Macon, GA Union Depot Explosion, Oct 1891



A Victim to the Flames Died in Mortal Agony – One of the Oldest Brick Buildings in the City.

Macon was all excitement yesterday over one of the most damaging conflagrations that has ever occurred in the history of the city.

The Union passenger depot was destroyed by fire and a young man fatally burned.

The fire broke out at ten minutes to 4 o’clock and originated in T. C. Parker’s news stand on the interior of the car shed.

Henry Sloan, a young white man in charge of the stand, was attempting to light a fire in a coal stove in the front apartment of Mr. Parker’s establishment and use kerosene oil for the purpose. When he applied the match an explosion took place and in a moment the room was filled with smoke and flames.

Young sloan (sic) dashed out of the place and ran through the shed inveloped (sic) in fire. At the rear end he was caught by the night watchman and by almost superhuman efforts stripped of the burning clothing.

In the meantime the flames had burst from the news stand and into the ticket office. Then in another moment to the roof of the shed and throughout the entire building like a flash. It was a frightful sight, and those who witnessed it claim never to have seen flames spread so rapidly.

When the department arrived the entire car shed was a mass of flames and showers of sparks were falling for hundreds of yards around.

The firemen worked as they never worked before, but water seems to have little effect on that half acre of roaring, seeming flames. In a short time the roof of the shed had fallen in and the flames shot up a hundred feet in the air. Nothing could possibly be saved in this quarter and the firemen turned their attention to the offices in the front end of the building. A massive brick wall separated the from the shed proper, and by reason of this it was possible to keep the flames in check. But soon the roof caught, and after burning very slowly for two hours, despite the efforts of the firemen it collapsed, and it seemed improbable that a single vestige of the immense structure would remain standing.

Two hours of hard work, however, had a telling effect and by 8 o’clock the flames had been subdued.

There remaining of the old car shed the rear and side walls, all of which were plainly badly damaged, and the front offices with their timers charred, a portion of the roof fallen in and each room completely gutted. The news stand, ticket office, baggage rooms and watchman’s quarters were entirely destroyed. The waiting rooms had suffered but little by the fire, though badly damaged by water, but the superintendent, train master and dispatcher’s office were in a dilapidated condition.

The large cupola on the top of the building had fallen in and its base rested on the floor of the train dispatcher’s office. The wooden petitions had been knocked down, and charred timbers were jammed in every apartment.

Throughout the morning the firemen kept playing on the ruins, and it was late yesterday afternoon before the smoke had died away.

Almost before the flames had been extinguished a force of hands was at work removing the debris and massive sheets of tin, which had fallen from the roof, huge timbers yet smoking, cross ties and dilapidated iron rails were being moved away to make ready for the work of reconstruction.

By 2 o’clock in the afternoon the carpenters were able to begin their work, and then saws and hammers were kept busy. There has not been a moment’s cessation in the work since, and this morning trains will again run into the shed. A force of more than 200 carpenters, track layers, and helpers spent the whole night working with might and main. The result is that today at noon every track will be laid anew, platforms down and the great mass of debris removed.

Throughout yesterday, Central, Southwestern and Georgia trains arrived and went out just outside the rear of the car shed, and it was a sight to be remembered to witness those thousands of people there in the open air boarding trains for home, or stepping off the train to be dumbfounded at what they beheld.

The Georgia Southern’s (sic) trains arrived and went out from the rear of the office on Pine street and in such a miserable manner, each road managed to handle the immense crowds and send out trains on time. Not a schedule was broken and old railroaders say the work done was remarkable.

Accounts of the terrible accident are much on the same line and all picture a scene not too soon to be forgotten.
Mr. Emmett Bonner, assistant ticket agent at the car shed, was in the office at the time selling tickets for train No. 2 for Atlanta, which had just arrived from Savannha and which narrowly escaped destruction.

It was only by the quickest work that the train was pulled from under the shed before it had been enveloped in flames and then not until the sleeping coach had commenced to burn. The coach was filled with passengers at the time and it was with difficulty that they were kept pacified while the flames were being put out.

The entire train was finally pulled safe from the shed, but the sleeping coach was almost destroyed.

Mr. Bonner, in telling of his story of the fire, said:
“I had been down stairs only a few minutes and was selling tickets for the Atlanta train, which had arrived from Savannah ten minutes late. Suddenly I heard an explosion and ran to the door to discover the cause. In an instant flames burst from the door of Parker’s news stand and from out of them ran a man on fire. It a moment the outside track was afire and the flames were running down it at a rapid rate. “I jumped back into the office to secure the loose money but in another instant the glass in the office windows broke and the flames dashed into the place. I barely escaped with my life and was unable to save but a small amount of the money on hand. I never saw flames spread so rapidly nor a building burn so fast. It was my opinion at first that a lamp had exploded.”

