The Vagabond: First great fire in downtown Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

The Vagabond recently wrote about the big fire of July 4, 1883, that occurred at the south end of Broad Street from 3rd Street to almost 5th Street. The Kyle Opera House, a three-story brick building, prevented the fire from reaching 5th Street. It was the largest fire Gadsden ever had.

What few people realize is that there was an earlier fire almost equal to this one.

On June 17, 1882, at 10:30 a.m., a blaze was discovered in a store located on the south side of Broad Street between Fifth and Sixth streets near a group of wooden one-story houses and stores. The area extended to where the Blue Ribbon Shoe Shop once operated near Sixth Street.

The fire destroyed 21 houses and 17 businesses buildings while inflicting a loss of $50,000 with only $10,000 insured. It was Gadsden’s worst fire up to that time, because never before were so many buildings reduced to ashes.

At that time, the city had practically no protection against fire. There was a public well in the intersection at Fifth and Broad streets but the fire department’s bucket brigade soon exhausted that supply of water. Other wells were located in the rear of the buildings, which were all made of heavy pine lumber and reduced to ashes by the next morning.

The early firefighters did make a successful stand at First Methodist Church and its parsonage located on the northwest corner of Chestnut and Fifth streets. The firefighters also were successful at the First Baptist Church, which stood on the northwest corner of Fifth and Broad streets.

Great exertions were required to prevent the spread of the flames to the Baptist and Methodist churches. Both churches were slightly damaged. In addition, there were several buildings located on the north side of Broad Street that were damaged.

Among those suffering losses form the fire were R.B. Kyle, who lost six store houses worth $5,000, on which there was no insurance; J.H. Rinnebrend, A.J. Danthel, W.W. Stevenson and W.P. Powers; Mike MaCartney, groceries, loss $4,000, insurance of $2,000; Charles Schindler, shoemaker, loss $75 with no insurance; W.H. Powers, general merchandise, loss of $5,000 with insurance of $1,900; Dr. A.J. Douthit, drugs, loss $2,200 with insurance of $1,100; Goudelock & Son Confections, loss $2,000 with insurance of $1,357.50; J.H. Kennebrew, groceries, loss of  $3,600 with insurance of $2,500; W.E. Stevenson, dwelling and vacant store, loss $2,000, insurance $1,500; L.P. Moragne, storehouse, loss $800 with no insurance; L.P. Livingston, drugs in the Moragne building, loss $2,500; W.I. Fullington, harness in the same building, neither insured; D.J. Donavan, groceries, loss $700 with no insurance; D.J. Figg, groceries, loss $900 with insurance of $800; D.H. Woodward, dry goods, loss $300, partially insured; Peter Wagnon, household goods, loss $100, no insurance; B.A. Kyle, livery stable, loss of $100 with no insurance; Jerry Lister, tailor, loss of $50 with no insurance; Martin Morgan, loss of $300 with no insurance; D.J. Privett, harness, loss $75 with no insurance; William Christopher, blacksmith shop, loss of $1000 with no insurance; J.W. Fulghum, undertaker, two-story building, loss of $2,500 with no insurance; R.W. Whisenant, dwelling, loss of $2,500, insurance of $2,000; S.W. Riddle, loss of furniture, $100, no insurance; and J.H. Gilmore, furniture, loss $40 with no insurance.

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