1890 Fire at Seneca Falls, Seneca County, NY - NYGenWeb USGenWeb Project NYGenWeb Project

The following is a complete transcription of a rare original issue of the special one-page edition of The Seneca County Courier that was printed as soon as possible after the devastating July 30, 1890 downtown fire. This fire destroyed much of the business district on the stretch of Fall Street bounded by State and Cayuga Streets, accounting for the diversity in architectural styles of the 19th century buildings standing today. Of importance to historians and genealogists - also destroyed in the conflagration were the records, photographs, battle flags, and other Civil War mementoes of local Cross Post #78 of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The Great 1890 Fire in Seneca Falls

From: The Seneca County Courier
Vol. 53    Seneca Falls, July 31, 1890     No. 44

Fire! Fire!

At 3:30 yesterday morning, fire broke out in the rear of the Pew block on Fall street, and had made such headway when discovered, that the block was virtually in flames by the time the firemen were playing upon it. For a time they held the fire in check, and it was thought that it would be confined to comparatively narrow limits. Then the reservoir corner of Fall and State streets became exhausted, and while the steamer was changing to another supply, the flames made such headway that they became uncontrollable. Help was summoned from Waterloo, Geneva and Auburn, but before it arrived the Partridge block was in flames and the Opera House and adjacent blocks destroyed. The fire communicated to the Hoag house, and also extended northward among the wooden buildings in the rear of the Opera House, taking in the Norcott block on State street, the livery barns of D. M. Kellogg and the two dwelling houses of H. W. Knight.

The flames on the west side of state street were confined to the Hoag house only by superhuman efforts, the engine house west, and the hotel barns to the north, barely escaping.

On the south side of Fall street the fire extended to the Sheldon block, occupied by Todtman & Gladke. The solid brick wall on the west of this building checked its progress, and the pumps of Gleason & Bailey directly across the river, by deluging its rear prevented it from igniting.- On the north side of the street the conflagration was checked by the walls of the Miller block, occupied below by West Bros., shoe store and above by the law offices of MacDonald Bros., and F. W. DeMott. Here the firemen working from the rear drenched the building and stopped the fire.

The burnt district covers fully three acres in the heart of the business section of the town. It struck, particularly, that part which held communication with the outside world. In the Patridge block was the Postoffice, the Western Union Telegraph office, the office of the American Express Co., the offices and plant of the Electric Light and Electric Railway Companies, and the printing offices of the Courier and the Reveille. In the Gould block, further down, was the Journal publishing Co., and on the north side was the Telephone office.

The extent of the loss in the number of buildings and property involved can be conceived by a study of the following list which is as accurate as it can be made under the circumstances:

Seneca Falls Reveille 12,000 2,500
Seneca Co. Courier 14,000 4,000
Wm. Sanderson, Furn 9,000 2,500
Seneca Electric Co. 115,000
Patridge block 60,000 10,000
P. H. VanAuken, office 1,000
Seneca Plating Co. 2,000 1,000
E. W. Addison 11,000 600
Dr. Cronin 100
American Ex. Co. 2,000
Maurer Bros., Tobacco 3,500 1,000
Sutherland & Squires 1,500 500
C. S. Sanderson, Und'ker 3,000
W. Beers, Newsroom 400
John Crowell, market 800
Jacob Allen, candies 1,500
Seneca Co. Journal 8,0004,000
Mrs. Hadley, Millinery 1,000 500
C. W. Banks 700
T. R. Lawrence 4,0001,000
Mrs. A. C. Johnson 27,000 12,000
Miss Jennings, Millinery 3,000 1,000
R. C. Wayne, Bookstore 3,000 2,200
O. W. Smythe 250
Nunnold Bros., Clothing, 20,000
Mrs. Wells, Art Studio unknown
M. Hoag, Drug Store 11,000 500
Dr. Howe's Block 13,000 5,000
Dr. Howe's House Goods 2,000
J. Stahlnecker 2,500 700
A. S. Gay, Agent 16,000 5,000
Star Laundry 1,500 750
D. M. Kellogg, Livery 4,000 2,500
McCartin, Harness and Building 14,000 9,000
H. C. Blodgett 10,000 7,500
Crowell's Residence 10,000 2,200
Phillips & Hawley 4,00 1,500
F. J. Howe, Hatter 7,000 4,000
Opera House 30,000 10,000
Garnsey & Waller 12,000 5,500
John K. Gilmore 3,000 1,500
A. S. Pollard & Demarest 500 150
Dr. Nelson 400 200
E. Hill, Grocery 2,200 1,000
P. VanKleeck, Druggist 5,000 2,500
G. A. R., Hall 500 300
George's Block, Barber 650 500
Hoag House 30,000 10,000
S. Pew 10,000
George Shewman 700
Mrs. G. B. Daniels 3,500 1,800
George O. Daniels 12,000 4,000
Mrs. Norcott 9,000 3,000
Mrs. J. T. Miller 6,000 3,500
West Brothers 800 500
H. W. Knight 1,600 800
A. E. Dresser 700
Gould's Mfg. Co. 13,000 6,500
Desky Block 16,000
A. Hall, Cigar Store 2,000 1,000
G. Hanna Auction House 2,000 500
Peck & Brice, Fish Market 400
Fornesi Store 150
Chinese Laundry 400

