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 History Stories
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