Fire Destroys Comanche County's Court House, 1921, Comanche County, Kansas Hosted by RootsWeb, the oldest & largest FREE genealogical site. Click here to visit RootsWeb.
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The Western Star, November 1, 1921.

Fire Destroys Comanche County's Court House


Coldwater People Witness a Big Blaze Early Tuesday Morning.

Comanche-co's court house was totally destroyed by fire early Tuesday morning of this week. An alarm was turned in shortly before 2 o'clock, but, since it was Halloween night, the impression became current in some way that the alarm was only a Halloween joke, since earlier in the night a brief fire alarm had been sounded by some body bent on "having some fun." For that reason many people, including some of the members of the fire brigade, were really fooled when the sure enough fire alarm was turned in, and hence there was some delay in getting the fire fighters together and in starting a stream of water on the fire.

The origin of the fire has not yet been definitely determined, but it is known that it started in a pile of cobs and kindling which was kept in the southwest corner of the basement. Those who were the first to discover the fire say that when they arrived at the court house the flames seemed to be confined to the pile of cobs, but in a remarkably short time the flames appeared to spread, and to be forcing their way up the walls of the building. Originating as it did in the basement, and at such a late hour at night, the fire thus had a chance to get a good start before being discovered, and for that reason the chances of successfully fighting the fire became more difficult. Had the fire been discovered a little earlier, it probably could have been easily put out.

It is said that the first impression of the fire was that, for some reason, it spread with surprising rapidity, although no strong wind was blowing at the time. In a remarkably short time the flames had spread to the entire southwest corner of the building, soon reaching the top and enveloping the ceilings and portions of the roof. The dry timbers seemed as kindling wood to fed the hungry flames, and before any of the few spectators who had gathered could realize it, the fire had so thoroughly enveloped the building that the stream of water which was poured upon it had very little effect. It was evident, almost from the first, that the fire was beyond the control of the fire fighters. Hence all that they could do was to protect the vaults as best they could and to prevent the fire spreading to any other building. Under the circumstances, everybody was practically helpless, as far as doing anything to save the burning building was concerned. An intense heat was created, the flames at times reaching to a height of 50 feet or more.

An entrance was gained into the offices of the clerk of the district court and register of deeds, which are on the first floor and at the east end of the building, and some of the fixtures therein were saved. Nothing was saved from any of the other offices or from the courtroom except what was in the vaults. That, of course, included the most valuable papers and books of record. Just to what extent they are injured, if at all, cannot be determined until the fire had died out and the vaults cooled sufficiently to be opened.

In the office of J. P. Taylor, clerk of the district court, the vault would not hold all of the records, especially the pleadings. A few of the files which were kept outside of the vault were burned, but they were not of any great value, as they were quite old. As the office of Miss Smith, county superintendent, also of County Attorney C. E. Baker and Sheriff L. D. Haydock were upstairs, and as there was no vault in either of these offices, nothing was saved from either office. In addition to the records in Miss Smith's office, a part of her private library, valued at about $150, and about $75 worth of books belonging to Mrs. E. M. Ireland, a former county superintendent, were destroyed by the fire. Neither carried any insurance. Mr. Baker lost his law library and fixtures valued at $2,000, and on which only $500 in insurance was carried. He also lost two good typewriters, one, a new Remington, belonging to his daughter, Miss Elsie. County Clerk C. G. Murray also sustained a private loss of nearly $100 on which there was no insurance.

The total amount of insurance carried on the court house is known to be $6,000 with a possible additional $2,000 which amount would, of course, be scarcely a beginning toward replacing the building. The west lower room of the Commercial Hotel building has been secured and will be fitted up at once for use by the county officials.

The burning of the court house will result in considerable financial loss and much inconvenience to the people of Comanche-co. The fire occurred on the morning of the first day for the payment of taxes for 1921, but all the records of the county treasurer were saved, and there will be no delay in taxpaying on account of the fire. It is difficult to estimate what the total loss to the county is, but it will run into thousands. Besides the building and furniture and fixtures, the county lost two adding machines and a number of type. About 14 tons of coal were in the basement. It too, was practically all destroyed. No damage was done to the jail, which was only about 50 feet away.

The court house was a frame building and had been used for about 35 years, having been built by the city of Coldwater in 1886 and donated to the county at the time it was built, the estimated cost of the building and fixtures, was about $12,000. The building was damaged somewhat by the cyclone of May 9, 1899, and came very near being destroyed by fire nearly three years ago, the fire at that time having been discovered in time to be put out before any great damage was done. Following that fire some improvements were made on the building.

The 1886 Comanche County Court House. Photo published 21 Nov 1921 in The Western Star, courtesy of Shirley Brier.
The 1886 Comanche County Court House.
Photo published 21 Nov 1921 in The Western Star.
Courtesy of Shirley Brier.

Photo caption: "The above picture of the Comanche-co. court house was made at the time of its construction during the summer of 1886, and gives a good idea of how the building looked at that time and for several years afterward. Since that time the tower had been blown off and a few other changes in the appearances of the building were made. In late years, the building has become surrounded by tall trees, which, of course, are not shown in the above picture."

Also see:

Coldwater Centennial Notebook, 1884 - 1984 by Evelyn Reed.

Residence Destroyed by Fire
Published in The Western Star, February 17, 1922.

Comanche Steal: The Fraudulent Organization in 1873 of Comanche County, Kansas

Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!

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