The following are among those whose losses amount to office furniture, household goods, &c., and minor amounts, although some of them lost all. Dr. Lowe, furniture and library; E. S. Sackett, office furniture; Christadelphian and Royal Templars Societies, furniture; Wm. Dennison, repair shop; Wm. Cumber, Saloon; Mrs. A. Gale, dress-making shop and household furniture; W. S. Bailey, furniture; John Adkinson, furniture; Lewis Tripp, carpenter shop; D. V. Hall, repair shop; Justices Stevens and Guion, furniture; Telephone Company; Miss A. Curran, household goods, including piano; Thomas Smith, household goods; Misses Davis and Proudfoot, office furniture; Club Room in Phoenix Block; Prof. McLachlan, household goods and library; D. Hudson's dwelling and blacksmith shop; Williams & Son, I. Randell, Wm. Scollins, Todtman & Gladke, Peter Foeck, Hosmer, John Birch and many others had their stock more or less damaged by water and the intense heat.

Through the promptness of Miss Cora Curtis, the operator, nearly everything was saved from the Western Union Telegraph office, although their damage was considerable in damaged wire and burned poles.

The above figures give but a faint idea of the actual devastation. In many cases the loss is so complete and sudden as to include the books of accounts, leaving the business men perfectly at a loss as to their condition. This was especially the case with the newspaper offices. Scarcely a thing but the mailing list being saved from either, except in the case of the Reveille, where the bound files of thirty years were saved- a salvage valuable to its owner for its associations but more valuable to the village for its historical character.

There were several hair breadth escapes, but no lives were lost although John Duff had a leg broken. The fire department worked heroically. Chief Rumsey was absent but the boys were admirably marshalled by Assistants McCartin and Williams, who neglected their own property to care for the public. President Rumsey was on hand and added much to the efficiency of the service by promptly taking general charge. He directed the citizens when and where to assist, and in some cases commanded them to action. By his direction the chairman of the board notified all the saloons to close, and the order was promptly promptly and in good faith obeyed.

Herbert Crowell, for several years an invalid, was carried down the back stairs by R. C. Wayne, his mother and sister following, and leaving behind all their possession, food for the flames. N. P. B. Wells and family barely escaped with their lives and the clothing on their backs. The art studio of Mrs. Wells was entirely destroyed. The family of N. S. Bailey suffered the same, rescuing only four pieces of furniture. G.A.R. hall on the third floor of the Daniels blk, with its priceless relics, the battle scared (sic) flags, the banners pictures and records all are gone. In the same hall met several other social organizations and their insignia, paraphernalia and in some cases their records are gone also- an irredeemable loss.

The mail of the Postoffice was saved by the efforts of Deputy Ryan and Carriers VanHouton and Carr. All that had been received for mailing, and all that had been distributed was gathered up by the three brave men and carried to a place of safety in the face of flames and smoke. When Ryan was coming out the last time with the contents of the case drawer, they had to turn the hose upon him to prevent him from burning. Before daylight Postmaster Hammond had engaged other quarters for the postoffice, and is now rapidly fitting up the VanCleef bld'g on Fall-st., head of Ovid, meantime temporily (sic) using his own office. The Western Union went to the New York Central telegraph office. The "Journal" started for the "News" office at Waterloo to get out its last issue, the "Reveille" arranged to use type and presses at the National Advertising works, the "Courier" accepted the hospitality of the Westcott Bros.' Company and the American Express Co., started in the store one door east of Monroe's grocery store. The others waited till morning.

The Great Calamity.

