An Account of Wellsville’s Big Fire in 1867

(Republished in 1922, Wellsville Daily Reporter)

It Occurred Just Fifty-Five Years Ago and Left Lower Business Portion of Place in Ashes.

A few days ago in conversation with a party of Wellsville business men the talk drifted to some of the fires that had been the fate of this village to contend with. A representative of the Reporter was fortunate enough to get hold of a document that was in the possession of Mr. Norton York, one of Wellsville’s Insurance Agents, that gives an accurate account of one of the largest and most disastrous fires, probably the largest blaze that ever occurred in this place. It was the fire that occurred exactly fifty-five years ago, on February 1, 1867, and that left the entire lower business portion of Wellsville in ashes. The document referred to, from which this story of the fire is taken, was a small three column in size, about 10x14 inches, issue of the “Free Press Extra,” the was written by H.C. Fisk, then the owner and editor of the Free Press, and through the kindness of the then owner and editor of the Cuba True Patriot, was printed on the morning following the fire, in the Cuba office.

It was Friday morning at 12:30 o’clock, Feb. 1, 1867, when fire was discovered in the saloon of Bieganski Bros., on the West Side of Main Street, opposite Union Block, where now are located the Wellsville Laundry, Hoyt Hardware, Hall Drug Store and others and next to Stilman’s News rooms, about where now is the Smith & Bush store. The alarm was speedily given, but the flames having broken from the eaves and being fanned by a strong west wind, soon beyond all control. That whole now was soon given over to the destroyer, and so rapid was the progress of the flames, but little was saved by any of the property owners doing business here.

Rosenbeck’s clothing store, York & Chamberlain’s banking office, Stillman’s book and music store, the Bieganski saloon, the barber shop, M. Berliner’s clothing store, Fred Getz’s grocery, A. S. Brown’s store, Free Press office, room of Scio Lodge F. & A. M., the Baptist church, and two or three small dwellings immediately in the rear, were soon a mass of flames, which illuminated the country for miles around, and sent aloft a shower of embers which in their fall threatened to widely extend the area of the conflagration.

About 1:15 a.m., the strong wind swept the fire across the street and ignited Union Block. So rapid was its work here that but little of the large stocks of goods in it were saved. The wooden structure, built of pine and seasoned by years of use, burned like tinder. E. B. Tullar saved but a small portion of his large stock of heavy hardware. Hoyt & Lewis saved part of their stock of dry goods. E. B. Hall, the druggist, was not so fortunate, losing nearly the whole of his goods. L. Foster lost his clothing, books and papers. D. C. Judd & Co.’s groceries followed Hall’s drugs with Connor’s grocery and Doty Bros. blacksmith shop.

This was the limit of its progress in this direction. Up Plank Road street (now East Pearl) toward the depot the fire now took up its line of march. J. H. Macken’s dwelling house was speedily in flames, then Wm. Beever’s dwelling and his meat market soon were sending storms of cinders aloft. J. J. Hauselt’s shoe shop and dwelling were next in order. Here it became absolutely necessary to stop the progress of the fire in this direction as two buildings only. Mrs. Langworthy’s house and the house of Maurice Connor, were to be passed, and the fire would be in the great piles of lumber and wood at the east end of the Erie woodshed. A rope and axes were soon procured and under the direction of Mr. E. A. Smith, Mrs. Langworthy’s house was pulled down in time to save that of Mr. Connor’s and stay the flames there.

But to go back to the time when we left the fire on its’ way up the street. The firemen saved Doty’s wagon shop, and then cause the grand struggle. It was necessary to stay the fire there or it would go by the way of Macken’s barn, blacksmith shop and wagon shop to Walker’s planing mill, and so to the lumber and wood near Sweet’s crossing. Sweet’s crossing was that part of Jefferson street that was closed when the new Erie passenger station was built.

The fire from the blacksmith shop had ignited a large pile of hard wood which was but some 12 feet from the pivotal point, Macken’s barn. In this space, Charles Cooley and James Taylor placed themselves. Again and again were the people assisting driven away by the dense smoke and driving showers of cinders, but these brave men never faltered. Now the steady hissing stream was turned on the blazing pile of wood, now upon the smoking sides and capling shingles of the barn. It really seemed as though the limit of human endurance had been reached and they must leave but no, the blasts of flying cinders and blinding smoke were only met by a sturdier bend of the head and a fresh assault by these men on the foe in front and rear. There is no doubt that this persistent effort saved the shops, Walker’s mill and the lumber piles along the railroad.

Everyone worked with a will. Ladies never stopped for the hood or waterfalls but came out and labored with hands, the earnest will of which made up for the lack of physical strength.

The losses, as far as could be ascertained, were as follows:

E. B. Tullar, hardware, $20,000.

Hoyt & Lewis, dry goods, $19,000.

E. B. Hall, drugs, $15,000.

D. C. Judd & Co., groceries, $13,000.

M. Connor, groceries, $4,000.

R. & J. Doty, blacksmiths, $2,500.

Miss Crane, music teacher, $1,500.

Lewis Foster, claim agent, $1,000.

J. B. Macken, dwelling, etc., $1,500.

Wm. Beever, meat market, $3,500.

Mrs. Langworthy, dwelling, $800.

J. J. Hauselt, furniture, etc., $300.

M. Rosenbeck, clothing, $10,000.

A. S. Brown, dry goods, $2,000.

A. S. Stillman, books, stationery, etc., $3,000.

M. Berliner, clothing, $4,000.

F. Geltz, grocery and saloon, $4,500.

Bieganski’s saloon, $4,500.

H. C. Fisk, printing office, $3,000.

Total loss, personal property, $32,100.

York & Chamberlain loss was light.

The Baptist church, J. C. Wheeler’s buildings, the loss of Masonic property, together with other buildings burned, increased the amount to near $115,000. There was about $70,000 insurance the property destroyed.