Back in the old days, when fires were put out by brigades of volunteers throwing buckets of water or by fireman hand pumping small streams of water, a fire in the downtown area was often quite cataclysmic. Dublin's first major fire occurred on May 26, 1889. One hundred and twenty five years ago today, Dublin's business district was one mass of charred timbers and smouldering ashes of once bustling businesses. There was no hope in sight. Gloom, despair and agony permeated the smoking ruins.
When the business section of Dublin began to expand, stores and other places of business were expanded well beyond the original plan of four lots/buildings per block. The closeness of buildings to each other , coupled with the fact that brick buildings were somewhat scarce, even in the early 1890s, led to massive fires in the downtown area, some fueled by drought and wind, others fed by insidious incendiaries.
Dublin's first "great" fire (great fires are never great) began early on a quiet Sunday morning. A westerly wind was howling down the main street from the west. It had not rained in weeks. Water was scarce. Napoleon Baum was only beginning to erect the town's first public well on the northeast side of the Courthouse Square. With the two requisite elements for a catastrophic conflagration present, the smallest spark would ignite a firestorm.
Investigators focused on the source of the fire and determined that the flames emanated from the Post Office causing the whipping winds to leap from one wooden structure to another. For nearly nine hours, townsfolk futilely sought t0 extinguish the rolling mass of flames. The Dalton Hotel was sacrificed by dynamiting it to save the Tillery and Burch houses.
The fire burned everything from the corner of Lawrence Street around the block and down Jefferson Street stopping before reaching the Troup House. Among the buildings suffering substantial losses were the Post Office, the old Hooks Hotel, Roughton's store, B.F. Duggan's Grocery, C.W. Brantley's house, F.W. Shelton's general merchandise store J.W. Gilder's building, P. Hillman's restaurant, Peter Franklin's barber shop, Jesse Cowart's grocery, George Bang's Dublin Jewelry Store, H.P. Smith's shoe store, Susan Tillery's store house, Nathan Burch's building, Willis Dasher's restaurant, L.C. Perry's stables and buggy shop, and M.L Jones' store, which was the highest valued loss at $4000.00. Jones came out smelling like a rose because he had $3000.00 in insurance. No other building owner did. G.W. Maddox's furniture store suffered the most damage with $3000.00 in uninsured losses.
Only the slightly damaged brick office of Dr. R.H. Hightower (where Deano's is now located) survived the fire in the entire block southwest of the courthouse square. The final total of damages ranged from $25,000.00 to $50,000.00 with eleven business houses being totally engulfed in flames. The total figure was most likely at least $40,000.00. Two or three weeks later, the rains finally came and the town was safe, at least for a while.
One of the burned buildings belonged to H.C. Roughton of Sandersville. Upon hearing of the fire, Roughton rushed to Dublin by train, arriving just before the fire was finally under control. He sought out L.A. Chapman, the owner of the brickyard. The next morning before the ashes cooled Mr. Chapman began delivering bricks to the site. What resulted may be the oldest building in downtown Dublin. It is occupied in 2014 by New York Fashions.
It was another Sunday and another fire. It was the evening of September 21, 1890, just before the autumnal equinox. It had been relatively wet, a condition which had severely damaged the year's cotton crop. Just about 9:00 in the evening, a wood stove caught on fire. The flames spread across the street from the Troup House on the first block of South Jefferson Street consuming all of the houses in their path. T.F. Newman's harness shop, J.S. Lewis' ice and soda saloon, the barbershop, the bottling works, and the newspaper offices of the Dublin gazette were totally destroyed. Much to the chagrin of the liquor and beer drinkers, both J.M. Rinehart's and W.J. Hightower's bar rooms were incinerated when the flames hit their flammable stock. Luckily, hardly $50.00 of Miss Susie Bearden's millenary was scorched.
New Year's Day 1894 was not a happy one, not at all.
On the last day of 1893, the citizens of Dublin were looking forward to a better economic year following the economically disastrous Panic of 1893. Just before midnight, flames began to fly out of the Whitehead-Watkins Building on the corner of West Jackson and South Jefferson Streets. Thoughts immediately turned back to May 26, 1889, when the entire block was virtually burned to the ground.
The first story stores of G.W. Bishop, E.J. Tarpley, G.W. Maddox and Tarpley & Kellam were gutted. Upstairs, the medical offices of Dr. A.F. Summerlin, and Dr. Charles Hicks, along with the legal offices of Peyton Wade, Frank Corker, Joseph Walker, Joseph Chappel, and Mercer Haynes. were destroyed except for a few pieces of furniture and books of Dr. Summerlin and Attorney Wade, which were carried out before the flames totally engulfed the newly constructed brick building. Amazingly, none of these erudite professionals carried insurance.
Dr. Hightower's building, which survived the Great Fire of 1889, was severely damaged when the adjoining burning building collapsed upon it. The fire was so intense that the heat broke windows across the street in the bank. The proprietors of Lord & Brooks covered the front of their building with wet blankets to keep the heat from damaging their store next to the bank.
No clues were ever found to determine the origin of the New Year's fire, although preliminary investigators believed it to be of an incendiary nature.
In today's world of high tech fire fighting equipment and highly trained firemen, we would like to hope that we are exempt from such infamous infernos. But as you know, history has a way of repeating itself. It is important to all of us to follow simple and basic fire prevention guidelines to protect our families, friends and our homes and buildings.
DUBLIN GEORGIA FIRES