Blog post by Randi Richardson
The First Methodist Church, dedicated in 1909, was destroyed by a $250,000 fire discovered on the morning of Wednesday, April 7, 1937. Also destroyed by the fire was a $30,000 organ and great sheets of valuable, imported art glass. Located at 4th and Washington streets, the First Methodist Church was the largest church in the community. As a crowd watched the building burn, many commented on the fact that the cross was still intact above it. The cross, lighted each night, had been one of Bloomington’s landmarks since it was erected after the death of the late Benjamin. F. Adams in 1910. He donated the cross and his will provided a fund for its lighting and maintenance.
Rev. W. E. Moore of the First Christian Church, a block north of the fire, discovered the blaze from a window of his study and turned in the alarm. By the time firemen, under the direction of Chief B. M. Hazel, arrived on the scene, the interior of the dome was already in flames. Heavy smoke handicapped the ability of the firemen to train their hoses on the center of the blaze. Approximately 3,000 feet of hose was laid down. Efforts were continued inside the church for more than two hours before firefighters were driven to the street by the heat, smoke and falling debris.
A crowd of probably 3,000 gathered near the church as news of the fire spread quickly all over the county. Police were compelled to rope off the area to keep the crowd out of the way of firemen and to prevent injury.
The 2-story, frame home of Len Field, head of the Field Glove factory, located on Washington Street across an alley and north of the church, was endangered by showers of hot embers. Firemen who kept streams of water playing on the house from time to time were able to save it.
It is recalled that two men were killed when the church was under construction. One of them, a steel worker, fell to his death from the high dome when he was loosening a rope which had caught on the derrick which was hoisting steel beams to the top of the tower. The rope struck him as he loosened it, knocking him from his position. The other fatality occurred when one of the workmen was tearing down scaffolding on the inside of the building–the board on which he was sitting fell and he met death in the plunge to the floor. Much of the stone used in the construction of the church was donated by devout quarry owners of Monroe County.
The destruction of the Methodist Church by fire brought to Bloomington in 1937 the largest loss by fire since the destruction of the Telephone office and the Gentry building in March 1924 when the fire burned out of control for more than 12 hours. The loss of that fire ran to over half a million dollars.
For a brief synopsis and somewhat different version of the disastrous fire check out the information on the Monroe County Time Line compiled by the Monroe County Public Library. Scroll down to 1937, Apr 7—First Methodist Church fire.
Source: Bloomington Daily Telephone, April 7, 1937, p. 1+.