1908 Fire Kalkaska, MI

1908 FIRE

"The following is a correct list of the losses and amount of insurance carried in each instance. It will be seen by the figures that the amount of insurance is about one-half the amount of the loss. Several adjusters have already been on the ground and settled claims:

Hobbs & Racquet Co., Loss $20,000; Insurance $18,000
A. E. Palmer, Loss $7,500; Insurance $2,500
Cole Bros., Loss $15,000; Insurance $7,000
A. B. Cornell, Loss $5,000; Insurance $2,000
Hill & Albert, Loss $1,500; Insurance $200
M. L. Lehner, Loss $17,500; Insurance $5,500
P. J. Larson, Loss $1,400; Insurance $1,000
C. Harroun, Loss $4,500; Insurance $3,300
H. E. Stover, Loss $10,000; Insurance $3,500
E. M. Colson, Loss $12,000; Insurance $4,500
G.E. Smith, Loss $8,000; Insurance $6,000
F. E. Darby, Loss $1,000; Insurance $500
Swaverly Telephone Co., Loss $3,500; Insurance none
Jas. Harriot, Loss $100; Insurance none
Jas. Greacen, Loss $200; Insurance none
L. R. Hughes, Loss $3,000; Insurance $4,000
Irene L. Getty, Loss $0; Insurance $0
L. Glazier, Loss $22,000; Insurance $8,000
City Bank, Loss $3,200; Insurance $3,500
W. A. Walker, Loss $1,500; Insurance $900
Will DePuy, Loss $2,250; Insurance $2,100
Miller & Boyd, Loss $600; Insurance $1,500
State Bank, Loss $200; Insurance covered
E.L. & P. Co., Loss $625; Insurance none
P. W. Pearsall, Loss $100; Insurance $1,000
J. N. Tinklepaugh, Loss $0; Insurance $0
Mrs. Schofield, Loss $200; Insurance none
J. Axe, Loss $1,000; Insurance $1,000
J. McCormac, Loss $150; Insurance none
J. E. Rainbow, Loss $1,500; Insurance none
K. of P., Loss $800; Insurance $500
F. & A. M., Loss $400; Insurance $200
O. E. S., Loss $200; Insurance none
Ed. Holderman, Loss $600; Insurance none
C. Miles, Loss $500; Insurance $1,000
V. Brant, Loss $3,000; Insurance $1,000
J. L. Boyd, Loss $200; Insurance none
Boyd & Stewart, Loss $50; Insurance none
E. H. Barnard, Loss $150; Insurance none
Bell Telephone Co., Loss $200; Insurance none
The small loss on Leader plant and building has not as yet been fully adjusted."
The Kalkaskian, July 9, 1908; Published in Kalkaska, Michigan; Will N.DePuy, editor


Kalkaska county residents celebrated the Fourth of July in 1908 with special events, unaware events the following day would disrupt and change their lives. The Fourth of July celebration began with two ball games held Friday afternoon, July 3. The Cadillac Independents lost to Rapid City 3 to 0, and Central Lake lost to Kalkaska. A lady balloonist entertained with a short ascension into the sky. Problems with the balloon forced her to cut the rope, causing her to land abruptly. A band concert was held the following morning, Saturday July 4, with more sports and events following. A parade began at 1:30, led by the Kalkaska Military Band, containing wagon floats displaying banners, signs, and the national colors. More sports events were held in the street Saturday in place of the canceled balloon ascension. A bar and trapeze act performed by a Belding team entertained the crowd free of charge throughout the two day events. The celebration closed with fireworks Saturday evening.

The Kalkaska Leader reported there were no accidents either day, no drunks were taken in, and the police had little to do. That quietness changed the following day when a fire began shortly after 2:30 p.m. in the basement of a three-story brick building located in the middle of the block on main street.

The fire was discovered by members of the telephone company who gave the alarm for the fire. The building, owned by former state Senator A. E. Palmer, was occupied by the Hobb's and Raquet's dry good store on the first floor, the Swaverly Telephone Company on the second floor, and the Kalkaska Knights of Pythias on the third floor. Several other offices and organizations also occupied the building including John Greacen's insurance office, Harriott's Insurance office, the F. & A. M., the O. E. S., and the residence of Mrs. M. Scofield. The fire began in the basement where merchandise was stored, possibly caused by spontaneous combustion. Although firefighters got water into the building, they were forced back by the fire that was fueled by heavy winds. The thirty-man fire department, assisted by citizens, began concentrating their efforts on saving the adjoining buildings.

