“The Flames” – Biloxi Business District in Ashes – October 13, 1894

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Biloxi Daily Herald

October 13, 1894

THE FLAMES

A PORTION OF THE PRINCIPAL STREET OF BILOXI IN ASHES.


Business Houses and Residences Were Burned Like so Much Chaff


LOSS ABOUT $75,000—INSURANCE $28,000.

Heroic Action of Firemen and Citizens


Biloxi has again been visited by a conflagration more sweeping in extent and entailing a financial loss greater than that of the fire of June, 1889. Friday morning about 2 o’clock a private watchman discovered flames issuing from the two-story building of Jos. W. Swetman, located on Pass Christian st., main thoroughfare, and in the most densely populated portion of the city. The alarm was sounded and the fire department turned out in quick order, but the flames had gained such headway that it was impossible to save the building and efforts of the firemen were directed to those adjoining. The Swetman building was occupied by J. W. Swetman a drug-store with sleeping apartments on the second floor occupied by his family, and so rapidly did the fire eat its way that the family were only able to hastily gather a few articles of clothing and make their escape. Another portion of this building on the first floor was occupied John W. Henley, as a oyster saloon. Adjoining the Swetman building, and on the west the fire quickly communicated to the engine room of Mechanics Fire Co., and from that to the Masonic Opera House, a large frame structure. Continuing its course west, on Pass Christian street, the two buildings owned by John Eistetter, one occupied by J. H. Murphy as a blacksmith shop, and the other by P. Ferzar, as a lunch house, were consumed as was also the tin shop belonging to Dan Markey, and a small residence, both in the rear and owned by Jno. Eistetter. Crossing Magnolia street the storehouse and dwelling of Miss St. Tual was soon in ashes. The fire in its eastern course was checked with the burning of the market-house of Felix Borries, by the most desperate and heroic work on the part of both firemen and citizens.


Before this time, however, buildings were burning in all directions, and it looked as if the larger portion of the city would be consumed before the wrath of the fiery monster was appeased. Opposite the Opera House the large two-story business house and dwelling of S. Picard was in flames, and in the flying cinders the intense heat almost immediately ignited the residence of W. K. M. Dukate, on the east and a cottage on Magnolia street, owned by N. Voivedich and occupied by F. W. Eaton. With the destruction of the last named building the flames were, checked on Magnolia street, although the house south of it and occupied by T. E. Colline, was badly scorched.

On the south side of Pass Christian street the residence of Mrs. Rich and a small building adjoining, occupied as a candy store were being rapidly reduced to ashes only to be followed in quick succession by the building occupied by Joseph Lawrence as a shoe shop, and the barber shop J. Kilk both owned by George Ohr, Sr. From the barber shop the next to fall a prey to the fiery demon was the large two-story building owned by Chas. Redding and occupied by him as a residence and grocery store. South of Redding’s a cottage belonging to Dr. J. J. Lemon and occupied by Mrs. Kelty, was burned as was also a two-story cottage adjoining, belonging to Geo. Ohr, Sr. On the north side of Pass Christian st., and east of the Swetman building, four small buildings owned by the same gentlemen, were destroyed—one of these was without a tenant and the other occupied by Sing Lee as a laundry; H. Eikel, merchant tailor; and Mrs. Ohr, grocer.


The fire in this direction was checked at the building owned by Mrs. Amare and occupied by Keel & Jennett, grocers. This building was damaged to the extent of about $100, and it seemed at times beyond the power of human beings to save the structure and it was only by almost superhuman efforts that the flames were checked at this point. The destruction of this building would have followed by the loss of many more, and with this appalling fact staring them in the face the firemen worked with redoubled vigor and until their hands and faces were scorched and blistered by the devouring element.


In the rear of the property last destroyed stood the famous pottery of Geo. E. Ohr, whose shop during the past severel [sic] years has been visited by hundreds of visitors from other sections and from almost every State in the Union, seeking relics in artistic pottery. In a few moments the toil and work of Ohr, the artistic potter, was reduced to ashes.