The meager sheet on which the Courier is printed to-day is a visible token of the great calamity which has befallen our village. As its diminutive size compares with its former proportions, so does the present condition of our village compare with its estate forty-eight hours ago. Between the hours of three and six o'clock on the morning of Wednesday, July 30, the ruin was wrought. It was wrought by fire. The particulars are in another column.

It will be seen that the calamity struck the business part of the village and breaks its connection with the outside world. It is not so great an evil as would have been the destruction of the manufactories, but aside from them there is no part of the village where destruction would be more deeply felt.

The loss of Mr. Hoag is by far the greatest, individually, though that of Mrs. Patridge is very nearly as great. The destruction of the electric light plant leaves our village in darkness, and the railway to Waterloo without power. The newspaper offices are all destroyed, books, papers and everything going in the general ruin. From the stores and offices scarcely anything was saved. This part of the village veritably sits in ashes without even sack-cloth t cover it.

In the depression already existing this ruin falls with crushing effect. When, if ever, the various enterprises will be revived is a problem not yet solved. It may be a blow fatal for years, or it may prove an incentive to enery (sic) that will enable the town to rise Phoenix-like to new life. Which it shall be depends no less upon the losers than upon those whose sympathy and aid may encourage them to new effort.

It is difficult in the darkness of such a desolation to discover even rifts of light.- But it is more than possible that a future Seneca Falls, vivified by new energy, may point to the calamitous fire of 1890 as the lowest depths of her adversity and the starting point of prosperity. Courage, brothers!


We have lost everything except a list of subscribers copied in April. Books, files, library, letters, contracts, presses, machinery, type and paper gone to smoke and ashes.

Yet we sit not down to weep. We did not wait for the embers to cool before we accepted the kindly tender of the type and presses of the Westcott Brothers company and are doing what we can. We are one with others in disaster, and with them gratefully acknowledge the kindly sympathy offered on every hand as well as the material aid given us by the Westcotts and by James E. Medden, of the "News," who has actively and materially assisted us in this day of trial.

The Courier this week is but a fraction of itself, and we tender it to our readers as but an apology for a paper, but it is all we can do. Next week we hope to do better and soon expect to be on our feet again ready for advertisers and subscribers.

The Thousand Islands.

The Thousand Islands are attracting crowds of people this summer. The splendid facilities for fishing, boating and camplife which this beautiful region affords make it one of the most popular of American summer resorts. The hotel capacity, although immense, will be taxed to its utmost before the season is through. A few days at the Thousand Islands and a trip down the St. Lawrence is a perfect delight.

The New York Central sells round-trip tickets to the Thousand Islands at reduced rates.

The Waterloo fireman (sic) are said to have reached here in twelve minutes. But for them the west side of State street, with Mynderse, West Fall and possibly Clinton, would have shared in the conflagration.- The assistance of Geneva and Auburn came a little later but was invaluable.

All that remains of the "Courier" office is "McGinty," the office cat, gallantly rescued by Ben Wells, who was one of the most faithful workers on the morning of the fatal fire. His efforts and those of Miss Curtiss saved to the Western Union all the furnishings of the office.

All the afternoon the trains on the New York Central were loaded down with curious sightseers, anxious to look upon the ruins. Extra coaches were added but the aisles and platforms were crowded, and passengers even rode upon the top of the cars.

Chief Rumsey returned the night of the fire and he was completely broken up at the ruin. To-day he takes charge of the smoking debris.

Several safes have already been opened and the contents found all right. Those in the Partridge block will be tried to-day.

Col. H. T. Noyes is in town, called here less by his own losses than by sympathy for his old friends and neighbors.

G.A.R. Picnic is postponed indefinitely.

The Next Morning.

Already the denizens of the "burnt district" are seeking new places of abode. Mr. Phillips started for Boston to purchase a new electric motor for the electric railway, the intention being to utilize the lower Rumsey power. The Western Union are in Ryan's undertaking rooms. The Express take the old co-operative grocery. The Post-office occupies the VanCleef block. Nunnold Brothers go into the Chamberlain block. The One Price clothing store occupies the Sharp building on Ovid street. VanKleef's drug store in the Sheldon block. McCartin is over Williams jewelry store until he can erect a new building. Maurer brothers are under O'Keefe's liquor store. The laundry will open soon at the old quarters. Barrett Brothers have ordered a new stock for the old stand. Wayne has a news stand next to the Exchange bank and Medden has opened in Johnson's barber shop. Fred Teller has moved his stock back and will open for business to-day. Dr. Nelson is with M. C. Gould, over Monroe & Anderson. The Courier business office is at Fred Terr's for a few days. Mr. Stowell makes headquarters for the "Reveille" at his residence, and Mr. Stevens in the Sheldon block.