With the loss of the Swaverly Telephone Company, Kalkaska was unable to call for help. When they could make outside contact, they requested help from the Traverse City fire department. Kalkaska would need a steamer and at least 4,000 feet of hose to pump water from the nearest source. Fire Chief Rennie decided not to send equipment because Traverse City would be left with 2,000 feet of hose to care for its needs, and pumping water from 4,000 feet would lower the water pressure to the point that the steamer would be useless. Despite the lack of outside help, Kalkaska's six fire hoses maintained good pressure at 110 to 120 pounds throughout the fire. While the fire department fought the blaze on Cedar Street, the people of Kalkaska fought to save barns, houses and outbuildings.

Photographers took pictures of the blaze and businessmen and citizens were emptying the contents of the buildings. A wagon was backed up to the front door at the Kalkaska City Bank. The big safe and the records of the bank were loaded on the wagon and driven away from the fire. Flying embers started thirty fires on the north end of town with one homeowner receiving serious injuries that were nearly fatal. Louis W. Beebe was pouring water on the roof of his home on Fourth Street when a slat he was standing on broke. Mr. Beebe fell fifteen feet to the ground hitting his shoulder and head, knocking him unconscious. No bones were broken but he received internal injuries, cuts over both eyes, and his nose and mouth were bleeding. The fall nearly paralyzed his left arm, and it had to be kept packed in ice because of the intense burning sensation.

Several firefighters were overcome by smoke, but it was reported all escaped other accidents and falling walls during the fire that nearly destroyed all of Kalkaska's downtown business section. The fire that started in the Palmer building quickly spread south to the City Bank building. The bank saved nearly everything including the fixtures. The Kalkaskian newspaper office occupied the second floor of the building. Adjoining the bank building was the two story J. E. Rainbow frame building occupied by Walker's Jewelry store. The upper floor was vacant at the time of the fire. Adjoining the Rainbow building was a two-story frame owned by John Axe. The office of Miller & Boyd occupied the upper floor. Mr. Axe's building was partially destroyed in the fire. At this point the firefighters stopped the fire from spreading to the south and began to concentrate their efforts to the buildings standing north of the origin of the fire.

On the north side of the Palmer-Cole Brothers building was the Glazier-Colson building. Louis Glazier ran a dry good store in the building and Edward Colson operated a drug store. The office of County Commissioner Irene Getty, the business office of C. M. Phelps, and the offices of Dr. Johnson and Dr. Kimball occupied the second floor. The next building destroyed was H. E. Stover's drug store, which was built of brick. The one story frame building owned by Mr. Brandt and occupied by Charles Harroun's variety store was the next to go. From there the fire rushed on to destroy the frame building of George E. Smith. Mr. Smith operated a hardware business but was able to remove most of his stock before the fire destroyed the building.

The next store to ignite was A. B. Cornell's harness shop. The McCormick family, who lost some of their household goods, occupied the second floor of the building. From there the fire spread rapidly to the P. J. Larson building. Dynamite was used on this building to give the firemen a chance to get in ahead of the flames. Also destroyed in the fire was the Opera House that stood on the corner of Cedar Street and Fourth Street. The hardware store of Mike Lehner, the Kalkaska Grocery Company, and the office of attorney and probate judge Wayne Simmons also occupied the building. The fixtures, curtains, and scenery belonging to the Kalkaska Military Band on the second floor of the opera house were destroyed, but the band instruments were rescued from the fire. The building occupying Hill and Albert's blacksmith and bicycle shop was also a total loss. It stood at the rear of the Opera House, across the alley. The building across from the Opera House that contained the State Bank suffered broken windows and blistered paint.

