.

    Bay City Tribune - Tuesday, July 26, 1892

    ACRES IN RUINS.

    ___________________

    Bay City Visited Yesterday Afternoon By a Most Disastrous Conflagration.

    Forty Square Blocks of Business Places and Residences Leveled to the Ground.

    About Three Hundred and Fifty Buildings Completely Destroyed.

    The Fire Started in Miller & Turner’s Lumber Yards and Spread Rapidly.

    The Flames Raged With Great Fury from 2 O’Clock Till Long After Dark.

    The Local Fire Department Utterly Unable to Cope With the Flames.

    West Bay City, Saginaw and Flint Respond to Appeals for Aid.

    The Total Loss Will Reach Nearly $1,000,000, Partially Insured.

    Hundreds of People Camping Out in the Vicinity of the Fire.

    Scenes’ and Incidents of the Worst Disaster That Has Ever Befallen the City.
    ___________________

    The most disastrous fire that ever visited Bay City broke out at 2 o’clock yesterday after in the lumber piles south of Miller & Turner’s mill, foot of Thirty-first street, and raged for five hours almost unchecked.

    The origin of the fire is a mystery, although it is supposed that it started from a spark. The flames spread with frightful rapidity and although an alarm was sounded within a few minutes the two south end hose companies were unable to check their progress. A general alarm was rung in at 2:05, calling out the entire department.

    The fire had by this time spread to Stover & Larkin’s hardware store, on the northeast corner of Thirty-first and Harrison streets, and then communicated to the row of frame buildings adjoining on the north. The wind was blowing a gale from the southwest, and under its influence the fire went through the dry frame structures like a whirlwind. The houses along Polk street soon ignited, and then the fire held undisputed sway, burning the vigor that was appalling.

    At 3 o’clock, an hour after the fire started, it had spread to McCormick street, four blocks to the east of the starting point and was reaching out to the north and south. In some instances the flames would leap over three or four buildings, and catch on the roof of a house and then burn backwards and destroy all intervening residences.

    The fire swept across a street in a twinkling, and the clouds of dust seemed to aid in its spread. A magnificent but appalling spectacle was presented to the observer on Fremont avenue looking southward to the intersection of any of the streets where the fire was raging. It seemed as though a cyclone was raging and sweeping everything before its fiery tongue while he roar of the flames could be heard for blocks away, intermingled with the hoarse cries of the firemen and men, women and children, the latter dazed by the suddenness of the fiery visitation and the burning of their homes.

    For blocks around the people began moving their household goods to places, for it was not known where the fire would stop. Drays, buggies, wheelbarrows, handcarts, in fact everything that could be brought into requisition was utilized to remove goods to places of safety.

    Chief Harding {View 1892 Bio.}, as soon as he arrived within distance of the fire, saw that it had attained such huge proportions that his own force was unable to cope with it unaided, and telegrams for assistance were sent to Saginaw and Flint, while West Bay City was telephoned to send over all the companies that could be spared. Two hose carts and a steamer was sent down from Saginaw and the entire West Bay City department came over, and did good work in siding in checking the flames.

    The firemen worked like heroes, but in the face of the terrible conflagration their efforts failed to show any effect for several hours. It was impossible for human beings to long withstand the terrible heat, but for all that they made their way into the mass of burning buildings as far as they could, and did all that was possible.

    The flames swept onward with irresistible force. There was no such thing as stopping the conflagration. The very air seemed to be burning. The firemen stood almost powerless. The streams of water which they directed towards the sheets of flames were turned into steam before they struck the buildings. Huge clouds of dust were raised by the gale and ignited as they dashed along the streets. It seemed as if a hundred cyclones had let loose and were carrying the flame onward and upward and everywhere.

    It was thought by Chief Harding that the flames could be checked at Fremont avenue, but an attempt in this direction proved that it was useless to imperil the lives of the firemen. So the chief removed his line of attack to the Twenty ninth street, and so well directed were the movements of the attacking force that a check was made here. The huge lumber piles to the north of the mill were by this time adding fresh fuel to the flames, and the fire spread steadily north on Water street. The block between Fremont avenue and Thirtieth street was soon on fire, and finally the old Fremont avenue rink occupied by the Salvation Armywas burning. On the west side of the street the flames held undisputed sway and continued their destructive course, until a pile of shingles to the south of Cousins & Co.’s mill was reached. Here a fire boat was stationed and with the streams from the West Bay City and Saginaw steamers the fire was stopped.

