West Liberty's Worst Fire Disaster
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
During West Liberty's first 85 years, businesses and some residences were hit by terrible fires 7 times. In August of 1884, the Mad River Creamery was destroyed by the acts of a daredevil. When the Presbyterian Church burned down in January of 1890, the fire was discovered during Sunday Church. It was suspected that sparks blew in the belfry setting fire to the bird nests there.
Crofts Saw Mill burned down in April of 1897 due to suspected incendiaries and the Cook House in February of 1899 for the same. In May of 1901, the West Liberty Creamery had a fire that was probably due to hot ashes piled in a corner of the engine room. The fire at the Dodson Saw Mill started above the boiler near the smoke stack in January of 1902.
The worst “Bad Fire” in West Liberty history happened on Thursday, May 13, 1880. At 3:00 in the afternoon a fire started in the stable of Mrs. Lymon Cook. Flames spread rapidly to another stable, ice house then to the businesses on both sides of the alley. It jumped across Detroit street and then north and south of the alley. Building after building and some residences fell to the flames. The fire reached the end of Baird street and continued around the corner destroying the buildings clear to the alley.
Fire departments in Bellefontaine and Urbana were summoned to help stop the flames. While waiting for help to arrive everyone able, men, women and children were busy removing goods from the buildings before the fire reached them. Fifty minutes after the call for help was raised the fire steamers arrived by rail car.
To add to this devastating fire, thieves and looters were helping themselves to the goods that were saved from the fire. The Mayor had to deputize men to help with that matter. Flames were finally extinguished around 6 pm but the firemen stayed an additional three hours to keep an eye on the ruins to make sure the fire did not reignite.
All in all, 31 business and 8 homes were lost that day but fortunately no lives were. The businesses included four grocery stores, two of the following, drug store, boot and show store, notion store, harness shop, and meat store. Also, one post office, millinery store, barber shop, billiard saloon, furniture store, ice house, doctor office, tin store, whiskey saloon, Odd Fellows Hall, dentistry rooms and bank. Two stables were mentioned and there were three unnamed.
The true origin of the fire remains unknown but there were several possibilities. One was Mrs. Cook's son was playing in the stable and accidentally started the fire or a tramp started the fire purposely.
Sources - West Liberty Library, Bob McClure
Picture - Map of West Liberty where fire destroyed businesses and residences.
West Liberty Business History
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
In order for a new town to grow, businesses must prosper. John Enoch settled in the valley in 1815, opening a gristmill and people traveled miles to get their grinding done.
Here are more "firsts" in West Liberty business history. Enoch's sawmill was powered by the Mad River and Mac-O-Chee Creek. A distillery was opened by Thomas Baird on Muddy Run. Hiram White had the first store, tavern and post office on the corner of Baird and Detroit Streets. Dr. John Ordway was the first doctor and lived on Ordway Hill. The first landlord was John Newland, who owned a hotel called "The Buckeye House."
West Liberty grew as more people arrived in town and businesses were opened. In 1828, the following businesses were available. Dr. John Ordway and H. M. White were still in town. John Vaughn was a farmer and Baptist Preacher with William Vaughn being a tailor and Baptist Preacher. John Williams was the local blacksmith and Methodist Preacher and Benjamin Ginn also a tailor. Robert Crockett and Tillman Longfellow were apprentice with John Vaughn a tanner. The wheel right/ painter was William Moore and William Kenton a tanner.. The carpenter was Thomas Hubbard and Abner Tharp was a wagon maker. The miller was Simon Robinson and Mrs. Polly McCullough and family were mentioned but not the business she had. Businesses at this time were mostly cabins.
By 1880, West Liberty had many thriving businesses in the downtown area. In May of that year, a fire wiped out much of the business section on Detroit and West Baird Streets. The town could have died if the business owners had decided to cut their losses and move somewhere else, but they decided to rebuild and save the town. By this time several owners had a large building called a block, with not only their business but rented space to others for theirs. Mention was made of the businesses that were lost, but not those that were saved. Those lost included grocery stores, drug stores, stables, boot and shoe stores, notion stores, the post office, millinery, barbershop, billiard saloon, Odd Fellows Hall, dentistry rooms and a bank.
The West Liberty Sesquicentennial Booklet has pictures of the following businesses in town in 1967: Esch's Meats, Liberty Oil & Gas Service, Humble Construction, West Liberty Lumber, Liberty Variety Store, Weymouth Sohio Service, Tastee Freez, The People's Savings and Loan Co., Liberty Machine Products, Inc., Chuck's TV, Craig's Coal Yard Elevator Grain Storage, Robert Brothers, Charles Sharp Realty, George R. (BUD) King Plumbing and Heating, Nationwide Insurance with Herman B. Lockwood, Yoder Electric, Black's Garage, Ross McIlvain Barber Shop and Max's Barber Shop. Also, Ohio Caverns, Piatt Castles, Thoman Bros. Supermarket, Holdren Brothers Inc., T .W. Swisher Realtor, Wilbert's Auction, Atha, Atha and Atha, C & F Apache Camping, Wilkins Funeral Home, Marie's Homemade Candies, Dajolee's Fine Foods, Nuehauser Division of IMCO Poultry, Inc., Farmers Supply, Figley's Drugs, Lenny's Graystone Restaurant, and the Hillside Greenhouse. S&S Tackle Co., Lester E. Wells Plumbing and Heating, King's Market, Nelson Insurance Agency, Saltz Men's & Boys Wear, Thompson's Shell Service, Joe S, Plank Firestone, Hostetter Monuments, Yoder Furniture, Geoff's Laundromat, Liberty Hardware Co., National Soft Water Service, and The Farmer Banking Co.
In 2017, a new business opened, one moved to a new building, one is set to open in the Spring, and another business is closing for good. Three of the oldest businesses remaining in their original location include the Ohio Caverns, the Piatt Castles and the Hillside Greenhouse. Visit our Local Business Directory to check out all the businesses West Liberty has to offer!
Sources: West Liberty Sesquicentennial Booklet, West Liberty Library, and History and Biography by Unigraphic
Picture One- Ohio Caverns Entrance used by permission of Bob MeClure
Picture Two- Mac-O-Chee Castle in 1910 permission of Tami Wenger
Picture Three- Mac-A-Cheek Castle used by permission of Arnita Yoder
Picture Four- Hillside Greenhouse by permission Tami Wenger
West Liberty History Stories
West Liberty, Ohio was established in 1817. Read a sampling of our village's 200+ years of history or SUBMIT YOUR OWN STORY for all to enjoy!
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West Liberty, Ohio