At just twenty-five minutes past four on Wednesday morning, July 30, the face of the old town clock in the Partridge block, looked its last on friends, foes and countrymen, and with hands meekly crossed, sank forever from view.

President Rumsey was omni-present. His executive ability had good play. He kept everything moving and working in the alderman, maintained a perfect system of police supervision.

Postmaster Hammond and Deputy Ryan deserve great praise for the promptness with which they made arrangements for receiving and distributing the mail.

Mr. and Mrs. Thos. P. Dill, Jr., of Philadelphia, Pa., are guests of Mrs. Minerva F. Kline on Garden street.

Mrs. A. C. Johnson and son Charles C., returned Saturday from a two weeks' sojourn at Narragansett Pier.

Miss Florence Hicks of Oswego is visiting Miss Mildred F. Walter on White st.

M. M. Curry returned on Saturday from a ten days trip in the West.

Rev. H. M. Denslow is spending his annual vacation in the East.

Mrs. Robert Mattoon of Oswego is visiting relatives in town.

Fayette Caucus.

The Republican electors of the town of Fayette will meet in caucus at the Franklin House, Schuayes, on Saturday, August 2, 1890, at 12 o'clock noon, to choose five delegates to the Republican County Convention, to be held in Romulus, August 23, 1890, and to transact such other business as may properly come before the caucus.

Fayette, July 30, 1890.

[Transcriber's Note: "Schuayes" is now spelled "Skoi-Yase," which was the Seneca Indian village located on the south side of the present-day Cayuga-Seneca Canal at the time of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign. The segment of the village of Waterloo on the south of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal is in the Town of Fayette.]

Collector's Notice.

Notice is hereby gived (sic) that I, the undersigned, treasurer of the village of Seneca Falls, have received the warrant for the collection of the School Tax of the educational district of Seneca Falls, for the current year, and that I will receive the same at the Exchange National Bank, during the regular banking hours, from 10 A. M., to 3 P. M., for forty-five days from Tuesday, July 15, 1890, in accordance with part of section seven of the act relating to schools in the town of Seneca Falls, passed by t he legislature of the State of New York, on the 16th day of April, 1877, and of the charter of the Village of Seneca Falls, of which the following extract is a true copy;

"The taxes impossed (sic) by the board of education shall be collected of the taxable inhabitants of said district upon the warrant of said board, in the same manner as the taxes imposed by the board of trustees of the village of Seneca Falls are collected; and the collection of such district taxes may be enforced in the same manner as such village taxes. The treasurer of the village of Seneca Falls shall be the collector and treasurer of the said educational district, and his jurisdiction shall extend, under this act to all the territory embraced in the said educational district. The tax to be levied in the said district as aforesaid, and collected by virtue of this act shall be levied and collected in the same manner."

JAMES W. SAFELY, Treasurer.
Dated, Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 15, 1890.

Collector's Notice.

Notice is hereby given that I, the undersigned, treasurer of the village of Seneca Falls, have received the warrant for the collection of the village taxes for the currant (sic) year, and that I will receive the same at the Exchange National Bank, during regular banking hours, form 10 a. m., to 3 p. m., for forty-five days from Tuesday, July 15, 1890, in accordance with part of section five of title six of the charter of the village of Seneca Falls, of which the following is a true copy;

"Any person may pay his taxes at such places and to such treasurer or persons authorized by him to receive the same within the first thirty days of said forty-five days, on paying 1 per cent, fees thereon, and within the remaining fifteen days on paying 2 per cent, fees thereon; but every such treasurer shall be entitled to receive five cents fees on amount of tax where the whole tax shall be less than one dollar. After the expiration of said forty-five days it shall be the duty of such treasurer to proceed and collect the unpaid in the same manner as unpaid taxes in the towns are collected; but he shall have power to appoint, by writing, signed by him, any constable within the said village,to collect the same, and for whose acts said treasurer and his sureties shall be responsible; and such treasurer, or constable so appointed by him, shall have all the power and duty that belong to collectors in the several towns, and shall be entitled to collect as fees of each person of whom they have to collect any such unpaid taxes, the sum of ten cents for traveling fees in addition to the five per cent. fees now provided law for collector of towns."

JAMES W. SAFELY, Treasurer
Dated, Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 15, 1890.

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© 2006 Transcribed and contributed by Martha S. Magill, October 2006
© 2006 Diane Lerch Kurtz