In the rear of the opera-house the planning mills of John R. Harkness & Sons, together with a large amount of finished work and lumber, was destroyed.


In the upper story of the opera-house were the lodge rooms of the Masons and Knights of Pythias. The regalia and all paraphernalia of both orders were completely destroyed, only the secretary’s and treasurer’s books of the Masonic order being saved.


On the ground floor of the opera-house was the office of the Postal Telegraph Co., and the watch-maker shop of B. M. Root, both suffering a total loss.


Fortunately there was but little wind during the conflagration, else the damage would have been more than doubled. As it was, houses several blocks away from the seat of the fire were ignited by flying cinders, and it was only by the closest surveillance that many other buildings were not added to the conflagration.


The Convent of Mercy, situated some distance from the scene, was on fire twice, but before gaining any headway, the flames were extinguished.


During the height of the fire, and until it was well under control, much excitement prevailed among residents in the neighborhood. Houses were emptied of their contents, and vehicles of all sorts were pressed in service to aid in conveying the goods to a place of safety. In many instances this was found to be unnecessary. Household goods were piled helter-skelter in every direction, and when daylight came, the scene presented cannot be described. The area of the fire covers the larger portion of four squares in the heart of the city and as the buildings destroyed were all of wood, there was little resistance to the flames.


[Partially illegible paragraph] paraphernalia, $500; insurance on opera-house, $1500.
Knights of Pythias, $1000; insurance, $600.
Geo. Ohr, Sr., $5000; no insurance.
John R. Harkness & Sons, $3000; no insurance.
Miss St. Tual, $700; insurance, $2000.
Geor E. Ohr, $3000; no insurance.
H. Eikel, $2800; insurance $1000.
J. Kilk, $400; no insurance.
Jos. Lawrence, $100; no insurance.
Mrs. Rich (2 houses), loss unknown.
Dan Markey, $250; no insurance.
Mechanics’ Steam Fire Co., $400; no insurance.
J. H. Murphy, $100; no insurance.
Felix Borries, $400, no insurance.
N. Voivedich, $700; no insurance.
F. W. Eaton, $00; no insurance.
J. Eistetter, $1000; no insurance.
B. M. Root, $400; no insurance.
P. Ferrar, $800; no insurance.


The insurance is divided among the following companies of E. W. Morrill’s agencies:
Royal $00; Harford, $6450; American Fire, $2345; Phoenix of London, $2275; Phenix of Brooklyn, $2550; Lancashire, $2000; Queen, $1500; Liverpool, London and Globe, $3500; Mechanics and Traders, $3200.


In but few instances was any portion of the contents of the burned buildings saved, and then only in a damaged condition. There is also considerable loss in the way of outhouses, stables, fences, etc.


The Electric Light Co. lose [sic] about $6000 in the destruction of poles wires, transformers, etc.


Many of those burned out will commence rebuilding at once. The loss is a severe one to our people, and to many is the loss of all their possessions. The business men who own property along Pass Christian st., to whom a Herald reporter has talked to on the subject signify their willingness to widen the street ten feet on either side than its present width.


The Herald building was threatened by flying cinders, and had it not been covered with abestos [sic], there is but little doubt that the roof would have ignited and it would have been almost impossible to have saved the building from destruction, and that or other and valuable property. Owners having property in the west end of town can thank their lucky stars that this office was covered by asbestos [sic], for had it burned the destruction would have been three fold greater than now recorded.


 

My great great grandfather John Rankin Harkness’s business is mentioned as destroyed in this article. Capt. John Rankin Harkness (1830-1903) was one of the founders of the Biloxi Fire Dept. He was born in Pelham, Hampshire, Massachusetts, the son of William Harkness and Abigail Turner.

Capt. John Rankin HARKNESS (1830 – 1903) — My 2nd great-grandfather

Edna Irene HARKNESS (1880 – 1952), daughter of Capt. John Rankin HARKNESS

John Harkness MORRIS (1901 – 1965), son of Edna Irene HARKNESS

Janie Lucille MORRIS (1935 – 2013), daughter of John Harkness MORRIS

Me, the daughter of Janie Lucille MORRIS

 

 

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