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1894 Fire Leaves Stinesville in Ashes

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Fourteen miles northwest of Bloomington lies the little town of Stinesville, Indiana.  Founded in 1855, Stinesville was once a hub of Indiana’s stone industry.  By the early 1900s, the Hoadley Limestone Mill was the town’s primary employer, and when the mill was destroyed by fire in 1916, the town went into a decline from which it never really recovered.  A little more than two decades earlier another devastating fire challenged the survival of the community.  A lengthy description of that fire was front-page news on the August 9, 1894, issue of the Bloomington World.  It read as follows:

Stinesville is in ashes.  This was the word spoken by everyone Monday morning.  A closer investigation only proved the assertion.  The little town of quarries experienced the most disastrous fire ever witnessed in that prosperous little village.  The businessmen suffered a loss which will take some years to replace.

Two stonecutters passed through Bloomington Monday night on the north bound train en route to Stinesville to begin work at one of the mills.  On arriving, they immediately started for the mill to inquire for a lodging place.  In walking down the railroad track they noticed a small blaze in the barn of Millard Easton’s east of the track.  An alarm was at once sounded but before the villagers were aware of what was taking place, the fire was beyond control and their only course to pursue was to prevent it spreading.

An early photo of Main Street, downtown Stinesville, courtesy of the Monroe County History Center.

All the citizens were at once aroused by the “toot” of whistles and soon every available man was in line carrying water to pour on the adjoining buildings.  A telegram was also sent the Bloomington fire department and a special train was in waiting for them at the depot.  The chief desired very much to help the neighbor village but concluded it to be bad policy to leave the city with the steamer.

There was scarcely a perceptible breeze to aid the fire in its destructive work, but the buildings burned as if made of paper, and in a short time nothing remained of the houses but scattered debris which had fallen here and there.

When the fire had made its appearance in the stable, it took but a short time to spread to the adjoining sheds and stables which made a deadly fire trap.  Every vehicle in Stinesville was hauling water to save the buildings, and had it not been for their heroic work the entire business block would have been swept away and no doubt would have burned all the houses east of the railroad.

The hungry flames had soon consumed the barn where the fire originated and laid low the crib and poultry houses of Millard Easton adjoining the barn.  The barn of Charles Dunn was also in ashes as was the ice house, stable and warehouse of Steve Szatkowski, the saloon keeper.  While the flames were hottest it took but a minute to fire the more substantial buildings.  The restaurant of Mrs. Watts was soon in ashes, the Odd Fellows hall, the largest building of all, was entirely consumed.  The hot air in this building exploded and it is said raised the building from the foundation.  The two adjoining storerooms to Mrs. Watts, belonging to Clelland Easton and John Easton (having a hardware and grocery store), were soon burning.

The water carriers then made an effort to save the next room, belonging to Millard Easton.  They succeeded in keeping it from burning but not until after the east wall contiguous to the burning building, was entirely ruined.  Holes were driven through the tin roof and water was kept flowing over it to prevent the heat from firing rafters underneath.  The dry goods in the store were greatly damaged by the heat and water.

It required hard work to save the grocery store of Mr. McHenry’s and  also the K. of P. hall which caught fire several times but fortunately gained no headway.  The office of Dr. Stansifer, east of the burned block, was also in much danger.  Several times the sparks ignited on the roof but was extinguished.  The loss on the house, however, is considerable.  The estimate of the total loss by the fire, as given by those who suffered from its destructive flames, is $11,700, this is covered by an insurance of $5,500…*

There seems to be no question that the fire was the work of an incendiary.  The citizens informed the World representative that they were not minus a clue and would use all available means to find the guilty culprit.

About two months ago an attempt was made to burn the saloon of Pete Szatkowski by throwing oil on the side of the building and making a fire with boxes.  Fortunately it was discovered before any damage was done.

*The $11,700 loss in 1894 amounted to $354,898 in 2020.