August 24, 1912 Marks a Fateful Day for Young City
Story from the Aug. 30, 1912 issue of the Ronan Pioneer
History of Ronan will date hereafter from August 24, 1912, the date of the big fire. On that day at between 2:30 and 2:45 p.m., the exact minute being in dispute, a fire was discovered in the automobile garage of Crawford & Clairmont, in the alley to the rear of the Hart pool hall. By the time any one was on the ground the flames were eating their way into the icehouse of the Glacier Drug company and into Dr. Fuhrer’s garage and the pool hall. One of the fiercest winds of the season was blowing at the time, and it simply forced the fire ahead at a rate never before witnessed in the burning of a town or city. From the pool hall the flames extended to Dr. Sheen’s dental office in the Clairmont & Crawford building, and across the alley to the Bell Telephone company’s exchange. Willing hands were ready to fight the progress of the fire, but there was simply nothing to fight it with. The chemical engine was not charged and before it could be half the town was in ashes and the remainder beyond hope of saving. From Dr. Sheen’s office the flames extended to the shoe repairing shop of Morris Flatman, the real estate office of Crawford & Clairmont, the real estate office of Brower & Hollingsworth, the Ronan State Bank, on the south, and Dr. Fuhrer’s office and hospital and the Glacier Drug Company building to the west. On the north the Pablo hotel, a two-story building, was soon enveloped in flames, and the Ritter building was next to go. Abe Meilluer’s blacksmith shop, M.J. Benedict’s general store, Richard McLeod’s pool hall, recently leased to J.C. Moore, Lemire Sros. general store and James H. Bonner’s new store and hall building and the harness shop, followed in order.
Next was the tin shop of A.L. Miller, and this practically wiped out the whole block, with the exception of the empty pool hall, owned by W.H. Smead adjoining the Pioneer office, which was the last building to catch on fire in the block in which the fire started.
Flames Cross Street
The flames swept across the street to the east from the Hart pool hall and the barber shop of Spencer Powell was soon ablaze. A heroic effort was made to stem the progress at this point, a hose having been connected with Stanley Scearse’s tank and a stream of water was played on the buildings. It had no more effect, than to make a little steam to mix with the dense smoke. From here the fire divided, going, both north and south, and the big store of Stanley Scearce was doomed. In an incredible short time the whole building was consumed, the recently built concrete fire walls being of no service whatever. The tailor shop of Ernest Kering, the Chinese restaurant, the Big Store garage, and Cash Coulter’s blacksmith shop being as quickly destroyed. The Reservation Land & Lumber company lumber yard and offices on the northeast corner of the same block met a like fate. Dr. Hall’s office and residence, Pablo & Potvin’s store and barn with icehouse, on the southeast corner were next. From the big store the fire jumped across the street south, the first building to catch on fire being the office building of A. Sutherland, unoccupied, and from there to the Central hotel, owned by Andrew Stinger. After the hotel building was aflame, the fire jumped back again and took in the barber shop of J.D. Glathart, the meat market at H.M. Gehlert, Dr. Putney‘s office, the Bradley jewelry store and music room of Whitney Bros. The opera house was in the central hotel building, across the street to the east of Pablo-Potvin’s general store. The fire caught in the Fred Potvin residence and spread to The Lumber company‘s office, the B.H. Dennison residence, the Reservation Land & Lumber company’s implement warehouse, the Chinese laundry, William Engle’s residence, Andrew Stinger’s residence and barn and the residence of Robert Watson, occupied by Curtis, Jeffries and wife.
Before the Big Store was on fire, the wind had carried a blazing sheet of rubberoid to the government mill, over a quarter of a mile away, and it was soon a mass of smoldering ruins. About the last building to catch was the Smead building, and it being back of the wind instead of in front, burned much slower than any of the others. This was a plastered building and to this fact probably more than to any other can attach the reason why The Pioneer building is the only one of three and one-half blocks to be saved.
To those who work so earnestly carrying water from the creek and pails, tubs, boilers, and hauled barrels by teams, it is much of the credit due. It was not alone the men who this worked to save the building, but to the women of Ronan do we owe as much gratitude is to anybody else. They worked hard and beyond their strength of endurance. They have our deepest gratitude.
The above is the story of the fires progress, and it did not take much longer for it to burn over the three and one-half blocks than it has taken to write about it. In about one hour and a quarter the whole business section of progressive, active, wide awake Ronan was in ashes, the only remaining buildings being Sterling hotel and general store, Menager’s dry goods store, the Edmondson pool hall, the Bateman livery barn, Burland’s blacksmith shop, and the Bigelow photograph gallery, all on the east side of Mud Creek, and Miss Duplessis’ Millinery store and J.F. O’Brien’s general store, on the west side of the creek.
Where a short time before a number of as fine general stores as one generally sees in inland towns was a mass of ruins; numerous people were burned out of business and homes; many, who a short time before were traveling the road on Easy street, found themselves practically without anything. But not a murmur was heard, not a sign of loss of nerve. That was not the calibre of the men and women of Ronan.
Very little was saved from any of the burned stores or residences. The time was so short between the alarm of fire and the time when everything was burned there was very little opportunity to save. In some instances a little was carried out and this in some cases was destroyed because it was not removed far enough from the burning buildings. Dr. Fuhrer ventured into his garage when in great danger and saved some of the household goods of the doctor and his wife and most of his surgical instruments were saved. The fixtures and valuable papers of the Ronan State Bank were saved and all the papers of the First National Bank. In the Glacier Drug Company some show cases and some drugs and other goods were carried to the public square and were partially saved.
From the Stanley Scearce store nothing was saved except the books, invoices and valuable papers in the office and some wagons and buggies from the implement department. From Pablo & Potvin’s nothing to speak of was saved. Their loss is complete, as can be said of Andrew Stinger, except the household goods in his residence, all the hotel furnishings being burned. Dr. Putney saved some household goods and most of his surgical instruments; Dr. Hall saved the piano and a few other minor articles. With Lemire Bros., who had a little more time than some, a few goods of various kinds were carried to the Catholic church. All merchants saved their books and papers so far as reported none of the others save much of anything.