The Kalkaska Light Company lost 35 meters in the burned buildings, and two big transformers. Their building stood on the alley across from the Opera House, facing Fourth Street. It also sustained broken windows and blistered paint. Contents of the Kalkaska Leader office were removed. While the firefighters were busy pouring water on the building, three businessmen approached the owner asking to rent the storeroom on the first floor. They were informed that L. R. Hughes had rented the room two weeks earlier. When the blaze was finally brought under control and the fire extinguished 44 firms and citizens suffered loss. A total of eleven single buildings, two double buildings, and a blacksmith shop were reduced to a pile of ashes. First estimates placed the loss at $150,000 to $250,000 but not all losses were included in that total. Local insurance agents were pleased that their insurance companies settled the losses promptly and liberally. James Harriott, local agent for the Queen Fire Insurance Company, reported its insurance adjuster, Frank A. Vernon, arrived in Kalkaska the morning after the fire to assess damages. By 5 p.m. Mr. Vernon had adjusted the losses to the satisfaction of the insured, paying several business owners that day.

Kalkaska businessmen began the process of securing temporary locations and purchasing new stock. Clyde Cole, H. E. Stover, E. M. Colson, and Floyd Fessenden went to Grand Rapids immediately after the fire to purchase new stock for their stores.

Nine days after the fire, photographer E. L. Beebe had printed 3,700 pictures of the fire with a demand for more. C. W. Provost sold 1,300 post cards of his photographs. A "cheer up" meeting was held July 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the M. E. church building, featuring area business men and Mr. E. A. Stowe of the Michigan Tradesman of Grand Rapids as speakers. The Michigan Tradesman of Grand Rapids said this about Kalkaska's fire: "Monday morning's papers told us in outline the story of an experience in Kalkaska which, it seems, must inevitably come to all new towns sooner or later. The major portion of the business section of Kalkaska was destroyed by fire. . . "And so the inevitable fire coming to a new town works many benefits. It causes merchants and all other citizens to awaken to new and greater appreciation of their town; it inspires local loyalty, courage and determination. . .


Rebuilding The Town

New and better business buildings are already going up; new and better protection against fire will be provided and meanwhile merchants, professional men, artisans and all are working bravely together, saying, 'It might have been worse and we are bound to make our town and its opportunities better than ever.' (The Kalkaskian, July 16, 1908) Mr. Palmer and the Cole Brothers began erecting their new building. By July 23 the rear walls for the first story were in place. Joy & Netzborg purchased half of the lot where Palmer-Cole Brothers were erecting their new building. Their plans were to build a modern brick building. The Swaverly Telephone Company's new building was also being built. Expectations were that other new buildings would soon "begin to rise." While buildings were in progress, businesses reopened wherever space was available.

The Cole Brothers and Grocers were conducting business from the G. A. R. Hall. The Swaverly Telephone Company, Stover's Drug Store and James Harriot's insurance company moved to the second floor of the Manning House on Third Street. Louis Glazier's advertisement in the Kalkaska Leader notified his customers where to find his dry goods store when it reopened on July 18. "To my Patrons and Friends - We wish to thank you for past favors, and also to state that we expect to be opened up by Saturday, July 18th, in Mrs. Munyon's Millinery Store until we can get our new building ready for occupancy, which will be more convenient, and filled with an entirely new and up to date stock. Again thanking you for past favors and hoping to continue our past very pleasant relations, I am very respectfully yours, Louis Glazier." (Kalkaska Leader, July 9, 1908)

The Kalkaska Grocery Company owned by L. R. Hughes moved into the building occupied by the Kalkaska Leader office. Mr. Hughes had rented the first floor two weeks before the fire. His advertisement in the Kalkaska Leader read: "Disfigured But Still In The Ring. You will find us under the Leader Office, ready for business about Saturday July 11th, and will extend to you our usual hearty welcome. Call and see us." (Kalkaska Leader, July 9, 1908)

Mr. Hughes stated they "were not so big but just as able and ready to care for your grocery wants." (The Kalkaskian, July 16, 1908)

Mr. Cornell's Harness Shop located in the basement of the Clark Brothers store. William Childs, cashier of the Kalkaska City Bank, placed a message in the Kalkaska Leader that read "You will find us in temporary quarters in the Clark Brothers furniture store where we shall be glad to see you. Having saved our records and safe we are fully equipped to handle your business. We solicit your patronage." (The Kalkaskian, July 9, 1908)

George E. Smith's Hardware store moved into the Annex of Hobbs and Raquet. Mr. Smith's advertisement read "Up in Smoke . . . That's what our store did, but we are still here and ready for business." (The Kalkaskian, July 16, 1908)

