Shaffer, PA Fire, Dec 1865
From the Herald Extra of yesterday
Great Fire At Shaffer
All The Business Portion Of The Town In Ashes
All the Hotels Destroyed but the Cady
The Public Consternation--Exciting Scenes
Preservation of the Oil Platform
Loss Over $100,000
Office of the Morning Herald
Titusville, Dec. 26, 1865
All of our citizens are apprised of the fearful calamity which visited the neighboring town of Shaffer on Christmas, and as we forgo our usual publication today, we issue this extra, containing particulars of the disaster as furnished by our own reporter.
The first positive information which reached our citizens respecting the alarming progress of the fire was by the following telegraphic dispatch, received about 3p.m. by MR. PERSONS, proprietor of the Persons House at Shaffer, who was spending the day at Titusville:
Shaffer Farm, Dec 25, 1865
Shaffer is burning down fast. Will be gone in an hour. For God’s sake get a locomotive and a fire engine and all the hose possible, and come.
F. A. STEMM, for the citizens
A considerable time elapsed before an authoritative consent was obtained for complying with this request, but finally the Washington Fire Company took their engine to the depot, where, through the exertions of A. W. COBURN and others, a train of platform cars were secured, and the engine and hose-carriage loaded, and accompanied by a large crowd of citizens, started for the scene of the conflagration. On arriving at Meredith, within a mile of Shaffer, it was ascertained that a train at Shaffer had the right of way, a messenger was dispatched on foot from Meredith to report whether the down train should proceed. An hour was thus consumed, it was after dark, and then the Shaffer train arrived with orders for the engine to be returned to Titusville, as the fire had expended its fury, and no valuable service could be rendered.
Our reporter proceeded to Shaffer and returned this morning. He furnishes the following account of the disaster:
About twenty five minutes after two o’clock Monday afternoon dense volumes of black smoke were (illegible) suddenly from the upper part of the Ocean House in Shaffer. In a few moments the whole town was startled by the cries of fire, which from lip to lip re-echoed with the rapidity of lightning. The whole population rushed en masse to the scene of conflagration, and many a manly heart beat fast at the thought of the fearful consequences which might ensue.
The fire spread with alarming rapidity. In about fifteen minutes the Buffalo House, adjoining on the north, and the house of BROWN & VANVALKENBERG on the south side were on fire. At this moment the wildest scene of confusion took place, as it was evident the whole square, if not the whole town must fall a prey to the devouring element.
The inhabitants at once commenced removing their goods into the streets; bed and bedding, boxes, chairs, tables, piano fortes, barrels of whiskey, cigar boxes, and champagne bottles, cooking stoves and china plates, dry goods hardware, groceries and crinoline, were huddled in one confused and broken mass from doors and windows.
As the wind was blowing from the south-west fears were entertained that DOWNER’S oil platform would ignite, and had this taken place it would have swept the entire railroad property and every oil platform in Shaffer, containing about 8,000 barrels of oil. The attention of the judicious portion of the community was directed to this spot, and gangs of men with buckets were distributed over the roof of the shed and its surroundings. The roof caught fire at least twenty times from the flying embers and was as speedily extinguished by a timely bucket of water. The wind fortunately soon veered more to the south and this place ceased to be the cause of so great anxiety.
The flames had now reached the fourth house on the main street, and extended to the stables, barns, sheds, and outbuildings, in the rear of the north side of the square.
The next now communicated to the PERSON’S House, and had been raging for three-quarters of an hour when some of the more sober and respectable portion of the citizens proceeded to HARRISON’S store, on the southerly corner of the block, for the purpose of tearing it down and thus preventing the flames reaching the south side of the centre (sic) street. They succeeded in pulling the greatest portion of it down and hauling it away by teams and gangs of men before the devouring element reached that locality. The whole square, north, east, south and west, was now one vast sheet of flames-- a picture so grand and yet so terrible, that few who witnessed it never wish to behold the like again. The wind was now due south, and those whose houses were on the south side of Centre street, covered their roofs and fronts with wet carpets and blankets. The heat was so intense that the windows were all cracked and the fronts of the houses were scorched, but the flames fortunately confined themselves to the square.