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Destructive Fire in 1838 Renewed Interest in the Formation of a Fire Company

On Monday morning, February 26, [1838], about half past four in the morning, the citizens of Bloomington were roused from their sleep by the ringing of bells and cries of fire.  It was soon ascertained that the fire was in the frame buildings owned by G. R. Johnson and occupied by Mr. Jonathan Legg as a store, Drs. Foster and Ballard as an office and S. T. Hardesty as a tailor shop.  By the time anyone noticed the fire, it had made considerable progress.  The flames spread so rapidly that it was nearly impossible to save anything.  The valuable medical library of Drs. Foster and Ballard was destroyed by fire together with all the account books and notes of the county library, they being in the possession of Dr. Ballard as the treasurer.


A postcard from the early 1900s shows a horse-drawn fire engine on the way to a fire.  Unfortunately, in 1838, a vehicle like this did not exist.

From these buildings the flames spread and destroyed the two-story, log house of Mrs. Batterton located nearby.   The house, nearly 20 years old, was separated by a narrow alley from the large, two-story brick hotel occupied by Mr. John Hyndman.  For a time it seemed likely that the hotel would be destroyed, but through the great exertions of Bloomington citizens, it was prevented from taking fire.

From the nearest estimate that can be made, the following losses were sustained:  Johnson–$5,500; Legg, $2,200; Foster & Ballard, $9,000; Mrs. Batterton, $1,000; Hardesty, $100; and Hunter and Williams, $100.

Previous to this fire, there had been only one other fire of such magnitude during the past 15 years.  At that time, because Bloomington had no fire company, engine, buckets or fire hooks, little could be done except to watch as flames consumed buildings and property.  Soon after the fire there was interest in the formation of a fire company.  With time, however, interest waned and in 1838 Bloomington was in the same predicament.

With the recent destructive fire, interest in a fire company was renewed.  A decision was made to levy a tax on all improved real estate within the limits of the corporation for the purpose of funding a fire company.  Additionally, citizens with considerable capital invested in goods or anything that could be destroyed by fire were encouraged to purchase insurance such as that available from J. B. Barnes of Bloomington, an authorized agent for the Indiana Mutual Fire Insurance Company.

Information for this blog was taken from the March 2, 1838, issue of the Bloomington Post (page 3) available online at–en-20-BDT-1–txt-txIN-war——

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