South Side of Square Fire
The Times-Tribune--Nov. 17, 1982
By Bill Gladstone

The picture this week shows the south side of the square the morning after it was destroyed by a fire. The fire started in the early hours of Aug. 13, 1882. A notation on the picture says it was taken at sunrise on a Sunday morning.
The Gentry and Worth County History, 1882, devotes a short chapter to this occurrence. They, in turn, got their information from a special issue of the Grant City Star. Following is the material that had been taken from the Star.
"Sunrise on the morning of August 13th found Grant City a scene of desolation that beggars description. About 2 o'clock on the morning of August 13, the quiet of the city was awakened from peaceful slumber to a realization of the terrible fact that but a few hours would suffice to lay waste the whole south side of the public square.
The first person to discover the fire was Dr. Davidson, dentist, who, with his family, occupies rooms over P.V. France's brick, on the southeast corner of the square. The alarm was given, and in a few minutes a large number of men were on the ground, and all that was possible was done to extinguish the flames, but to no purpose.
The flames spread rapidly, and in a few moments the whole building was wrapt in a sheet of flames. The whole side of the block was built of lumber, and there was no space between the houses over two feet wide, consequently it was evident to all that the whole row must burn, unless some one of the buildings could be torn out. Several attempts were made to tear down different ones, but the fire spread so rapidly that the undertaking had to be abandoned before anything could be done.
Commencing at the southwest corner of the public square, the first house that was burned, and that in which the fire originated, was one belonging to Howard,
Ainslie & Co. The house was a two story frame, the lower story of which was occupied by the grocery of Davidson & Sheridan, and the office of the American Express Company. The stock of Davidson & Sheridan amounted to over $1,5000, and their loss cannot be covered by $1,000. The express company lost about $100. The upper story was occupied by S. Witmer, justice of the peace, A.D. Austin and T.V. Golden. Attorneys, and the lodge room of the A.O.U.W. A few books and valuable papers were saved from the upper story. There was no insurance on either building or stock.
The next building also belonged to Howard, Ainslie & Co., and was occupied by Quigley & Houser, druggists. Most all the goods were removed from the building, but badly damaged. No insurance.
The next house in order belonged to Mrs. Cissna, and was occupied by Miss Sue Cissna and Mrs. Houser, milliners. Their stock amounted to about $500. Goods to the amount of $350 was saved. There was no insurance on the building or stock.
Watson & Hathaway, grocers occupied the next room, which was in the Cissna building. Their stock was valued at $2,000. Loss $500. No insurance.
F.O. Pettis' building was next burned. It was occupied by J.V. Hand, dry goods and clothing merchants. The stock was valued at about $5,000, and was carrying $3,000 insurance. The entire stock was removed, but much of it was damaged. The building was not insured.
France's meat market was the next fuel for the devouring element, and was soon in ashes. This building also belonged to F.O. Pettis, and was not insured. Mr. France's loss was about $200, fully covered by insurance.
M. Hauber's building was the next. The stock of boots, shoes, clothing, ect., was valued at $3,500, the building at $850. Insurance $1,200---loss principally on damaged goods, but we have not learned the exact amount.
The building next in order was two stories high, with basement, and was the property of Mrs. Urmy, a widow lady, which was occupied by Mrs. C. Harrison as a millinery store and residence. Millinery stock valued at $600 and saved in a damaged condition. Household goods worth about $1,500, about $100 of which were lost. No insurance. The building was a total loss, as there was no insurance, which falls heavily on Mrs. Urmy as the rent from it was one of the chief means of her support.
Witmer 7 Son, dealers in furniture, owned and occupied the building next to Mr. Urmy. They had on hand stock to the amount of $2,500. Loss, $1,000. Insurance on stock, $1,000. Building a total loss.
Hollingsworth & Hudson's building was the next to succumb to the devouring flames, and in a few minutes was burned to the ground. The lower story of this building was occupied by the grocery store of Hollingsworth & Kirkpatrick,a nd the upper story by Mr. Millson, painter. Mr. Millson and family were away at the time of the fire, but their goods were removed by some friends, so that his loss was but little. The grocery stock was valued at about $2,000, about $500 of which were lost. There was no insurance.
We now come to the Blue Front clothing house, owned by Mr. B.Wooldridge, of Hopkins. The building was worth about $800, and the stock it contained is valued at about $8,000. The building was erected nearly two years ago, when gentleman in charge of the store, was very fortunate in getting the goods out of reach of the fire. However, he had the fortune of being in next to the last building in the block from where the fire started, and consequently had plenty of time to get the stock out of thebuilding. Very little damage was done to the stock, but the building was an entire loss to Mr. W., as there was no insurance either on the building or stock. In the basement of this building was stored the scenery, curtains, etc., belonging to the "Home Comedy Company," which were lost. The company prized their scenery very highly, as it was all new and nicely painted. One hundred dollars will cover the loss.
The next and last building destroyed was owned and occupied by C.R. Dawson & Bro., who carried a general stock of merchandise. This stock was saved with very little damage to it. The building was insured for $600, and the stock for $1,400. Stock worth $6,000. The building was two stories high, with basement. The upper story was occupied by the Odd Fellows, and with the exception of their organ and probably a few fixtures, their hall was a total loss. No insurance.
The books and all the important documents in the court house were removed, and the utmost caution and strictest attention were necessary to save the building.
A number of buildings on the north side of the square were ignited by falling sparks or large pieces of shingles that were carried a distance of three or four blocks.
The fire was at one time almost subdued, and that was before the first building was consumed. Rolla Sanders and a number of others who reached the scene of the conflagration early, succeeded in extinguishing the fire in the lower part of the building, and could have saved $50,000 worth of property if a ladder could have been found to reach the roof of the house. But there was no ladder to be found to reach the roof of the house. But there was no ladder to be found anywhere until it was too late.
When it was known that the fire could not be subdued the utmost confusion prevailed; people ran hither and thither carrying goods, looking for lost friends and endeavoring to save all that could be saved from the buildings that it was known must burn. Hundreds of dollars worth of goods were carried into the street north of the row of burning buildings, and as building after building was destroyed, the goods that were thought to have been taken to a place of safety were consumed by the flames that were driven by the south wind across the street and into the park, where the leaves burned like stubble."
You probably can't distinguish it because it is quite hard to read on the picture that is being copied, but the sign across the upper story of the building to the right says--DAVIDSON SENTIST. Notice the stairway going up the south side of the building. Wouldn't it be interesting to know who the little fellow is just left of center in the front with the jaunty tilt to his derby hat and the thumbs hooked in his vest.
We want to thank those of you who are beginning to respond with old county lore, newspapers and pictures.
There is an interesting historical project that someone, or several someones, should be working on.
Probably the most extensive undertaking of its kind in the county was Rainbow Park and the Trading Post. I know very little about it, but someone should get the story committed to paper, and related pictures should be collected. There are a couple of generations in the county who probably won't believe that it happened.