FIRES IN EBENSBURG
Click on each individual picture to enlarge.
Old Time Fire Fighters, all members of Ebensburg's famous Dauntless Volunteer Fire Company, are seen in the picture that you will open. This photo is dated April 13, 1910. The firemen are left to right: Lester Larimer Sr., Fergus C. Lloyd, Edward W. Krug, Leo F. McKendrick, Ivan J. McKenrick, Edward W. Knee, Deck lane, Charles D. Boney and Alvin Bender. The gentleman in front of Mr. Knee is unidentified, but Judge McKenrick may remember him. The group stands in front of one of Ebensburg's old pumpers. The $80,000 blaze occurred on Tuesday, April 12, 1910, from an explosion in the Huntley Hardware Store on West High Street. Five large buildings were burned to the ground and several firemen were injured. The blaze started in the rear of the store, followed by a second explosion which caused a wall to come crashing to the ground, trapping firemen beneath it. A third explosion blew up the entire structure. John T. Blair, L.A. Hummel, Frank Jones, Lee Brown and Ambrose and John Schettig were injured, with Mr. Blair the most seriously. Burned were Huntley Hardware (Legion site at the present time); Mrs. Elizabeth Griffith's residence (Evans Pharmacy and Odd Fellows building); Mrs. R. E. Jones' Hat and Ladies Wear Store (Highway Diner); Schettig's Hardware (Automotive Supply); Exchange Hotel (Penn Eben Hotel). Warehouses, stables, wagonsheds behind these buildings were also burned. The Dr. Lemmon residence (Edwards Motor Co.) was damaged as well as trees. Scorched from the intense heat were the M.D. Kittell home on Julian Street (Dr. Nagy office); the W.C. Shields store (Smathers); C.T. Roberts residence (Shoff's) and Webster Griffith's office.
Credit for the photo: Mrs. Francis Cahill
ANOTHER FIRE IN EBENSBURG (1915)
"The Great Fire"
A disaster happened in Ebensburg on February 18, 1915 and locally has been known ever since as the Great Fire.
A article of this fire appeared in "The Mountaineer-Herald", Wednesday, March 10, 2004 written by Pat Stock.
Many have written stories about this long ago fire and those accounts have always been interesting. However, with the passing of time, most folks cannot relate to the names of the burned businesses and homes that were ruined by this fire.
The first warning of trouble was discovered by Mrs. M.J. Stoltz, an operator of the Mountain House. She discovered smoke coming from the J.B. Denny Poolroom located in the rear of the Mountain House and she sounded the alarm around 4 a.m.
The Mountain House had long served as one of Ebensburg’s resort hotels during the period when wealthy Pittsburghers vacationed in the mountains during the summer months. They wanted to escape the heat, dirt and smoke of the steel making city.
The Mountain House stood at the corner of East High and South Center and is today occupied by the Valley Dairy. In the 50’s it was referred to as the "Dairy Dell".
The steam whistle of the Ebensburg Light, Heat and Power Company served then as Ebensburg’s alarm system and the whistle’s shrill blasts alerted the Dauntless Fire Company, which quickly arrived at the scene. Perhaps the fire would have been contained in short order if not for an unfortunate mishap involving the Dauntless company’s key piece of equipment. The pumping of water in 1915 depended upon a gasoline engine built for that purpose. Shortly after the firefighters began dousing the flames, this engine blew a cylinder, totally disabling it. The firemen where then forced to rely on gravity flow which created enough pressure to throw water only as high as the first floor. The loss of the engine allowed the fire to rage out of control as it burned its way from the pool hall into the Cambria Savings and Trust next door where Ameriserv Bank is located now.
The Ebensburg firemen sent out a message to Johnstown, asking for their assistance. Johnstown responded by sending a fire engine from Company 1 to Ebensburg over the wintry roads. A steam engine was also sent on a flat car on the Southern Cambria Railway, the trolley line that ran from Johnstown, through South Fork, to Ebensburg. While this aid was greatly appreciated, neither engine would reach town until approximately 7 a.m., too late to prevent nearly half of the business district destruction.
The fire was aided by icy winds that increased its intensity. Without sufficient water pressure, the fire crew was unable to prevent the blaze from spreading. The flames had first spread to the Cambria Savings and Trust building, next door to the Mountain House, approximately where the Ameriserv Bank is now located.
