Wellsville Daily Reporter July 30, 1895
GREAT FOREST FIRE
Wellsville Seemed Doomed in September 1856
REMINISCENCES OF WELLSVILLE, PART V
A Timely Rain Saved Our Village From Ruin – Continuation of Dr. Sheerar’s Reminiscences
I have no doubt that there are many persons in Wellsville who have noticed upon our hill tops many trees which are dead, whose smooth trunks and leafless branches mutely appeal to the thoughtful and inquiring minds for explanation. The thick undergrowth of shrubs and small trees also have their teachings.
The older residents of Wellsville understand the meaning of these dumb monuments very well indeed.
The month of September 1856 was a very dry one. The ground was parched, the heavens over our heads were brass and the earth under our feet like iron. About the middle of the month fires began to run in the forests around about. On the 17th things assumed a most threatening aspect. In almost every direction one turned his eyes could be seen large columns of smoke ascending.
On the 18th the news reached us that the small village of Stannards’ Corners was burning, and the people were fleeing for their lives, taking a few of their valuables loaded in wagons or any other way, not having time to think or even look back at their homes, melting away in the devouring flames and hastening to any place that promised only temporary refuge.
Mr. Lewis Jones (father of Henry L and David S. Jones) lived a short distance out of town, on the road to Petrolia. The fire came upon his home rapidly. He removed most of his household goods to, as he supposed, a safe distance, but when his house and barn burned, the fire caught in his pile of goods, while he and his wife escaped with only a tin box of valuable papers.
Mr. Joseph Crowner was threatened by the invading foe. The boys (who are men of my age now and older) rallied to his assistance. They had nothing to fight fire with but pails, hoes, rakes, brush and brooms, indeed anything they could lay their hands upon. Crowner’s house, barns, etc were saved. The latter was a peculiar man, his oddities cropped out in various ways.
After the hard fighting, the boys of course were very thirsty. Some one chanced to think that Mr. Crowner had a good dairy. As the water was rather poor and warm, they went down cellar to see if they could find some milk. They found a good supply and began to help themselves, without saying “by your leave sir”. As the old gentleman could not stop them, he said piteously, “Say boys, won’t you be careful and blow back the cream.” I asked the man, who related this to me, if they did blow back the cream “Well, no” said he, “I tell you that milk tasted so good, that we forgot all about the cream, and I don’t think that the amount of cream left in uncle Crowner’s cellar would be enough to enrich one good sized cup of coffee.”
One man took the largest mirror in Mr. Crowner’s parlor, carried it into a near potato field and, carefully covering it up with dirt, placed a stick by the side of it so it could be easily found, then informed Mr. C. where he’d find it. Mr. C. cursed him for what he had done and ordered him to get it back. His orders were obeyed with some reluctance but said the man, “I had some thoughts and wishes that I would not care to see in print nor even tell.”
Mr. Daniel Dobbins came to Wellsville with his family of four children in the spring of 1856. He built the house now owned by Mrs. S. V. Wilcox near Riverside. There was a saw and shingle mill on the Genesee river nearly opposite Mr. Dobbins dwelling, known as the Hull and Morse mill. Dobbins & Fassett owned it at this time. The fire had caught in the logs in the water and also the lumber about the mill. Mrs. Dobbins and her servant, Maggie Barry, went to their assistance: Miss Lydia Dobbins, her brother and two sisters, the dog and cat were left to take care of the house. During the afternoon a brakeman from a passenger train on the Erie R.R. called at the house and informed the children that the fire was running towards Church’s large lumber pile on Coats Switch. The eldest daughter, (now Mrs. Jas Thornton) charged the children what to do and then bravely went to the lumber yard and by hard work saved the valuable lumber.
The next day in the afternoon I was at the easterly end of Main Street near where Mrs. McEwen’s house now is. There was not a brick building in Wellsville then and we knew if the fire once reached our village, there was no help for us. While I was standing there the wind commenced blowing furiously, the air being filled with smoke and dust, the sun could be seen but dimly and looked like a great shield of liquid fire. I could hear a dull, heavy roar which made me think that the westerly end of the village was on fire. I hastened to the side of the nearest building which was about where R. A. Wells store now is. While standing there all alone I saw one of our women running along the street, her hair hanging down about her shoulders, flying in every direction. Frantically throwing her arms, wringing her hands and screaming, with all her might for divine help and salvation, fully believing that the judgment day had come and the great trumpet would very soon sound.
I did not know but the judgment had come, at least to many of us, if the fire had commenced destroying the little town. I dared not go into the street to try to go home and I feared to stay where I was as I expected every second to hear the cry of fire and the shout “run for your lives!” But whither should I run; fire all around us, and what could we do. The pen of a ready writer could not describe the mental agony I suffered for a few moments. In a short time the tempest of wind subsided and I hastened home finding my family in the greatest anxiety for my safety. I soon learned that my feelings had been similar to most of the people of Wellsville.
In every direction we looked we could see the fire marching upon us like a victorious foe upon a beleaguered city. The nearest point of the fire was upon the hill north easterly from the depot, or above Briggs street. We resolved to fight for our homes and loved ones, so long as we could stand. As the sun went down, the fires shown like stars of destruction around us. As large a company of men as we could muster assembled at the station armed with the most available things to fight fire. A despondent company we were, for our enemy was terrible and our means of defense not efficient. Suddenly some one spoke in a clear ringing voice “Hark!” a stillness like the tomb came over that company, then a clear voice, full of emotion, but with clarion tones rang out “It rains”. Then from every heart went forth an earnest and glad some shout “Thank the Lord!”. There was no hypocritical response to those expressions. Heads bowed reverently, eyes filled with tears and hearts swelled with gratitude to the great giver of all goodness for this blessing of rain. We quietly went to our home, feeling a security we had not enjoyed in several days. I venture to say that Wellsville village and township never saw a night before or since, when there was so general and united feeling of earnest thanksgiving as on that evening.
I think it would be very proper for us, especially we older residents of Wellsville, to publicly express in some way our thankfulness for our deliverance from the ravages of fire on the 18th of September 1856.