The new bustling business district of the city of Birmingham, Alabama was almost destroyed by fire in 1905- Here are some actual news accounts describing the destruction that took place.
From The Southern Democrat (Oneonta, Alabama) February 8, 1905
GENERAL STATE NEWS
Birmingham, Ala. Property located on First avenue and Morris avenue, between Twenty-first and Twentieth streets, valued at about $240,000, was destroyed by fire between 1 and 3 o’clock Sunday morning.
Chief Mullin had about given up all hope of saving a single building in the block bounded by Twentieth and Twenty-first streets and First and Morris avenues, but at 2:30 hope revived and the situation improved rapidly.
Telegraphed for Assistance
Montgomery, Atlanta and Chattanooga had been telegraphed fore assistance, the fire department here fearing that the fire might spread to adjacent blocks and wipe out some of the most valuable property in the city.
The Woodward building, the Metropolitan hotel property, the Union station and likewise all property on the north side of First avenue between Twentieth and Twenty-first streets seemed in jeopardy.
For more than an hour the city had been illuminated within a radius of ten blocks by the high leaping flames, and sparks were falling in showers over a radius of four blocks.
The fire broke out on the second floor of the building at Morris avenue and Twenty-first street, occupied by Franklin, Stiles & Franklin, produce dealers, and owned by the Earle estate.
One fire engine, driven at full speed, exploded.
The loss as near as can be estimated is as follows:
Earle building, First avenue, $27,000; Tomlinson building, First avenue, $25,000; Harrison building, First avenue, $5,000; Earle double on Morris avenue $12,000; two other buildings on Morris avenue (owners not ascertained, $15,000; Garry Co’s stock, $70,000; Candy’s Co.’s stock $15,000; Drs. Dozier’s equipment, $2,000; Colby Co’s stock, $15,000; Snider Tobacco Co.’s stock, $5,000; Franklin, Stiles & Franklin’s stock $15,000; Erb Co.’s stock, $3,000; Cooper Co.’s stock, $5,000; Norton Co.’s stock, $15,000; Camp Hardee, $2,000; Twenty-first street bridge, $1,000; French plate glass furniture and fixtures, $5,000. Total – $237,000.
Excerpts from news article in the Montgomery Advertiser February 6, 1905 about the same fire.
THE BIRMINGHAM FIRE
LOSSES $110,000, WITH $201,837 INSURANCE INVOLVED
Sleet and Ice Which Covered Building Tops Probably Saved the City from Greater Conflagration Originated from Stove
Birmingham, Feb. 5 (Special) A conservative estimate made of the losses and insurance by the conflagration which started this morning on Morris Avenue and Twenty-first Street in the second story of the building occupied by Stiles, Franklin & Stiles, produce commission merchants, and which lasted several hours, at one time threatened the entire business portion of the city gives insurance involved about $201,837 and the losses $110,000. Considerable of the insurance is carried out of Birmingham so that it will be a day or two longer yet before the exact amount is known.
The fire originated from a stove, it is believed, and when the police officer saw the blaze it had gained much headway. A telephone alarm was sent to the fire department, which responded promptly. A second and third alarm called out the Highlands departments, and every piece of apparatus in the city was soon at work. There had been rain falling for several hours previous to the fire and the sleet and ice of yesterday morning was still on the building tops, which probably accounts for no other blazes in other sections, many sparks and chunks of fire being carried from the conflagration by a heavy wind which was prevailing at the time.
The fire was discovered at 12:55 o’clock this morning. By 2 o’clock it had not only wiped out the two-story structure on Morris Avenue, in which it started, but had totally consumed the four-story building on First Avenue and Twenty-first Street, occupied by Robert Garry & Co., wholesale dry goods and notions, on the lower floor, Dr. O. T. Dozier & Son, on the second floor, and a number of offices on the other floors; the four-story building of John W. Tomlinson, adjacent to Garry, occupied by Buchannon’s Candy Company, and the Colby Decorating Company in the lower floors, law office, Camp Hardee, Confederate Veteran’s meeting place, on the second floor, and other offices on the upper floors.
On Morris Avenue, a three-story building, occupied by F. F. Norton and the Cooper Produce Company, was also destroyed, and a single-story building adjoining badly damaged. The fire went across Twenty-first Street on First Avenue and damaged the Steiner Bank building at least $5,000, while a portion of the walls of the building occupied by Garry & Co. fell in and crushed through the bridge extending over the railroad tracks and which belongs to the city.
The recently constructed walls of the four-story building occupied by C. C. Snider, wholesale tobacco and cigars, and belonging to General Harrison of Opelika, stopped the fire.
During the progress of the fire, one of the city steamers blew out a valve, fortunately not injuring anyone. The engine went out of commission.
It was 9 o’clock this morning when all the firemen were withdrawn from the scene, and more tired set of men has never been seen here in some time.
Notwithstanding the very inclement weather and the lateness of the hour, when the fire was discovered, a large number of citizens turned out and watched the blaze and a number offered assistance to the department. Among the latter was George B. Ward, the next Mayor of Birmingham, who had been to a reception. In his best clothing, he worked hard in the rain and within close range of the seething flames. ….The Western Union Telegraph Company and the Postal Telegraph Company, the Birmingham Railway, Light and Power Company lost considerable by having wires cut and poles burned down.
