Independence, IA Fire, Nov 1873

On November 2, 1873, all the buildings on the east side of Chatham, between Main and First streets, northeast, and on the north side of Main Street, between Second Avenue, northeast, and the building now owned by C. A. McEwen and occupied as a candy kitchen, were destroyed. In all, ten business houses, at a loss of $30,000.

Fire was discovered about half past 11 o’clock Friday night in a woodshed attached to the rear of the Leytze Block. This was soon consumed and it spread to that block and consumed it, and from that point spread in two directions— up Chatham Street toward the north and up Main Street toward the east. The only means to fight the fire was a hand engine attached to the public cistern at the corner of Main and Walnut streets, and when all was ready, the hose laid and the firemen at their posts, it was discovered that the machine would not work, owing to the valves being frozen, and thereafter the machine was useless for any practical purposes. But for this unfortunate circumstance the conflagration would undoubtedly have been confined to the Leytze Block and the adjoining buildings. The hook and ladder company worked heroically, trying to check its fury by tearing down wooden buildings in its course; but without any mechanical assistance, their efforts seemed almost futile. The fire raged and increased in fury until it reached the high three-story brick wall of the Munson Block, and its further progress was stayed. The flames leaped and surged against this opposing force, but after a time gave up the struggle, and abated into a smoldering heap of coals. This was in reality a long anticipated and dreaded calamity, owing to the many wooden structures in that block, and not until some such catastrophe happens can people be educated to the fact that they must improve their methods of building. Here again the losers were encouraged and aided financially to rebuild their businesses, and with this substantial backing were just making a start when the second and far the worse catastrophe knocked the very foundations from under those business concerns who had so generously offered to assist them. ....

This fire of 1873 had been regarded as a serious check to the business interests of the town, and it is no wonder that at first this second visitation of woe almost overwhelmed those sturdy, courageous business men who had risked their fortunes with those of the little pioneer city and had waited long and patiently to reap the promised returns of their ventures.

And that the city so speedily recovered from that lamentable disaster, and more than redeemed her former prosperity, is ample proof of the genuineness and superior abilities of her loyal citizens and further proves that “there is a destiny that shapes our ends”—Independence had been born to live. In the same weekly issue with the account of the fire, appeared the public assurance of most of those men whose business houses had been totally destroyed that they intended to rebuild, not only much better, but many more stores.

Continued