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Union Block Fire 1890
Southwest corner of Water street and Fifth avenue.
  • Contributed by Alan Flood (September 2003)
  • Bay City Tribune - Sunday, July 6, 1890, Page 5.


    Union Block Badly Damaged Yesterday Morning.

    Occupants of the Building Lose Heavily.

    Shortly after 9 o'clock yesterday flames were discovered in the lower portion of a shed in the rear of Harper, Heisner & Co.'s furniture store in the Union block, foot of Center avenue. The fire was just outside of a window directly at the bottom of the elevator shaft which runs to the upper story of the building. The shed in which the fire was first discovered runs the entire length of the rear of the block and in a very few minutes was blazing fiercely.

    An alarm was promptly sent in to the fire department and in a few moments the Second ward hose company had a stream on the flames which by this time had assumed gigantic proportions and threatened the destruction of the entire block. The intense heat had broken the basement window at the foot of the elevator in Harper, Heisner & Co.'s store and had seized upon a large quantity of highly inflamable material, which aided by a strong draft up the shaft soon sent flames and smoke to the upper stories. Dense clouds of black smoke poured from every part of the building and a general alarm was promptly sent out by Chief Harding. In a few minutes eleven streams were playing upon the burning structure and the flames were speedily controlled, although the firemen were kept busy for some time longer in extinguishing the fire.

    The fire spread so rapidly that it was impossible to save anything in the store of Harper, Heisner & Co. and the portion of the stock not destroyed by fire was ruined by the immense quantity of water which was poured into the building. The firm occupy three floors and the basement of the building and the structure was crowded full of furniture from top to bottom. The fire played havoc with the entire stock and of the large stock of mirrors carried by the firm, not one remains intact. The furniture is burned and broken and the interior of the building presents a sorry spectacle.

    The ground floor of the building is also occupied by the Commercial bank, the Postal Telegraph office and a museum owned by Wm. Ritcher, of Saginaw. Three heavy fire walls run through the building from east to west, and would have prevented the spread of the flames had not the shed at the rear of the building burned so rapidly. This structure was filled with highly inflammable material which threw out intense heat when ignited, and the entire place was ablaze in a moment. The only damage to the Commercial bank was by water, and this was confined to the directors' room in the rear. The postal Telegraph office was also drenched pretty thoroughly.

    The museum contained some rare animals in cages and a number of cases filled with valuable curiosities. Two of the employees were asleep in the front portion of the store at the time and the first intimation they had of the fire was the sudden breaking of the rear windows and the filling of the room with flames and smoke. An endeavor was made to save some of the animals, but without avail, and they were all smothered to death.

    The telephone office is situated on the third floor of the building and the operators made their escape as soon as the smoke filled the rooms. Two of the young ladies suceeded in reaching the ground by the stairway, but the others were compelled to flee to the top of an adjoining building by means of an iron bridge, where they remained until all danger had passed.

    The fire department did good work, and warm words of praise were heard on all sides at the excellent manner in which the fire was handled. The brave laddies forced their way through the thick smoke to the interior of the building and remained there directing water upon the flames until compelled to retire.

    The stock of Harper, Heisner & Co. is a total loss. The firm carried a stock valued at $12,000, and one of the members stated that they had saved absolutely nothing, and that the goods that had escaped the flames were demolished by water and rendered almost valueless. The firm carried an insurance of $6,000, divided among half a dozen companies.

    Wm. Ritcher estimates his loss at $20,000. He was seen by a TRIBUNE reporter directly after the fire, and stated that he had spent almost a lifetime in getting the collection, and that it was a difficult matter for him to accurately approximate its value. He had moved the museum to this city only a few days ago from Saginaw, and that the insurance had not been transferred, and therefore the loss would be total.

    The block is owned by H. Griswold and C.C. Fitzhugh. Mr. Griswold estimates his loss at $6,000, while Mr. Fitzhugh's loss will reach about $4,000, covered by an insurance of $5,000.

    It is not known just how the fire originated, and the first intimation of the blaze was gained by some workmen in the furniture store, who saw the flames through a basement window. An alarm was given and an endeavor made to extinguish the fire but without success. A large quantity of hardwood in Young Bros.' yards was scorched, and the corner of M. Garland's warehouse caught fire, but no damage resulted.

    All day long crowds of curious people visited the scene of the fire, and climbed the stairways to the upper stories of the buildings to view the destruction.

    The block will be rebuilt at once, and in the meantime Harper, Heisner & Co. will secure another location and open a store with a large stock of new goods.

    Subject Notes

    (Click to enlarge)
  • Union block was located on Water St. at foot of Center Ave. where Wenonah Park is in Bay City.
  • People Referenced
    Fitzhugh, C.C.
    Griswold, H.
    Harding, (fire chief)
    Ritcher, Wm.
    Subjects Referenced
    Commercial Bank
    Garland's Warehouse
    Harper, Heisner & Co.
    Postal Telegraph Office
    Second Ward Hose Co.
    Tribune newspaper
    Young Bros. yards
    Related References
    None at this time.
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.