Lacking water pressure and, with out-of-town aid still unavailable, the firemen decided to attempt a different, though desperate, means of controlling the advancing fire. Next door to the Cambria Savings and Trust on South Center Street were two structures; the Richards Building and C.J. Brown newsstand, both of wooden construction. In order to prevent the fire from crossing South Center Street or to continue along the east side of that street, the decision was made to dynamite both buildings.
Charges were placed and soon the town was shaken by an explosion that totally destroyed the two targeted buildings. At least 50 sticks of dynamite were used in the blast, and in hindsight, it was apparent that the charge was more powerful than was needed. Men were knocked off their feet by the force of the blast. The entire town shook and windows were shattered several blocks away. Places like: the Noon Collins Inn (the YMCA), the Barnes Building (the Metropolitan Hotel), the Opera House across from the courthouse and along West High Street. Windows in the First National Bank and the Hasson Building that is today the home of Fox’s Pizza.
The effort, other than causing blown out windows, turned out to be in vain. The wind carried the flames across Center Street and ignited at least two buildings in the middle of the block. One structure was the J.F. McKenrick Building located roughly where Fremont McKenrick’s law offices are today. Next door to this was the offices of the Cambria Tribune which was destroyed, taking the Cassidy Barber Shop with it. The Cassidy Barber Shop in 1915 was located exactly where Ross Dixon’s newsstand, or Ebensburg News, is today, the former Mountaineer-Herald Building. In 1915, the Mountaineer-Herald offices were in the old Opera House and they escaped the disaster.
Now the worst fears of the townspeople were realized as the flames engulfed buildings all along both sides of Center Street. Next to Cassidy’s Barber Shop was the 175 x 60 foot wide wooden livery building of O’Hara and Luther. In that space now is Land & Mapping Services, the O’Hara Sign Company building and Clark Powell’s Restaurant. The massive flames created by the huge wooden livery all ablaze, then engulfed, and consumed, the Hotel Bender, the building that sat on the corner of the block where the Persio Law Offices are located today.
On the west side of Center Street in the opposite direction, the Reade Building, next to J.F. McKenrick’s was obliterated and the flames jumped from there to the third story of the James Drug Store, today’s Edgar Snyder Office. Over on the Mountain House side of Center Street, the Mountain House stable burned down, causing serious damage to the YMCA, but that building ultimately survived the fire. From the best information it seems that the office of the Cambria Freeman Newspaper was located somewhere in the block near the J.B. Denny pool hall and the newspaper perished.
The fire’s fury continued unabated. Another building, the stable of the Hotel Bender, located behind it along Lloyd Street was dynamited to try to contain the ever spreading flames. That blast blew out the windows of the County Commissioner Thomas Osborn located behind the Hotel Bender a little down West Lloyd Street. The broken out windows, soon allowed sparks to enter inside and the entire residence burned.
At the other end of the block on West High Street, James Thompson had a grocery store adjacent to the James Drug Store. Soon this wooden building was reduced to ashes. Today the location can be determined because Thompson rebuilt the building in stone. It’s façade today is attached to the Edgar Snyder Building and the name "Thompson Building – 1915" is still plainly visible.
At this point, all efforts to contain the conflagration had failed and no one could predict with any certainty where or how the advancing fires would be stopped. But the inferno encountered a three-story brick building next door to the destroyed Thompson Grocery. In 1915, this building was the home of the Ebensburg Merchandise Company. Today that same brick structure is the Ebensburg Moose. This well build structure that had steel shutters over its windows, prevented the blaze from proceeding any further along West High Street. The weary Dauntless firemen, now aided by their fellow Johnstown brethren, were at last able to bring the fire under control.
With the Great Fire finally extinguished, the townspeople began to calculate the enormous damage that was done. The heart of the town’s business section had been leveled and 11 buildings and 26 business had been destroyed. The monetary loss was assessed at $200.000 which, accounting for inflation, would be $10 million dollars today.
The townspeople rallied quickly and the restoration of the downtown area was soon underway. Many businesses were back open within days and new stone and brick structures replaced the wooden ones. Today, all that remains is a memory of the "Great Fire of 1915".