Mr. T. C. Parker, owner of the news stand, was completely stricken by the terrible accident and had been able to learn but little of the cause of the fire.

The young man who was burned was a cousin of Mr. Parker, and he was carried to Mr. Parker’s house on Huguenin Heights. He was then in a semi-conscience state, and in a feeble voice was said to Mr. Parker:
“Cousin Thad, I didn’t mean to do it. I was only cold and trying to light a fire in the stove when it exploded.

These were probably the last words the young man ever spoke. Physicians found it impossible to give him any relief, and he died at ten minutes past 12 o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Young SLOAN was about twenty-one years of age and arrived in Macon only a few days ago from Savannah, where he had been at work for Mr. Parker. The remains will be carried home for burial.

Mr. Parker is satisfied that the explosion was caused by the young man using kerosene in the coal stove.

Mr. Parker says the character of his stock, consisting largely of books and papers, made it easy for the fire to secure rapid headway. Mr. Parker estimates his loss at between $7,000 and $8,000, with $4,800 insurance, carried with Cobb, Canouiss, & Cobb and George W. Burr & Co.
Officer Frank Moseley, who was on duty near the Brown house at the time the fire broke out, says it gained considerable headway before an alarm was sent in.

Train Dispatcher Mims was on duty and in one of the front offices up stairs. Two other employes (sic) was on duty and the three barely had time to leave the building before the flames and smoke entered their apartments.

The dispatcher’s office was probably worse damaged than any of the offices, and nearly all of the papers here were either ruined or destroyed.
The watchman at the shed first heard screams and then beheld young Sloan dashing down the shed covered with fire. He says he first turned his attention to the boy and succeeded in ridding him of the burning clothes and securing assistance. He says Sloan’s entire body was a frightful blister, while his hair was singed and his face blackened and burned. Sloan was only groaning with pain and could scarcely tell how the explosion occurred. It was from the stove, as first stated.

It is difficult at this juncture to secure a clear estimate of the aggregate loss, but it will hardly fall short of $75,000, and was even at first estimated at $180,000.

The depot building was worth, at least $40,000/ The Richmond and Danville system carried $35,000 insurance on this, placed with Ralli Bros., the New York insurance representatives of the road. A question in connection with this portion of the loss in what part of the shed is damaged and what part can be saved.

The rear and side walls are evidently in a dangerous condition and will probably be pulled down today. The front end of the building has not yet been tested, but this is believed to be little damaged.

There were something over 150 pieces of baggage destroyed in the fire, and already claims on this score amounting to over $4,000 have been filed. The baggage men say, however, that fully two-thirds of this baggage had been left in the shed over forty-eight hours and was allowed to remain there only as an accommodation to the roads’ patrons. The road officials claim that under these circumstances the road is not responsible for loss.

Several large Macon wholesale establishments had a number of valuable sample cases in the shed, and one firm is known to have filed a claim for $1,500.

It was at first reported that the entire Cleveland’s Minstrels outfit had been burned, but this was a mistake, as the car in which they were loaded was standing on a track outside of the shed.

A number of trunks containing military uniforms were burned, and the remains of several fine swords were found in the ruins.

Besides the severe damage to the sleeping coach the Southwestern’s inspection car and an old condemned passenger coach were burned, running the loss on cars up to probably $8,000, which is fully covered by insurance.

The loss in the ticket office cannot be arrived at until tickets sold are returned. Every ticket in the office, with furniture and other things were totally destroyed, together with a sum of money not yet estimated.
Ticket Agent Harris says all the money from sales of tickets after 8 o’clock at night was burned.

Water caused the greatest damage in the superintendent, train-master and dispatcher’s offices.

There were all removed yesterday to vacant rooms in the shops and everything is running smoothly there.

The road officials are of the opinion that the car shed will not be rebuilt, but instead a new depot erected at the foot of Poplar street where the road had long desired to build.

Trains will go out of the Union depot as usual after 6 o’clock this morning, two tracks having been completed by 3 o’clock a. m.

Editor Tellgraph: Now that the Union depot property has been destroyed by fire, the question of a new depot, that has long been agitated and contemplated, should now be decided. Macon has grown to sufficient importance to have a new depot hands me enough to do credit to the city and large enough to facilitate accommodations to the traveling public. The lacking in and out which has been a source of annoyance and worry to nearly every passenger coming into the city, should be discontinued, and a new depot should be erected either between Cherry and Poplar streets or Poplar and Plum, spanning the tracks of the road, and the sum derived from insurance on the building destroyed, with what the land would bring, would warrant the road in expending at least $100,000 on a new depot building.

For this sum, a modern structure can be erected and the road would not have to draw on the reserve fund to meet this improvement account.
It is hoped that the authorities of the road will take this matter into consideration, and that our Board of Trade will meet and urge the matter before them.

The Macon Telegraph, Macon, GA 30 Oct 1891