Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Bells of Rich Hill

This blog was inspired by another Wagon Wheels Insert to the Rich Hill Mining Review by Miss Mary Griffin. due to the length of this story this will be a two part blog. The second part of this blog will be posted tomorrow night.

The picture below came from the book "The Town That Coal Built." The picture is of the A.C. Cate Livery Barn on south Sixth Street it was the only building saved when Maple Street was consumed by fire in 1897.

Few of us are aware of the role that bells have played in the history of our town. Bells have been used to announce the hour of worship, the death of and individual, the time for school and burning of a raging fire.
Whenever the old fire bell sounded it struck terror in the hearts of the people. For anyone who might remember or for those who have heard of it. One of the most devastating of all fires burned all the business on both sides of Maple Street between Fifth and Sixth.
A letter written by Dave Smalley to L.W. (Dinty) Matthews gives us a vivid description
of that fire disastrous fire as he recalled it.
About eleven o’clock on that morning, Dave a twelve –year old boy had taken his bicycle to be repaired at a shop in a frame building belonging to S. B. Cole. The shop was in the rear of a brick building located on Sixth and Maple Streets also belonging to Mr. Cole.
He then went home to eat lunch and planned to return for the repaired bicycle at a later time. At one o’clock the fire bell was ringing long and loud accompanied by the whistles of a switch engine and the big mill.
Like many other people Dave went to locate the fire and was horrified to see a large cloud of smoke and flames rolling above the Klondike Livery Barn.
This Fire would be difficult to bring under control as the block fifth and sixth streets on Maple were a solid run of frame buildings on both sides of the street.
East of the Klondike livery Barn Charlie Fortune and his father had a feed store. Jim Cooks Blacksmith shop was next to the Livery Barn. Jim’s father and brother had a shop across the street.
Almost immediately all the building near the Klondike Livery Barn were on fire and the flames swept rapidly westward. There were many shops, another livery barn and harness shop owned and operated by Fred Fitzmeyer. Fred had a wooden leg and was remembered to have been seen going west with his arms full of harness. There was a vacant lot between the Fitzmeyer Harness Shop and a small blacksmith shop. The flames leaped across the vacant lot and completed the block of burning buildings.
Almost instantly the fire crossed the street to the many two-story second-hand stores. Herman Schwamb had a carriage shop on the Northeast corner of Fifth and Maple.
Just east of the carriage shop was the Jerome Candy Shop and east of that was another frame building, owned and operated by a man named Sherrick. Now the fire had spread to every building on both sides of the street between Fifth and Sixth on Maple.
The fire department and many volunteers worked hard to prevent the fire from crossing the street west of the Schwamb Carriage Shop to the Wagoner-Weik Shop on the northwest corner of Fifth and Maple. The Wogoner-Weik Shop made wagons, wheels and parts for wagons while the Schwamb Shop was referred to as a woodwork shop and made wheels, spokes, tongues and other parts for wagons and carriages. Both of these shops were of vital importance to the community in a day when transportation depended on wagons and carriages.
It was a real mystery that the fire department was able to prevent the fire from consuming the buildings across the alley on Park Avenue. Some of the buildings were brick, but there still were a few frame buildings on Park Avenue. In the case of the two-story buildings on Maple, the fire department was able to save parts of the buildings in the outer circle.
Three hours after the fire bell had been sounded the fire had been brought under control by a fire department that had fought fire on all sides at once.
As evening came, the only remains of a once busy business section were the charred debris and an occasional chimney had remained standing. Never again was the business section on Maple Street rebuilt. Losses would be difficult to determine but we know it was a hard blow as few if any carried fire insurance. Needless to say that Dave never saw his bicycle again.
To the best of my knowledge, Herman Schwamb was the only one to replace his carriage shop with a brick building where he continued his work. Later Mr. Johnson (father of Martin Johnson and Dora Phelps) went into the shop with Mr. Schwamb as a blacksmith. Mr. Johnson continued to operate the blacksmith shop until around 1950 when his health forced his retirement. When there was no longer need for wagons and carriages, there was still plenty of welding to be done in this shop.

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