    Help from Outside Cities Arrives.

    By 3:30 the appeals for and sent to Saginaw and Flint were being responded to, and engine and two hose carts were sent from the former place. When the Saginaw firemen arrived they were stationed at the foot of Twenty ninth street, where the West Bay City steamer Defiance, which had been sent over a few minutes after the fire broke out, was stationed. Four powerful streams of water were turned on to the fire and the boys did such good work that the spread of the fire to the northward was stopped. The Flint companies arrived on the scene later in the day, and rendered most efficient service, although they lost several lengths of hose, which was burned up.

    While a portion of the fighting force was working in the north side of the burning territory the demon of destruction was making rapid strides in an easterly and southerly course. It soon became apparent that the fire would burn directly through to the eastern city limits, while it was only too evident that superhuman efforts must be directed toward its extinguishment in the southern direction. Assistant Chief Kempter had charge of the forces along the extreme southern edge of the volcano and was making strenuous efforts to check the fire. He was forced to retreat time and time again, until at last he resolved to make a bold stand just north of Miller’s lumber yard on Thirty third street. But despite the most disparate fighting the men were forced to retire and by 5 o’clock the lumber was one mass of flames. The firemen fought desperately, but were driven back again and soon the house on both sides of the street were in flames. From this time on, however, the firemen held their own and soon had the satisfaction of knowing that their efforts were telling on the progress of the fire.

    In the meantime the fire was spreading east with the rapidity of lightning. Nothing escaped its devouring touch . Houses and farms were licked up almost in a twinkling and sidewalks, fences and trees only furnished a small amount of fuel for the flames to feed upon. It was not expected that the flames would cross Broadway, but when that street was reached, wide though it is, the fiery demon took a fresh start and was soon roaring among the many house that line that street south of Fremont avenue. The wind meantime had increased in fury, and blew a perfect hurricane from the west. By this time the entire stretch of territory between Twenty ninth and Thirty third streets and the river and Bowery street was in flames, and dense volumes of smoke, now of deep black color and then changing to a lighter hue, covered the surrounding neighborhood. When the sun went down the wind subsided, and the work of the firemen was easier. But the fire still burned furiously and fed upon all buildings that were not protected with copious showers of water.

    Thousands of Spectators.

    The news that a terrible fire was raging in the south end of the city spread like wildfire. When the alarm was first sounded, hundreds of people hurried out of doors and listened for the striking of the box. Sixty five was located in one of the most dangerous sections of the city and alarms from that box had often preceded disastrous fires. All eyes were turned in the direction of the south end, and when a general alarm was rung out a few minutes later, there was a great scramble to get on board the street cars. People flocked o the scene from all parts of the city and thousands of spectators viewed the conflagration from all sides. Many of the lent their aid to the people whose homes were in danger in removing goods from the houses to places of safety.

    Hundreds Are Homeless

    But the worse feature of the awful disaster which had suddenly overwhelmed the city was yet to come. At a conservative estimate 500 families were rendered homeless by the fire which had destroyed all their possessions in a short time. It was soon after dinner when the fire broke out, and as the afternoon grew on and the fire raged unchecked, no one thought of how the immediate wants of these homeless people were to be supplied.

    The Alderman Takes Action.

    After the meeting of the council last evening a number of aldermen held a meeting and decided that the immediate wants of the people should be supplied. Mayor Jackson presided.

    J. Fred Whittemore said he had just returned from the scene of the fire. There were lots of people who had went without supper and had no means of getting breakfast. There was great necessity of taking immediate action.

    J. Frank Eddy, Selwyn Eddy and Thomas Cranage offered to donate $100 each towards relieving the present wants of the sufferers.

    Mr. Whittemore offered to take charge of the distribution of provisions.

    Ald. Switzer moved that a committee be appointed to take charge of the matter and act during the night.

    Some gentlemen who had just come in said that there was already suffering among the people who had lost their homes and possessions.

    Ald. Switzer’s motion was carried and Ald. Switzer and J. Fred Whittemore were appointed.

