Des Moines, IA Fire, Nov 1867


The origin of the disastrous fire which visited this city at 1 o'clock yesterday morning, is still a mystery. When first discovered--by Mr. J. P. Sharmen--it was a small flame, just beginning to dart its scorching tongue around the base of the pulpit in the church. Mr. S. states that could he have gained entrance into the church immediately, he could have drowned out the fire with a single bucket of water; but before entrance could be effected, the flames were wrapping the seats and leaping the walls, and in an astonishing short while burst through the roof. The building being an old frame, a regular pile of kindling wood, in a few minutes the whole structure was a dangerous mass of fire. The old bell, which has so often rang out the dread alarm of previous fires, made but a few peals in signal of its own destruction, before it tumbled from the belfry to the furnace below. The Methodist bell took up the alarm, frantic men dashed through the streets with arousing cries, and soon a dense mass of excited humanity were surging around the scene of the conflagration. Rescue Hook and Ladder Company was promptly on hand, and labored fearlessly and untiringly throughout the fire. Scarcely anything was removed from the church---seats, melodeon, &c., all being consumed.

On the North side of the church was the new Register building,---a brick structure under construction, with walls up to the roof, and a portion of the floors in--only some eight or ten feet off, and the South was Sharman's Photograph Gallery, a frame building. The crowd began removing the goods from this house immediately, but so quickly did the flames communicate, that it was impossible to save more than half of Mr. Sharman's photographic and household effects. Joining up to Sharman's building was Barnard's house---occupied by him as a fancy store and a dwelling place. Most of his goods were removed. In a short time all the buildings were a wild sea of streaming fire, whose remorscices flames, fanned by the terrific gale which was blowing at the time, snapped,[ineligible], cracked and rolled, in a mad carnival of frightful fury that seemed to [ineligible] the destruction of the entire business part of the city.

The flames soon ignited the window frames of the Register building, and creeping higher and still higher, soon reached the cornice, and began to obtain a mastery of the whole structure which bid fair to end in its destruction. This portion of the fire we know all about, for we were "there or thereabouts" till the flames were quenched and the building was out of peril. At several times, brands fell from the burning frames into the building among the lumber, rubbish and shavings of the floors, but thanks to watchfullness and swift and kind hands they were speedily extinguished. Many strong arms come boldly into the building when the unsafe footing of joists and planks made it extremely dangerous, but still, although a great many feet were hurrying over the unsafe treadways we are happy to say no one was seriously hurt. Down through the four stairs of the building and out to Savery's well, a water line was formed, and after an hour's fight of desperate energy, the flames were subdued and "all was well." To all those who so nobly helped in this work, the Register office is under most grateful obligations. Not making any invidious particularizing and thankful to all, we still desire to mention the names of Mr. Renthorn, who went to the highest point and worked bravely and effectually,---Mr. J. M. Shelby, the favorite actor who can act "the Fireman" as well amid the roaring flames as on the stage---Prof. Worthington who worked faithfully and effectively,---and Messrs. Smith, Bob Blair, Young, and others.

At one time the flames, driven by the steady gale, stretched their molten waves half across Fourth Street, frightfully imperilling[sic] the safety of the opposite buildings and indeed the whole city. Brands and sparks went hurtling through the air, making the whole distance between the fire and the river a shifting kaleidoscope of darting, hissing spangles. The house of Mr. Sypher, was in most imminent peril, and had it caught on fire, a swath of desolation, wide and complete, would have been made directly through the business heart of the city.---The entire front and roof, was, however, is no doubt mainly attributable to the shelter of the large trees in front of it. Men were stationed on all parts of the roofs between the exposed portion lying between Fourth and Third Streets. The roof of the railroad office on Third Street---Bettrr[sic] known as the Hall of the Third Street Club---was at one time on fire but was fortunately promptly extinguished.

In an hour from the time the alarm was first sounded, the three buildings destroyed were leveled to a heap of glowing coals.


It is impossible to give any correct estimates of the losses of the parties who have suffered by the devastations of this size. Mr. Sharman---one of our best citizens, a quiet, industrious, popular business man---saw nearly all his possessions melt into the fiery waste. His house, his photographic instruments, negatives, chemicals, and household goods, were nearly all destroyed. Mr. Barnard's loss is also severe. An old man, this frightful loss has come upon him and swept away nearly all of his little fortune. Upon these two men the blow falls most heavily. Unfortunately, there was no insurance on any of their buildings or property---the policies having expired a short time before. The Church building, embracing the seats &c., was the property of F. M. Mills. This, added to the injury inflicted upon the Register buildings, makes his loss considerable.


Of these there are not many. The crasiest[sic] man is said to have been a person living beyond the State Arsenal---about the distance that the fire could have traveled in two days---who began to drag out his fortune, and sent his wife up town to get some help.

The Reserve Hook and Ladder Boys, who worked fast and all the time, broke several of their hooks, and one or two of the boys got slight scratches.

Two or three persons in the Register building got "tumbles," and fell astride of joists in an unpoetical and unpleasant way.

Four sound sleepers---young men who go to bed at virtuous hours and have peaceful consciences--in the Exchange Block, slept throughout the whole hubbub and din, and knew nothing of it, till they read it in the morning, in the Register. If they don't want to wake up at the "thunders of Judgment," they are all "hunkadora" for an eternal sleep.

The old church bell fell into a smelting furnace---for it is nearly half melted away, and the remaining half converted into a dross that will ring "nevermore."

We heard of not thieving, although there was abundant chance for plundering. Mr. Barnard, however, left a watch on a bureau, which has not yet been found.


While the mad waves of fire were roaring their thunders of destruction and lightning up the heavens with a baleful glare, did anybody imagine that their wild music was set to the words "FIRE ENGINE?"

Daily State Register, Des Moines, IA 2 Nov 1867