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OUR CITY WAS IN ASHES
From Belle Plaine Iowa "Union", July 28, 1900

Last Saturday the Anniversary of Belle Plaine's Great Fire

Six Years Ago Our Business District Was Destroyed - The Recollection of That Day a Sorrowful One to Many - A Clipping from the "Union" of July 31, 1894 - Scenes After the Fire.

Saturday, July 28, 1894, just six years ago last Saturday, to the day, Belle Plaine's business district was consumed by fire. Those of us who have come upon the scene since the time of calamity fail to appreciate the weight of the blow which fell upon our city that day.

The best description we can give was the article which appeared in these columns on the Tuesday following, July 31, 1894, issued while the smoke still rose from the ruins of the burned buildings. (And it is worth noticing that though the plant of the UNION was destroyed, its next publication day found the paper in the mails as usual. In a long period of years the UNION has never missed an issue.) It said:

The much-dreaded fire alarm in the extremely dry weather broke upon the ears of Belle Plaine people at 5:30 o'clock Saturday evening, July 28, 1894. A quick response by the fire companies was made, but every experienced eye knew full well a terrible battle was on, and the hearts of many sank within them. The fire was bursting forth from the mow of Kroh's feed and sale stable on Beech street near Second, and the whole roof was enveloped in black, wreathing smoke. The steamer was quickly fired and set at the intersection of Beech and First streets, but the terrific heat burned the hose, drove off the brave nozzlemen and forced the engine to the corner of Maple and First streets. With the rage of a sea, the fire spread in four directions instantaneously; to the north, where no time was given for removal of goods; to the south, to the east, where across the street the city hall and Wheeler's livery were licked up in flaming greed; to the west, dwellings, warehouses, stores, offices, and the magnificent $30,000 opera house melted away as if paper. The demon swept on its mad destruction up and down First street, consuming the fine brick structures in amazing rapidity. The engine's streams were like toy bubbles on the angry billows. One fire engine, "Old Rescue", and one hose cart were consumed before they could be taken out, as it was in the very teeth of the conflagration. Help was summoned from surrounding towns, and Cedar Rapids, Blairstown and Tama promptly responded, coming by special trains furnished by the North Western. The depot and Henry's lumber yard quickly followed the south side of First street and all communication was cut off. It looked as if a large residence portion must also go; but at 7 o'clock the wind changed from the northwest to a straight breeze out of the east, and the monster, lashed back, stood roaring on end and poured its black volume high in air. But it was stayed. The Tama engine set at the water tank and by well directed efforts saved much property at Beech street, including the famous Burley House. The Cedar Rapids and Blairstown aid set at the east end and did noble service and held at bay the awful fiend by drenching and tearing away buildings ready to burn. The Belle Plaine fire company worked like Trojans, and, with streams on First street and the alley, fought for the mastery in the heat which was almost insufferable. Our hook and ladder boys, with foresight, tore away the dwellings on Second street which menaced the balance of First street from the rear, and then for the first time the firemen felt they had the control of the situation. Almost five solid blocks of brick and frame had gone down and eighty business firms were rendered stockless and houseless but very little was saved from any of the rooms. A full half million dollars was gone, and insurance will not reach over $200,000, leaving over a quarter million of dollars of dead loss above all insurance and all material saved.

The sufferers in that terrible calamity and the spectators upon that awful scene need not to be reminded of the day but to a large proportion of our citizens today, who have come since, the day has no sorrowful reminiscences.

Photograph captions:

The North Side of First Street from Greenlee Opera House to Beech Street - ruins of seven buildings.

All That Was Left of First Street. Taken Sunday morning, July 29th, 1894.


Transcribed by Sally Goehring.
Copyright © 1999 by Sally Goehring.




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