Fire on Fifth Avenue: 1870

SOURCE:  The Weekly Herald, Jan. 8, 1870

Sunday morning near the hour of one, the cry of fire, and the alarm betts, startled the slumbering thousands in our city from their peaceful slumbers.  Within a few minutes, men, women and children had hastily reinvested themselves, in part of what they had been divested, and might have been seen centering on Fifth avenue, between First and Second street, there to witness the sad destruction of houses, furniture, clothing, family relics, etc., etc., by a consuming fire.

The fire originated in the Fifth Avenue House, and so suddenly was the building enveloped in flames, that the boarders made their exit by jumping out of the front windows of the second story.  One Mr. McCall received quite severe injuries by coming upon a sidewalk paved with broken glass.  The fire in the space of about one hour swepted away five business stands, four wooden and one of brick.  The work was the more easily accomplished in consequence of the extreme modesty of our "Steam Fire Engine," in refusing to throw anything but dry water.  The "boys" of muscle and nerve stood their ground with hose and nozzle in firm grasp, ready to dampen the ardor of the flames, if the power ? at the other end -- that ought to have been -- would send along the necessary dampener.  But not so.  Our city has but seldom been visited by fires, and although a "Steam Fire Engine" has occupied its proper place in our city engine house, at a cost of $10,000 -- it has not been deemed worth while to waste fuel on the concept.  Whether steam was "got up" at all -- or not, this reporter has never been advised, but certainly not in time to render any service whatever.  The house and "nozzle tenders: were at their post before the fire had communicated to J. Brietling's brick bakery, and there they stood and witnessed the entire burning out of the building, patiently waiting for the engine -- without engineer or steam -- to send along the water.  Verily we are a highly favored people, with a "Steam Fire Engine" always minus the steam.

The particulars of the losses which have come to us are as follows:

Fifth Avenue House, owned by E. A. Rexroad and kept by G. Krans as a saloon and boarding house.  Building valued at $3,000, insured for 2,000 in the National of Davenport; insurance on furniture was $2,000 in Germania, of Freeport, Ill., and $1,355 in Western of Buffalo.

Myer, who owned the building formerly owned by Dr. Ward, kept a saloon and billiard room.  There was on this property $1,500 insurance in the Winneshiek.  Myer's loss will probably be $1,500 in Union of Des Moines.

C. Miller loss on saloon and building, $2,000.  Insurance $1,000 in Union, of Des Moines.

J. Breitling, brick bakery, loss about $7,000.  Insured in Reaper City and Guardian for $2,800.

J. E. Farnsworth owned the small building occupied as a cigar store, and suffered a loss of about $300.

Madam Rumer has conflicting stories and surmises respecting the origin of the fire, but none are sufficiently backed up by developed facts to justify making them public.