Detroit, MI Woodard Avenue and Presbyterian Church Fire, Jan 1854
EARLY on the morning of January 10, 1854, a fire broke out in the shoe store of Smith & Tyler, at the northeast corner of Woodward Avenue and Larned Street, and before it could be gotten under control - the structures being of wood and a high wind prevailing - the entire north half of that square was destroyed, including the grocery store and sample room of George Davie and John Fay, also Bates's merchant tailoring establishment.
Shortly after this fire had been mastered by the firemen, a small jet of flame was noticed by a few lookerson (myself among the number) issuing from a point high up on one of the wooden pillars of the Presbyterian Church on the northwest corner of Woodward Avenue and Lamed Street. No one appeared to pay much attention to this, when all of a sudden, like a flash of lightning, a volume of flame was seen to shoot up in the interior of the steeple in which was the belfry and almost in a twinkle it was an immense torch of fire. This steeple being of goodly dimensions and quite tall, made a most magnificent spectacle, lighting up as it did the city and adjoining country. I heard afterwards, many citizens of Windsor, Sandwich, Canada, declare that the illumination furnished on that occasion was most grand. It appears that the fire or flame that was discovered burning on one of the pillars in front of the church, proceeded from a pine knot, fat with rosin, located in the outer casing of the pillar, it being hollow. It soon worked its way through, and then asserted itself, to its heart's content.
It was beyond all reach and just rioted. The church was completely destroyed, nothing but the walls being left standing. It was feared for a while that the burning steeple would fall, either into Woodward Avenue, or on the stores of Holmes & Co., adjoining on Woodward Avenue, and it was watched with intense interest by the spectators. Considerable anxiety was also felt, from the fact that the establishment of Holmes & Co. was crowded with citizens assisting that firm in removing their stock of goods to a place of safety, as they had come to the conclusion that their premises must go.
THE STEEPLE FELL.
Well, soon the steeple was seen to waver, and finally, and fortunately fell, with a loud crash into the body of the church, Holmes & Co. did not sustain much damage, fortunately.
The bell of the church was melted by the fierce heat, and the metal was cast into a large number of tea bells, and distributed among the church members as souvenirs. Dear reader, perhaps you are the fortunate possessor of one.
Early days in Detroit : papers 1906 by Friend Palmer, pages 351-352