Curwensville, PA Fire, Jan 1936
HALF OF CITY BLOCK CONSUMED DESPITE FIREMEN’S EFFORT
CURWENSVILLE was visited by the most disastrous fire to hit that community since the Elk tannery was destroyed nearly four years ago when flames which broke out at about 10:20 o’clock on Saturday night and raged for nearly eight hours swept almost an entire block in the heart of the business district on State street and laid waste six buildings.
As firemen kept on the job all day yesterday pouring water into the smoking and ice encrusted ruins some attempt was made to count the loss suffered by nearly a score of dwellings and business establishments. Curwensville Fire Chief George Benner stated he would roughly estimate the loss at $70,000. Other observers placed the loss at a higher figure, but late yesterday it was impossible to contact the various persons who suffered in the blaze to arrive at a more definite estimate.
Starting in a small frame building housing the Gilbert Norris barber shop, located on the West Side of the alley between Thompson and Walnut Streets and on the north side of State Street, the fire quickly gained impetus and soon spread in both directions. Curwensville firemen were hastily on the scene after the first alarm was sounded and went to work in their usual efficient manner. However, as the flames began to spread rapidly among the closely built together buildings and also crossed to the East Side of the alley in the direction of Thompson Street it was apparent that help would be needed. A call for aid was sent to Clearfield and DuBois and soon three pieces of apparatus from Clearfield and one pumper from DuBois joined forces with the Curwensville fire fighters.
The flames made short work of the Norris barber shop and swept westward to the adjacent building housing the Curwensville Herald plant and the James Edmiston clothing store. Also, about the time they reached the Herald building they crossed the alley in the other direction and set fire to the big three-story red brick building owned by Joseph Fullerton. Firemen said the flames got across the alley due to a frame overhead passageway connecting the building housing the Norris barber shop on the west side and a small frame outer kitchen constructed in the rear and as part of the larger Fullerton building.
Once they spread to this big three-story structure, firemen had a real fight on their hands, but due to some valiant work apparently had the flames under control by 3 o’clock Sunday morning. The westward spread of the flames had been stopped at the Thompson building housing the Curwensville Heating and Plumbing Shop. The main force of the fire fighters were preparing to return their apparatus to their respective houses, leaving sufficient equipment to guard the smoldering ruins until morning when the fire broke out anew in the building housing the A. & P. store, adjacent to the Fullerton building and on the side towards Thompson street.
Clearfield firemen were preparing to leave when the new outbreak was discovered and then remained on the job until nearly 7 o’clock on Sunday morning. This new outbreak swept on eastward and before the flames were finally checked after another four-hour battle they had practically destroyed the balance of the buildings to the corner of Thompson street, including the A. & P. store, the Maurey residence and printing plant and residence owned by Fred P. Robison.
Chief Benner explained that it was no fault of the firemen that the new outbreak occurred. Owing to the peculiar construction of the building housing the A. & P. store it is believed the fire had been raging there unnoticed by the firemen for sufficient time that when it was finally discovered it had enough start to consume the building and spread to the other buildings in the direction of Thompson street in spite of the determined efforts of the firemen. The building was built right against the Fullerton structure and with no protection firewall between. Where the fire was believed to have burned for some time without being noticed after gaining entrance was in a hidden space between the original ceiling and another ceiling constructed when the building was later remodeled.
Chief Benner said that the main reason why the fire spread over such an area was the fact that all the buildings in that stretch were built touching each other and that no fire walls were between any of the structures. The only break was the alley between the Fullerton building and the Norris barbershop, but the overhead passage between the building provided the connecting link for the flames.
The exact amount of losses sustained by the different owners and occupants of the buildings gutted by the flames were not available today. Only the Norris barbershop was housed in the building where the fire started. In the building west of the Norris shop was the Curwensville Herald Plant owned by Roy Decker and Mr. and Mrs. R.C. Wright, and the James Edmiston clothing store. The first floor of the three-story Fullerton building was occupied by Al Maurey’s Café and the People’s store, owned by M. E. McCue. On the second floor were apartments occupied by the owner, his brother Walter, and the Misses Sarah Daub and Lorraine Conser. Dr. Devries had an office on the second floor and a photographer’s gallery was located on the same story. The third floor was owned and occupied by the Curwensville Red Men.
Mrs. Edna Way owned the building adjacent to the Fullerton building. In one side on the first floor the A. & P. store was located. The second story was occupied by Al Frank. The other side was residence of Al Maurey, both floors. The building housing Fred Robison’s printing shop and residence was a frame structure. Over the print shop Miles Fullerton had apartments.
Firemen said only a small percentage of the furniture and equipment and also the stocks in the stores was saved from the flames. The Thompson building adjacent to the Edmiston clothing store was occupied by the Curwensville heating and plumbing shop on the first floor and A. E. Frederick dwelling on the second floor. No fire reached either of these places, but both suffered some damage from smoke.
Origin of the fire was laid by Chief Benner to an explosion of an oil heater in the Norris barbershop. The heater was one used to heat water. Mr. Norris, however, said he examined the heater after the fire and it did not give the appearance of having exploded. He said when he closed his shop for the night he turned the heater down, as was his usual custom. Whether or not the fire started from the heater, Mr. Norris said he was not in a position to say.
It was a heroic battle the firemen from Curwensville, Clearfield and DuBois waged through the night to subdue the disastrous blaze. Intense cold hammered the fire fighters, caused hose and other equipment to freeze up and resulted in extreme physical discomfort for the firemen themselves. Unofficially it was reported to have been 18 degrees below zero at 5 o’clock Sunday morning. Numerous firemen had their faces, hands and ears slightly frozen and several were coated with ice when sprays of water struck them.
Water flowing down the State Street froze into a solid mass.
Despite the extremely cold weather thousands of spectators were drawn to the scene and remained for a considerable time while the firemen battled the flames. Yesterday thousands of others visited the scene of the fire and saw a desolate picture of destruction by the red menace. The ruins were coated with a mass of ice.
Curwensville citizens have been unanimous in their praise for the courage shown by the firemen as they stuck to their task throughout the night, quitting only briefly when the cold became unendurable to drink some hot coffee, get warm and then go back to their job again. Chief Benner stated he could not heap enough praise on the visiting Clearfield firemen for their splendid work in coming to the aid of their stricken neighboring town. When the fire had been brought under control at about 7 o’clock on Sunday morning Chief Benner chartered a bus to take the Clearfield firemen home that they would not have to ride on the open pieces of apparatus.
Clearfield Progress, Clearfield, PA 27 Jan 1936
Gilbert Norris whose Barber Shop on State Street was destroyed by fire over the week-end has re-opened for business in a new location, in Young’s Barber Shop on corner of Thompson and State Streets, where he will serve his customers in the future.
Clearfield Progress, Clearfield, PA 20 Jan 1936
Transcribed by Trish. Thanks, Trish!