Blog post by Randi Richardson
On Tuesday morning of last week, at about two o’clock, an alarm of fire was sounded and people hurried from their beds to find the Orchard Block, which extended from College Avenue to Railroad Street and was bounded by 5th Street and an alley running east and west, to be on fire.
The fire began in a woodshed belonging to the Orchard House just west of Dobson’s Shop. It is stated that a stove had been temporarily placed in the woodshed to keep warm some “gentlemen” that were being detained there till morning, and that the fire was in some manner communicated from that.
It spread with startling rapidity. In fact, it burned so quickly that there was no time to move the clothing of Mr. Benchart’s family. The property around Benckart’s home and business were covered with frame sheds and wooden houses, and those frames, being very old and dry, burned like paper. Mr. B. purchased the property from the Wilson sisters several years earlier for $5,000, and he was just finishing its payment. He had no insurance on the building.
The wind was blowing from the southwest, fanning the flames and driving them up to the Orchard Block and onto the buildings occupied by Benckart and the hotel. The fire was too large for a small department like Bloomington’s to fight successfully, so the firemen turned their attention to saving the buildings adjacent on the north. The whole mass of buildings, frame and brick, seemed to be on fire in less time than it takes to tell it.
Frank Dobson’s shop with tools and material was a total loss and with but $1,000 insurance.
H.S. Bates, city treasurer and shoe shop, had no insurance All the papers of his office were in a safe, and with a small amount of money, he came out all right.
On the Orchard House there was not one dollar of insurance.
The firemen were exhausted by their long and arduous fight but were cheered up by a noble band of ladies who brewed coffee for them. The men who handled the nozzle had no picnic on occasions like this and took risks while other stood about with their hands in their pockets and refused to carry light articles to places of safety no matter how much women may pleaded with them to do so.
People seemed to be paralyzed and did not act with the judgment that the occasion demanded, and so clothing, furniture, carpets, bedding, etc., were permitted to burn, and only a few dollars’ worth were saved. In a few moments almost everything that had been accumulated at the Orchard House through years of business and labor was swept away. It was a most complete and disheartening wreck. Mr. Orchard Sr., is 86 years of age, and he saved nothing—neither clothing nor bedding.
This is really the most disastrous fire that has ever occurred in the town for the reason that the destruction is almost total and the insurance comparatively nothing.
Source: Abstracted from the Republic (IN) Progress, November 14, 1888, p. 2.