March 29, 1913 - Saturday - Wellsville Daily Reporter; Submitted by Jane Pinney
BALDWIN BLOCK AND THEATRE ENTRANCE
The Big Theatre in the Rear Was Totally Destroyed by Fire Early this Morning.
The Block was Saved by Hard Work.
BALDWIN THEATRE DESTROYED BY FIERCE FIRE - Many Threatened Buildings Saved by Splendid Work of Fire Department - Wellsville suffered one of the most dangerous fires that has occurred in years, when the Baldwin Theatre, a huge wooden building covered with iron, was burned to the ground shortly after 1 o'clock this morning.
The building is only twenty feet in the rear of the two-story Baldwin Block and connected by a wooden passageway, while on both sides and less than twenty feet were rows of wooden buildings, and yet by the heroic and well directed work of the Wellsville Fire Department, the flames were prevented from eating into the Baldwin Block nor was a single case of the wooden buildings at the side more than scorched.
The fire was discovered at 1 o'clock by Warren Church, who was returning from the Masquerade party at Library Hall. From West Fassett street you could see the flames bursting from the side door, which stood open and he ran to the City Hall and turned in an alarm which was repeated several times.
The first line of hose was run down the alley directly to the side door and although only a few minutes had elapsed the entire interior of the building was then a seething mass of flames. Chief Miinte was early on the scene and quickly realizing the seriousness of the situation, ordered the fire steamer to the foot of Fassett street and had every possible line of hose laid, and within twenty minutes there were seven streams of water pouring into the flames.
The construction of the theatre, which was entirely covered with sheet iron, alone saved the fire spreading to adjoining buildings and the immense wooden structure of the Coats Furniture Factory, which would have made one of the most disastrous conflagrations in the history of Wellsville. High burning embers were carried blocks away and many buildings were endangered but hundreds of workers were on roofs of the buildings and as fast as a fire would start would be there to stop it. Fortunately there was no wind and flames were confined to a small area.
It was only by the energetic work of the firemen that the fire was prevented from burning the Baldwin Block. Time after time the flames swept through the hallway into the block setting fire to the doors and woodwork, but the firemen only worked the harder and inch by inch drove the flames back. Streams were playing on all sides of the building and most effective work was done by the line of hose run to the roof of the Baldwin Block, which held the flames in check on the most dangerous side.
The origin of the fire is unknown and must have started in the basement and been burning for some time before discovered. Manager Kress was in the theatre at 6 o'clock and at that time everything was alright and no gas fire or lights were left burning in the building. Considerable smoke was noticed on Main street a half-hour before the fire, but it was supposed to come from the Coats Furniture Factory where very often wood is burned in the boilers at night.
Miss Bessie Gana was the night operator in the Federal Telephone in the second floor of the Baldwin Block. She knew nothing of the fire until the alarm was sounded and upon going to the door entering into the hall. Volumes of smoke swept into the room. Only a moment later several men rushed into the office and hustled Miss Gana safely into the street. She was nearly suffocated by the dense black smoke.
It was thought the Baldwin Block was doomed and the various tenants began removing their valuable books and papers. Entrance was gained to the upper floors by ladder through Schwarzenbach's Insurance office. The Federal Telephone office and the law offices of Church & Ward, Jesse L. Grantier, and Frances B. O'Connor occupy the upper floor. On the lower floors books of valuable papers were removed from the Central Drug Store, while similar care was taken of things in the Citizens Bank, although books and valuables were in the large vault and safe.
Within two hours the theatre was burned to the ground and the danger practically over and a force of firemen were detailed to watch the ruins in case the fire should start up.
FLAMES START UP AGAIN - At 4:30 a.m. the ruins were blazing a little in one corner and when firemen attempted to turn on a stream of water it was found there was no water pressure. A hurried trip to the water station revealed the fact that the pumps were out of commission, owing to a loss of priming and another alarm was rung in and the always reliable steamer put to work at the river, where two streams of water soon had the flames under control. The pumps at the water station were out of commission for two hours - there was only the fire steamer that saved the flames from eating their way from the ruins through the hallway into the Baldwin Block.
The Baldwin Theatre, which was built a few years after the construction of the Baldwin Block in 1885, was a structure 120 feet long by 50 feet wide and 50 feet high while there was a scenery room addition 50 by 20 feet. It was one of the best designed theatres in Western New York, with a seating of 800, and costing $20,000. Five years ago extensive repairs and improvements in the building and of additional fire escapes on the outside at a cost of $7,000. The building was owned by Miss Anah Baldwin and was insured by the Schwarzenbach Agency for $15,000 of which $11,000 was on the building and $4,000 on stage property and scenery.
THE LOSS IN INSURANCE - The loss to the Baldwin Block mostly from water and smoke, will reach $1,000. The loss to the Teeple-Green Drug. Co., from smoke and water in their store and basement will aggregate $2,500 fully covered by insurance.
The loss in the law offices of Church & Ward, Jesse L. Grantier and Frances O'Connor and the Schwarzenbach Insurance office, which included the Town Clerk's office, is small, the damage being mostly from smoke, and was fully covered by insurance in the Schwarzenbach Agency.
SMALL DAMAGE TO TELEPHONE PLANT - The Federal Telephone Exchange had a most fortunate escape. There was no water and but little smoke in this end of the block. It would only have taken a stream of water through one of the back windows deluging their large operating board to have caused a loss of $10,000 and put 800 telephones out of service. As it was the Federal people had a lead conduit containing 200 wires and running along the rear of the Baldwin Block, down the alley alongside the burning theatre, and yet this lead conduit, hanging within twenty feet of the burning building was saved from damage by the good work of the department.
SPARKS FROM THE SCENE - The law office of Lee Fassett and Ernest Hornburg and Stewart's Photography Studio in the Thornton block, were in danger at one time from the intense heat, but suffered no damage.
Occupants of the one-story buildings along River street and adjoining the theatre had moved their household goods to places of safety, and many times the roofs of these buildings were on fire, while a score of men worked on the roof of the Coats Furniture Factory which were continuously covered with showers of sparks.
Wellsville can again congratulate herself upon the efficient work of her fire department. The boys worked like Trojans, and endangered their lives and health in the saving of the property and tonight fought the fire to a finish. Give the Wellsville boys plenty of water, and they are able to cope with the most serious fire.
George C. Rosa had a hot coffee brigade serving Hearts Delight coffee to the hard workers and - the boys appreciated it.
T.F. Donovan opened his ice cream parlors and generously served hot drinks to the firefighters.
The chemical engine came in for its share of work and kept the flames from entering the Baldwin Block through the hallway, at a most opportune time.
The Business Men's Association will have another problem to solve in providing Wellsville with a new and modern theatre and convention hall. A town of 5,000 inhabitants cannot get along without such a structure.