A History of the Seymour Fire Department - Part 1
A History of the Seymour Fire Department
In June of 2010 the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department will celebrate 100 years of service to the community. To help celebrate the centennial, the Seymour Community Historical Society is working with fire department Chief Steve Krabbe to present facts from the early years to the present. This is the first of a series of articles that will summarize the history of the department. Utilizing the resources of the Seymour Museum and the official minutes of monthly meetings of Seymour Strife Company #1, Marge Coonen and Bill Collar will present the history of fire fighting in the city of Seymour. The purpose of this article is to explain the need for a municipal fire department through examining several of the more devastating fires that plagued the city in the late 19th century.
Most people know about the great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 and the huge conflagration that destroyed Chicago at the same time. Few people have knowledge of the destructive Seymour fire of 1880. In a day when almost all buildings were of frame construction, and wood burning was a common method of heating, fire was a constant menace. The use of candles, kerosene lamps, and gas lanterns contributed to the problem. The lack of an organized fire department made it difficult to contain a fire once it started. In September of 1880, the city of Seymour, with a population of 850, was devastated by a fire that threatened to consume the entire business district. This is how the Appleton Post of September 23, 1880 reported the inferno.
ONE SIDE OF MAIN STREET LEVELED TO THE GROUND
A dispatch from Seymour this forenoon states that a very destructive fire is now raging in that place. The fire broke out early this morning in the vicinity of Mitchell and Anderson’s store and, in spite of all efforts put forth to suppress the flames, they soon got under the most destructive headway. They spread rapidly both ways, and at the time of the sending of the dispatch, the east side of Main Street was leveled to ashes. On the south side of Mitchell and Anderson’s building two stores were destroyed. On the north side everything was licked up between this point and the depot.
A list of the building destroyed and the names of the losers is as follows: Mitchell and Anderson’s, general merchandise, the post office, Mr. Lembke’s shoe shop, Schuster’s feed store, Henry Nice’s butcher shop, Jake Young’s saloon, W. B. Cornel’s dwelling, Mitchelstetter & Feurig’s hardware store, Kenyon’s store, Joseph Graham’s barber shop, Mr. Ganzel’s butcher shop, and Foster’s store.
At this hour, 2 o’clock PM, the fire is still raging. It got into the yards of the Northwestern Manufacturing Company and is making very destructive headway. It is feared the entire city will be converted to ruins. The calamity to the city will be most serious in its effects and from which it will be a long time in recovering. The loss to individuals is very great and they will have the sympathy of the people.
Of course the losses are partially covered by insurance, but as yet we have been unable to learn the particulars. As to the origin of the fire, it is believed to be the work of incendiaries. Last week a fire broke out in the same place where this one originated, but it was suppressed. The lack of efficient means to fight the fire will make the loss even more complete.
The raging fire of 1880 destroyed half of the Seymour business district before it was finally stopped by a community effort. Volunteers, aided by a steady rainfall, managed to save the remainder of the downtown area and adjacent homes. The fire brought many changes to the year old city. An article in the September 26. 1880 Appleton Post described the toll taken by the blaze.
MUCH OF SEYMOUR DESTROYED BY FIRE
.....Preparations are being made to rebuild a portion of the burnt district. Tom Mitchell has moved the blacksmith shop from the hill where A. J. Hunter last held forth, down to where M. V. Kenyon’s store was, and he will soon have it fitted up for a P. O. and a store. Mr. Kenyon is now selling goods as usual, having secured the use of the Seymour Sharp Shooters’ hall. His loss on goods is $300.00 to 400.00, the most of which were stolen after being removed from the burning building. Charles Smith is about to erect a neat and commodious store where the big blacksmith shop stood, which will be occupied by M. V. Kenyon as soon as finished.
Mr. Ganzel removed his market across the street into a small building formerly occupied by Henry Powell as a peanut stand, and was ready in the morning to furnish choice chops to his customers. He has since enlarged the building. Henry Nice has erected a temporary market and occupied it the next day before night.
The fire seems to have been the work of an incendiary and plunder the object. Wm. Comee had a good share of his family wearing apparel stolen besides canned fruit, etc. The morning after the fire, a tramp called at the house of A. J. Thompson and demanded what money was in the house, on being informed there was none, he said he knew better and wanted to know where the man of the house was, and being informed that he was nearby, he left.
It is interesting to note that arson was the apparent cause of the fire, with theft being the intent of the perpetrators of the disaster. During the remainder of the 19th Century fire proved to be a constant danger for the small city. After a number of house fires and several businesses burning in the early 20th century, the city leaders decided to organize a municipal fire department and purchase fire-fighting equipment. Our next article will examine the early years of the new Seymour Fire department.