Fires almost destroyed downtown YS


Yellow Springs has been a busy community for many years, but during the last years of the 19th century, three major fires threatened to put an end to the downtown section of the village.

The first major fire occurred on Nov. 6, 1891 when businesses on Dayton Street went up in smoke.

On May 6, 1895 nine business houses which fronted on the railroad (Corry Street between Xenia and Dayton avenues were burned to the ground and buildings across Corry and Dayton streets were badly damaged.

What was perhaps the worst of the three took place on July 25, 1895. This time it was businesses on Xenia Avenue which took the brunt of the fire damage.

The local paper, the Yellow Springs Torch, eloquently published the following headline: “SWEPT BY FLAME! Once More the Fire Fiend Is Upon Us. And with Reeking Red Tongues Licks Up a Whole Square of Buildings, Stopping Only When a Providential change of the Wind Turns Back the Tide of Wreck and Ruin.”

Story continued: “The greatest conflagration that ever visited Yellow Springs came in devastating fury last Monday leaving in its track a desolated mass of ruins, blackened chimney stacks, ghosts of trees stripped of the fresh tender foliage of Spring and yawning holes filled with twisted and seared iron roofing and heaps of smoldering ashes to mark the place where a whole block of buildings stood, wiping out in a brief space of time historic landmarks of the town as well as some of the buildings which had stood as monuments of local enterprise and progress; changing in a twinkling and for all time the whole appearance of the village as she used to be, but never will be again.”

It was just after 12 p.m. when the fire was discovered in the grain elevator. The flames shot quickly into the air as high as 75 feet. The alarm was sounded by the Presbyterian Church bell and telephone calls were made to Xenia and Springfield for assistance.

The Springfield and Xenia fire crews arrived too late to save the structures but were able to keep the homes across the street from catching fire. Both crews arrived in an amazing time of only nine minutes for the nine-mile run. The Xenia truck was sent via a railroad flat car.

The firemen placed their engines near the creek, but the pumps failed to work properly, perhaps because of the great distance and steep cliff over which the hoses were laid.

The reporter continued “The black smoke … and red flames enveloped the doomed building; great sheets of red hot roofing would burst off and go sailing downward and away, endangering the lives of the fast-growing crowd of awe-stricken spectators, until the great building having been entirely gutted by flames fell inward on itself with a resounding crash, leaving nothing but the great chimney to mark the place where our new elevator stood.

At that time, there was no fire department in the village and no way to fight the flames short of throwing buckets of water at the fire, but this was to no avail. The fire spread too quickly.

One by one the buildings were engulfed including the old hotel and grocery building, the three-story brick building then owned by the Yellow Springs Buggy Company. There was a brick wall which slowed the progress of the flames somewhat, but the fire reached a frame workshop and on to the livery stable and progressed to demolish a frame home. It continued to the restaurant and residence which had been the old Methodist Church building. This had been the first building erected on that side of the creek around 1840.

Those who were near attempted to remove furniture and other items from the burning structures, but the flames continued and those items which had been brought to safety were again at risk and had to be moved farther from the growing flames.

“The post office contents were moved into the street leaving nothing in the office but the bare floor … It appeared … that the fire was bound to swallow the post office and take the whole west side of Xenia Ave., if not both sides, but the wind changed completely around …”

There was concern about the houses on Dayton Avenue as well. The roof of one of the buildings caught fire and in spite of the bucket brigade’s efforts, it might have burned down also, but the Springfield fire department managed to put out the flame. The plate glass windows suffered from the extreme heat and were cracked and broken. Nearly every window on that side of the street was broken or severely cracked because of the intense heat.

A later edition of the Torch reported that the fire had started in the Adit Bakery.

At that time, few businesses and residences had fire insurance. The damage was estimated to be between $13,000-15,000.

A free-will collection netted $66 for the visiting firemen, but they were not compensated. The Yellow Springs mayor felt it was an inadequate amount and asked the city council for additional funds which were not granted.

In spite of the fact that so much of the area was affected by the fire, injuries were at a minimum.

“Ed Carr, while working with the bucket brigade received a bad cut on the cheek by a bucket falling on him.”

Finally, the debris was cleared away and new structures took the places of the old.

Remembering the Trader sisters

Effie Corwin Trader and Louise King Trader were born in Xenia and moved to Cincinnati at an early age. Each of them had artistic talent. Effie was a painter who specialized in painting miniature portraits on ivory, while Louise was a singer. Together they started the Cincinnati School for the Blind and in 1901 established a library for the blind providing audible books and other useful materials for those who were sightless.

— Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.

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