Skip to Content

Alton, IL Wooden Ware Works Fire, Apr 1868

FIRE.--About half-past five o’clock yesterday afternoon the brick “drying house” of the Wooden Ware Works was discovered to be on fire. The alarm was at once sounded, and in a few moments the Altona engine was on the ground, and was vigorously at work. A large number of men were, also, engaged in deluging the house with water from buckets, but no amount of water seemed to have the slightest influence on the flames.

The house contained six separate compartments, or kilns (each of which was filled with staves and headings) and the walls were with out windows, hence it was found almost impossible to get at the fire, so as to play upon it effectually. In about an hour from the time of the first alarm the Washington engine arrived on the ground, and was station at the pond near the Methodist Church, where it rendered efficient service. But although three streams of fire were kept playing upon the fire constantly, still the dense volumes of smoke and steam issuing from the building showed that the flames were but little effected by the deluge of water. At nine o’clock the roof of the building fell in, after which time the firemen were able to play with more effect upon the dense mass of fire within. But it was not until after twelve o’clock that the flames were so far subdued as to render it same for the engines to leave their posts.

At one time it was feared that the fire would be communicated to the main building, but owing to the wind’s being from the south and to the great exertions of the firemen and citizens, this great calamity was obviated.

Too much praise cannot be awarded to the firemen, and the citizens who assisted them, for the perseverance and energy they manifested throughout. Hour after hour the brakes went steadily up and down without a moments cessation, until the labor was no longer necessary. And there was no excitement about this “manning of the brakes,” but it was hard, monotonous work, where grip and grit were alike needed. We take pleasure, also, in testifying to the efficiency and zeal of Chief Engineer Pfeiffenberger and his assistants in directing the operations of the firemen and citizens.

It is a difficult matter to ascertain exactly the amount of the loss, as it will be mostly, indirect. The building was divided into six kilns, and in each kiln were 2,000 feet of prepared, or 12,000 staves in all, almost ready for use. The value of this material was about $1,200. The building cannot be replaced for less than $2,500. There was no insurance. The great loss, however, is in the suspension of business which will be necessary on account of the disaster. Very nearly all the dry material that the factory had on hand was consumed, and consequently no work can be done until a new “drying house” can be built and new material prepared. This will require at least a month, all of which is a dead loss of time.

The company have the sympathy of the community in their loss, especially as it is the third time the have suffered in a similar manner. They have won the reputation of making the best wooden ware in the west, and the entire trade will regret to learn of their misfortune.

Alton Weekly Telegraph, Alton, IL 1 May 1868



article | by Dr. Radut