Monmouth has had several disastrous fires, but the "big fire" that the old residents tell about occurred on the morning of May 9, 1871, when half the business Bouses of the city were destroyed, causing a loss of $250,000. The fire originated in the rear of where McClung Bros.' grocery now stands at the corner of East Broadway and North First street, and swept to the west and southwest, fanned by a strong northeast wind. For two hours the flames raged, and not until they had consumed all the east side of the square, all the north side east of Main street, and all of Market Place, were they subdued. The firemen made a brave fight, but their efforts were almost fruitless until Cnurchill's slate roof block was reached, the brick building now occupied by Hogue & Jamieson and VanValkenburg & Sons. The heaviest losers by the fire were John Babcock, Dr. N. M. Brown, James Rohrback, Mrs. S. C. Billings, M. Nusbaum, Henry Rothschild, J. G. Madden, Wallace Bros., W. D. H. Young, Warren Lodge No. 160, I. O. O. F., Warren Wright, Geo. H. Dennis, J. P. Young, L. Bettman, Quinby estate, Langdon's block, M. C. Churchill, the A. M. U. Kxpress Co., J. W. Scott, Charles Johnson and others.
An earlier fire that destroyed much property occurred shortly after midnight of January 14, 1868. It started in the grocery store of John Peter Young in a, two-story frame building on the corner of East Broadway and South First street where Frank Johnson's drug store now is. Thirty thousand dollars worth of property was destroyed, the flames taking one or two frame buildings on the south and spreading east to the alley just east of the present Lahann block.
One of the greatest fires that has visited Monmouth occurred during the night of February 11, 1892, and swept out of existence the old opera house block, better known in the earlier days as the Union Hall building, and adjoining brick buildings. More than $150,000 worth of property was destroyed, seven business firms losing almost everything. They were N. W. Montgomery & Co., dry goods; H. J. Blackburn, groceries; C. Shultz, drugs; W. H. Rankin, furniture; McClung Bros., groceries; H. J. Lucas, barber shop; Christensen & Smith, saloon. Chaplain McCabe had lectured in the opera house during the evening on "The Bright Side of Life," and within an hour after the audience were dismissed the whole upper part or the building was a mass of flames. On the ground where the burned buildings stood now stand the H. B. Smith building and the Brown block.
Other fires that have destroyed property in Monmouth are: Old Weir plow factory and adjoining buildings near the freight depot, Janu ary 9, 1867, loss $50,000; planing mill of Roberts, Dunn & Co., on Main street south of the railroad, September 10, 1869, loss $20,000; a row of buildings on South Third street near old depot, April 28, 1870, loss about $12,000; build ing of the Cooperative Co., and adjoining buildings, near the old depot, April 11, 1875, loss about ?20,000; Dr. D. A. Wallace's residence, April 17, 1875, loss about $5,000; O., B & Q. passenger station, April 30, 1882; Three M. Co.'s shaft, June 28, 1890; Three M. Co.'s office, December 24, 1892, loss $2,000; Weir plow works, December 12, 1895, loss $13,500; Monmouth Pottery, June 1, 1897, loss $12,000; Torrance & McIntosh's foundry, September 13, 1897; Monmouth Commission Co.'s mill, October 3, 1900, loss $3,000; the old Joss mill, October 3, 1901, loss $3,000; the Weir pottery. May 29, 1902, loss $60,000.
The year 1890 was in some respects an unfortunate one for the Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing Company. About one o'clock in the afternoon of June 28, while fifteen men were working in the mine, the wooawork in the shaft and the shaft house took fire in some way from the furnace at the bottom. The fire, however, attracted the least attention. Fifteen men were in the mine, and their lives were at stake. A few men who knew the mine were willing to risk their lives to save the others, and from an abandoned shaft they dug their way through swollen doors and unused passages to the foot of the burning shaft. Before reaching it they found two of the men, but the others were beyond the shaft. Over the furnace where the fire started they had to crawl on hands and knees, nearly choked with the heat and smoke, but they reached the rescuers and one by one were carried to the old shaft and up into the air.
The men in the mine were Robert L. Russell, George Russell, William Stokes, Will Strickler, George Mclntosh, William Robertson, Will Gordon, James Moses, Ralph Sherman, Frank Kennedy, Ted Murphy, James Murphy, Tom Redmond, E. P. Hartley and S. W. Palmer. The rescuing party were Ed. Redmond, Chris Foley, J. R. Marshall, John Marshall, John Carey. George Johnson and Aaron Simcox.
Then came the wreck of the Fast Mail train on the pottery switch on the morning of October 17. The switch had been carelessly left open by some one, and the train coming at a rate of sixty miles an hour ran into the pottery yards, striking with terri- Tjle momentum seven cars of coal and tile stand ing on the switch. Three men, Roderick Mc Lean, Charles Hines and William Smiley, were working on these cars, and in the same instant these three men and Engineer Ward and Fire man McGrath was seriously injured, and en gine and cars were broken and thrown together in a mass of ruins. McLean received injuries which caused his death October 21. Hines and Ward were the worst hurt of the others. Four days after the Fast Mail accident, on October 21, Peter Earling and Peter Abrahamson were the victims of a terrible accident at the works. They were in a tempering pan loading the clay into the elevator when the machinery was started and the heavy wheels moved forward at full speed. Abrahamson was not much hurt, but EarMng received such injuries that he was a cripple to the day of his death in 1902.