Mr. Smith also advertised a "Big Fire Sale" promising to "make greatly reduced prices on all stock on hand saved from the big fire. Now is the chance to save money on this line of goods as it reaches from jackknives to steel ranges." (The Kalkaskian, July 23, 1908)

M. N. Lehner's Hardware moved to E. H. Barnard's building on Fourth Street. Mr. Lehner's advertisement in The Kalkaskian read "Burned Out, But by No Means Knocked Out. To my patrons and friends I wish to state briefly this week that I am still in the ring and getting in shape to do business again, and you will find me located in the first building west of the one burned, on south side of Fourth Street. I have found the 'HOLE', all right, but not being a pessimist, I am trying not to see it while looking for the 'DOUGHNUT', and I propose to merit the latter by serving you to the best of my ability, as has been the case during the last quarter of century, and I know that I am safe in thanking you in advance for the patronage that you will continue to give me in adversity, as you have so liberally done in more prosperous days, when providence was smiling kindly on my efforts, and I most cordially invite you to call and see me in my new quarters. Very truly yours, M. N. Lehner, Hardware Merchant." (The Kalkaskian, July 9, 1908)

Mr. Lehner's son, Harold Lehner of East Jordan, arrived in Kalkaska July 9 to help his father prepare to reopen his hardware business. Other businesses to move were the P. J. Larson Shoe store into the building one door north of Oscar Watson's, Stover's Drug Store into the Manning House sample room on Third Street, and Colson's Drug Store into Mrs. Bacon's building on Third Street. The Kalkaskian office and the Variety Store located in the town hall. James Greacen moved his Insurance and Pension office to the first residence north of the Congregational Church. Wayne Simmons, Attorney and Judge of Probate, moved to the Probate Office at the Kalkaska court house. The office of Boyd & Steward moved into Will Johnson's residence on Third Street. And so the people of Kalkaska began to rebuild their business section and put order back into their lives. Mr. Beebe, who was injured in the fall from his roof, was back to work in the office of the Freeman factory sometime before July 16. The Leader office moved their equipment and contents back into their building to resume printing their weekly paper. The editor of the Leader explained to readers that in the confusion their things were scattered and collected with difficulty. "But we are not kicking, - simply apologizing for any shortcomings in this week's issue. When we look about and consider the sad plight of many of our fellow citizens we feel profoundly thankful to escape so well; but our heartfelt sympathies go out to the many so grievously stricken." (Kalkaska Leader, July 9, 1908)

The Kalkaskian newspaper was not as fortunate as the Leader. Will N. DePuy, editor of the Kalkaskian, published a thank you in his paper. "Since the loss of our office by fire, Sunday, we have been placed under everlasting obligations to a number of our newspaper friends for their kind offers of assistance. Brother Tinklepaugh was the first to open the doors of his office to us and we accepted, because 'there's no place like home.' Then came E. A. Stowe of the Michigan Tradesman of Grand Rapids, offering the use of his type and presses, followed by the Traverse City Evening Record, The Boardman News, the Fife Lake Monitor and the Bellaire Independent. It was impossible to accept all these kind offers, but in time of misfortune they show which side the heart is on, touch a chord of brotherly love and loyalty and bind closer than ever the ties of friendship." (The Kalkaskian, July 9, 1908)

Ties of friendship, local loyalty, courage and determination were all factors in rebuilding Kalkaska's business section in 1908. Today many buildings bear the 1908 date and the names of the owners: Colson, Glazier, Cole Bros., Larson, Harold and Mildred (Lehner). They stand as a memorial to the early citizens of Kalkaska whose determination to rebuild was a success.

Copyright 1999 by Dawn Triplett Permission to reprint article is granted, Provided:

1. The reprint is used for family genealogical purposes only.

2. Name of author must appear at end of article.

Reprinting for any other purpose must be granted in writing from the author. Dawn Triplett, P.O. Box 822, Kalkaska, Michigan 49646 Email: triplett@gtii.com

Information for story taken from: The Evening Record, Special Morning Edition; Monday, July 6, 1908; Published in Traverse City, Michigan The Kalkaska Leader; July 9, 1908; Editor J. N. Tinklepaugh, Published in Kalkaska, Michigan The Kalkaskian; July 9, 1908; July 16, 1908; July 23, 1908; Published in Kalkaska, Michigan; Editor Will N. DePuy

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11 March 1999