Worst fire in Ogdensburg’s history

This is not the disastrous fire of Aug. 9, 1895, but one that occurred five months later at the SWB yards on Jan. 8, 1896. This particular fire broke out at the upper planing mill in the fuel room adjoining the boiler house. Wood shavings were being used for fuel and the fuel room contained a large quantity. The roof was burned from the fuel room and a shed adjoining used for the storage of surplus shavings.

There have been many major fires in Ogdensburg’s history including the 1910 Church Store fire in the 300 block of Ford Street, the 1926 Opera House fire and the destruction of the New Ogdensburg Hotel and St. Mary’s Cathedral both in 1947.
But in the previous century in what the Ogdensburg Republican Journal called the largest fire ever in Ogdensburg occurred Aug. 9, 1895, when nine million feet of lumber burned in the yards of the Skillings, Whitneys & Barnes Lumber Co. in a lost estimated at that time at $190,000 ($5.8 million in 2021 dollars.) The yards were located east of Denny Street, north of Washington Street and south of the railroad tracks.
Following is the Journal’s report:
The fire evidently started at about three o’clock this morning for, when discovered a little later, six lumber piles were ablaze. An attempt was made to sound an alarm from the fire alarm boxes and two or three were pulled without success. A man with a lantern then came to the Opera House and told Mr. Hubbard the location of the fire and the proper alarm was sounded by the city bell.
This was about ten or fifteen minutes after the whistle of the lower planing mill of the Skillings, Whitneys & Barnes Company was blown for the fire. The fire must have been burning over half an hour when the fire department got to work,and it had made such progress that it was apparent that the entire section of the lumber yard in which it started was doomed.
In this territory between nine and ten million feet of lumber were piled. The wagon roads between the rows of piles were narrow and the piles were close together. The fire started nearly in the center of the yard. Fortunately there was but little wind. The slight beeze that blew was from the west and the fire was carried toward a line of houses on Washington street on the lots adjoining the lumber yard.
It was thought for a time that these houses would be burned. The inhabitants moved out their effects and prepared for the worst. The firemen made a stout resistance and when it seemed that a block of houses was certain to be destroyed the slight breeze shifted from west to east and the danger in that quarter was soon passed.
The progress of the fire from the center of the lumber yard to its easterly boundary was like that of a snake BIO slowly creeping over the earth. Immense piles of lumber were reduced to ash heaps in its path. When the wind changed, danger threatened in another quarter. The lumber yard was separated from the remainder of the property on the O. & L. C. R.R., grounds by a wide stretch of side tracks, except at its northwest corner where stood the flour storehouse of Eodee, Bill & Co., and a switch house. All of the men employed in the mills and all the yards of the Skillings, Whitneys & Barnes Company, were at work here moving away lumber as rapidly as possible.
The amount they were able to save was infinitesimal compared with the whole, and some idea of the amount of lumber in the yard may be gathered from the fact that it would take all the men employed by the com pany an entire day to move a row of the lumber piles on one side of one of the streets in the yard. The hundreds of freight cars standing on the side tracks near the yard, were removed and lined up on the main track east of the city, reaching nearly to Lisbon. By removing the freight cars an open space of quite a distance was left north of the burning yards and there was nothing to which the fire could spread ex cept Hodee, Bill & Co.’s flour house and the switch house. Here a stand was made by the fire department to check the progress of the conflagration, and had these buildings burned it would have been difficult if not impossible to save the planing mills and other property at the east.
Several times the buildings caught fire but itwas promptly extinguished. The fire was intensely hot and a barricade of boards was built near the flour house to shelter the firemen so that they would be able to remain close enough to the fire to keep it in check with their hose. The air being comparatively still the draft of the fire was toward the center of the burning mass and the smoke ascended in a black, funnel shaped cloud. For blocks around the heat was intense and those occupying houses in that vicinity were out with water pails wetting the sides and roofs.
When the fire reached the western extremity or the lumber yard three houses situated at the corner of Washington aud Denny street were threatened. They were wet down by two streams from a hydrant and the heat of the fire caused steam to rise from their sides and roofs. Engine No. 3 was placed on Washington street to stop the fire in that direction, and save the dwellings along that street. Engine No. 2 was located on the north side of the yard near the river, from which it drew its water supply. The Prescott department was called upon for assistance and the steamer Belleville brought over the Prescott engine and the Prescott fire department, besides a large number of citizens, arriving at about quarter of five o’clock.
The Prescott engine was also located on the north side of the yard and pumped from the river. It was with the greatest difficulty that the fire was prevented from spreading in all directions. No city can afford such a loss as is entailed by the fire this morning, and any move to prepare against such calamities should receive the support of every citizen.
Note: Five months later, on Jan. 8, 1896, another fire broke out at the upper planing mill in the fuel room adjoining the boilerr house. Savings were being used for fuel and the fuel room contained a large quantity. The roof was burned from the fuel room and a shed adjoining used for the storagae of surplus shavings.

  • Ted Como, tedcomo@chartertn.net
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