    It was also decided to endeavor to have the school houses and German churches on Broadway opened to give the people shelter.

    The committee set to work as soon as the meeting adjourned and proceeded to gather up a large supply of eatables. These were taken to the scene of the fire during the night and distributed among the people.

    All citizens are requested to send donations of provisions to the city hall as early as possible this morning, in order to aid the committee in its work.

    The mayor has called a public meeting to be held at the council chamber to-night to devise means of relieving the distress.

    L. Dickie LetterFire in Detail.

    1892 Fire Menu
    * Introduction
    * Letter, Letitia Dickie
    * Acres in Ruins
    * Fire in Detail
    * Under Control.
    * Slept in the Streets
    * Unfounded Rumor
    * A Relief Meeting
    Related Notes & Pages

    (Click to enlarge.)
    The fire of July 25, 1892 was Bay City's most disatrous, it started in the city's south end, near the Miller & Turner mill, located between Harrison street and the Saginaw river and foot of 31st street. Fed by gale force winds, it destroyed 350 homes and businesses covering a forty-block area. 1800 people went homeless, most lost all of their possessions.
    People Referenced
    Cranage, Thomas
    Eddy, J. Frank
    Eddy, Sewyn
    Harding, (Fire Chief)
    Jackson (Mayor)
    Kempter (Asst. Fire Chief)
    Miller, Albert
    Switzer (Alderman)
    Whittemore, J. Fred
    Subjects Referenced
    Bay City, MI
    Cousins & Co. mill
    Definance, fireboat
    Flint, MI
    Fremont avenue rink
    Miller & Turner lumberyard
    Saginaw, MI
    Salvation Army
    Streets:
    Bowery
    Broadway
    Harrison
    Fremont
    McCormick
    Polk
    Thirtieth
    Thirty first
    Thirty third
    Twenty ninth
    Water

    Stover & Larkin hardware store
    West Bay City, MI
    Other News On This Page
    DRILL HOUSE BURNS
    Fire Breaks Out in Pitts & Cranage's Big Plant.
    --------

    While the fire was at its height about 3 o’clock, flames were discovered issuing from the tower on one of the drill houses in Pitts and Cranage’s mill yard at the foot of Washington avenue. Every available piece of apparatus was in service at the southend of the city. The firm is well provided with fire protection of its own and the mill was shut down and the men turned out in a body to fight the flames. A line of hose was brought into service and in a short time the fire was under control.

    When this fire was out and the men were congratulating themselves on their good work, fire was discovered in another drill house almost opposite, and which evidently started from the first blaze. The men went to work with a will, and were greatly aided by a number of number of business men and others who had procured a dray and taken a lot of hose from fired department headquarters to the scene. A line was laid from a hydrant, and in a few minutes one of the West Bay City companies arrived and soon had the flames under control. Had the fire obtained a good start it would have swept unchecked through millions of feet of lumber and a number of industries.

    Pitts and Cranage estimate their loss at $2,000, on which there is some insurance.
    IRON RIVER DESTROYED
    A New Mill Town in Wisconsin Wiped Out by Fire.

    ---------

    MARQUETTE, July 25. The villiage of Iron River, just across the stateline, was practically destroyed by fire which broke out about 6' o'clock last evening in the hotel. Not half a dozen houses are left. The Northern Pacific station and an engine and half dozen cars belonging to the Duluth, South Shore and Altantic were also burned. Iron River is a thriving village of about 400 people, situated about midway between Ashland and Superior. There are three saw mills there and two railroads, and the village has been growing rapidly. As soon as the new was received here General Manager Fitch, of the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic ordered the Lake Superior limited tram which was then at Thompston on its way to pick up all extra coaches along the line and take them into Iron River to shelter the women and children. These cars will reach the desolated village at 11 o'clock to-night. At 10 o'clock to-night when the extent of the calamity became known, Mr. Fitch issued orders to collect provisions at Sidnaw, Ewen and Trout Creek and sent the to Iron River on the Duluth express, thus providing at least a breakfast for the burned out people. A call for help will be issued by the Mining Journal here in the morning, and the rialroad company will forward all contributions of provisions and clothing to Iron River as fast as they are gathered.
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  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.