Alton, IL Stanard Mill Fire, Oct 1901


Entire Business District of Alton Was Threatened.

Alton, Ills., Oct. 3.-- The fire which Wednesday swept five-sixths of the block in the city of Alton bounded by State, Second, Plaza and Front streets threatened the entire district occupied by the main business houses with destruction for two hours. The loss is estimated at $300,000 and the insurance will amount to $250,000. The greatest damage is done to the plant of the E. O. STANARD Milling company, the property destroyed being worth over $210,000.

The fire broke out in the fourth floor of the STANARD mill and is supposed to have been caused by an explosion of mill dust. It had been burning a few minutes when discovered. A general alarm was turned in and within five minutes after the fire was discovered every available piece of hose in the city was playing on the flames. The fierce heat and the highly combustible nature of the contents of the mill made the work of the firemen almost without avail. Adjoining the STANARD property on the west is a brick building belonging to the RYDER estate and at this building the firemen made a stand. The wind was blowing a gale from the northwest and to this circumstances alone is due the fact that the main business part of Alton was not destroyed. The flames spread eastward, and when the firemen gave up their efforts to extinguish the fire in the STANARD mill and devoted their efforts to saving the adjoining buildings, the conflagration extended to the elevator property. In the meantime the heat had become so fierce that the business houses on the north side of the street, which is narrow, were repeatedly set afire and were extinguished by the good work of volunteer firemen. Windows in the buildings opposite were broken by the heat and the occupants of the stores were moving their goods to places of safety.

From the STANARD mill the fire went to the packing department and the big elevator. Within the elevator were 100,000 bushels of new wheat and in the packing department were 4,000 barrels of flour. When the elevator took fire the firemen were forced to retreat. In a few minutes the whole elevator was a seething furnace.

At this time the firemen feared that the whole downtown part of the city was about to be burned, and urgent messages were sent to Mayor WELLS and Chief SWINGLEY for assistance from the St. Louis fire department. At 11:05 a. m. notice was given to the Chicago and Alton office in St. Louis by Chief SWINGLEY that a special train was needed to carry the hose companies from St. Louis to Alton. The run was one of the fastest ever made over the Alton from St. Louis. The time made was forty-two minutes. The Terminal railroad gave the special train a clear track, and orders were issued to give it the right of way all along the road. The train consisted of four flat cars and an engine. It carried fire companies Nos. 18 and 29 (unsure of numbers : transcriber) under Assistant Chief BASCH and RON SWINGLEY, son of Fire Chief SWINGLEY. The train arrived in Alton at a time when the Alton firemen nearly had the fire under control. Streams were soon secured by the engines, which were stationed at the river, and pumped water direct from the river through four lines of hose laid across the Alton levee.

While the St. Louis companies were on their way to Alton the fire spread from the STANARD elevator to the GEORGE D. HAYDEN Machine company shop, which was destroyed, and the machinery within is badly damaged. The next building attacked by the fire was that of the Alton Electric Roller Mill company. The building was filled with grain and hay, and the damage was heavy. The building owned by JOHN C. MEEHAN was nearly destroyed. Two buildings owned by MATTHEW WILKINSON were badly damaged and are almost half a loss. The fine building at Second and Plaza streets, owned by H. G. McPIKE, and valued with its contents, at $75,000, was threatened, and it required the utmost exertions of the firemen and the volunteers to save it.

When the high brick walls fell there was the greatest danger to the firemen because of the crowded quarters, the street being very narrow. No injuries were reported. At one time in the early part of the fire the high stack on the STANARD mill fell almost without warning. A corps of firemen were working near by, and the stack fell upon the spot where they had been standing, the men escaping barely in time.

In the engine room of the STANARD mill JOHN EDGAR, the engineer, bravely stood at his post of duty while threatened with instant death. When he realized that the mill was doomed he rushed to the engine room, impelled by a thought that the new battery of boilers might be saved. His plan was to keep the boilers filled with water so that the heat would not damage them. He started the pumps and despite the firemen's entreaties to flee for his life he stood at the throttle until the boilers were filled and the engine shut down. By that time the engine room was burning. EDGAR left the room just in time to escape being burned to death.

The Daily Review Decatur, Illinois 1901-10-03