Fire broke out again in July and killed two firemen
From The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania July 4, 1905
Two Die in Birmingham Fire
Birmingham, Ala. July 3 – Fire in the wholesale district on Morris street, near Twenty-first street, today resulted in the death of two firemen, G. B. Spruell and E. Hoffman, the injury of four others and the destruction of property valued at more than $100,000.
Excerpt From Greene County Democrat (Eutaw, Alabama – July 5, 1905)
A Disastrous Fire
Occurred in Early Monday Morning Causing a Heavy Loss,
A Four Story Building
One Fireman was killed
Birmingham, Ala. – Fire which started Monday morning at 2 o’clock completely destroyed the four-story building at 2105 and 2107 Morris avenue, occupied by the Birmingham Paper company and Johnson and Parks, merchandise brokers,and partially destroyed the four-story building at 2101 and 2103 Morris avenue, occupied by Collins and Co., wholesale grocers.
Fireman Gip B. Spruell, of station No. 1, was killed by a falling wall at 3 o’clock, and Fireman Ed Huffman was seriously and fatally injured at the same time. Fireman Stanfield had his leg badly bruised and Chief Mullin received a severe cut in the right shoulder from falling glass.
The total fire loss amounts to about $140,000, and the insurance is about 80 per cent of the loss…..The origin of the fire is unknown. It was discovered just at 2 o’clock and the alarm was sounded from box 32. By the time the fire department reached the scene the entire building occupied by the Birmingham Paper company was wrapped in flames and they were shooting a hundred feet in the air.
By 2:30 o’clock a portion of the front wall of the paper company building fell in and Fireman Standfield was injured by the brick. He was carried to headquarters, where he was given medical attention. His injuries are not serious.
The fire spread to the building occupied by the Tyler Grocery company at 2107 and 2109 Morris avenue, and a part of the fourth story was damaged, but not to any considerable extent. A portion of the stock, estimated at about $100,000, was damaged by smoke and water.
The fourth story of the front wall of the paper company building fell in at 3 o’clock and Fireman Spruell received injuries from which he died in a few minutes, and Fireman Huffman was fatally injured, but still alive at 5 o’clock. The two firemen were directing an engine stream near the western side wall of the building, but the hose prevented their escape and they were caught under the wall. A dozen other firemen who were working near them escaped by a miracle.
It was several minutes before it was discovered that Huffman and Spruell were caught under the bricks, but willing hands soon rescued them. Spruell’s head and chest were badly bruised and crushed by the brick. He was carried to the office of Drs. Dozier, on First avenue, where he died in a few minutes. The body was removed to the undertaking establishment of Lige Loy.
Huffman’s head was badly cut and bruised by the brick, and his body was also bruised. A gash about four inches long and an inch deep was made across his cheek just under his eye, and he has a severe bruise on the back of the head. He was taken to the Hillman hospital, where City Physician Whelan operated on him.
When the front wall fell it spread the flames to the fourth story of the building occupied by Collins & Co., on the corner of Morris avenue and Twenty-first street. The water tower and the aerial track were used on the front end of the building, and several streams of water were turned on the building from the rear, while two or three were placed on the Twenty-first street bridge. The building was effectually flooded and the flames were checked before they reached the third. Floor.
Later in the year, more fires occurred in Birmingham
From the Jones Valley Times (November 9, 1905)
MOORE & HANDLEY BURNED
Birmingham – Fire which originated about 10 0’clock Tuesday night completely destroyed the five-story brick building of the Moore & Handley Hardware Company at Twentieth street and Avenue A causing a loss of between $250,000 and $275,000.
A two-story building, part of which was formerly occupied by the Avondale Steam Laundry and part of which is occupied by the local branch of the Philip Carey Manufacturing company, was also destroyed, causing an additional loss of about $25,000. This building is on the north side of Avenue A, between Twentieth and Twenty-first streets.
The building on Avenue A was the property of Bryan, Lyn & Hass, and was valued at about $12,000, and practically covered by insurance. The stock of the Philip Carey Manufacturing company was valued at about $12,000, and was also practically covered by insurance.
The Moore & Handley building cost about $75,000, exclusive of the foundations, which were very deep and expensive. It was completed about two years ago, or a year after the fire which destroyed a portion of the plant of the company on October 7, 1902.
The origin of the fire is unknown. Two theories are advanced as to the cause. One is that a spark from a passing engine was blown through one of the windows and the other is that defective electric wiring was the cause.
The O.K. Barber Shop, 217 N. 20th Street, Birmingham, Ala. Pickard & Erckert, Prop ca. 1907 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
The fire was one of those with which no fire department in the south could cope. The Birmingham department has no modern apparatus for throwing streams of water into the upper floors of such a building. The old extension truck was placed in front of the building and did effective work but it required such a length of time to erect it that it was practically useless in preventing a spread of the fire.
Alabama Footprints – Exploration is a collection of lost and forgotten stories about the people who discovered and initially settled in Alabama.
Some stories include:
- The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
- The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
- Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
- Sophia McGillivray- what she did when she was nine months pregnant
- Alabama had its first Interstate in the early days of settlement