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Most Disastrous Fire

Nashville's first big fire occurred the night of February 25, 1874. The mad ringing of the Methodist Church bell brought people out of bed and men were running crying "fire".

The Village of Nashville then was less than 10 years old and boasted about a thousand population. The business district was mainly composed of frame wooden buildings thrown up in a hurry of cheap lumber.

The fire, on that cold night in 1874, started at the rear of Phillip Holler and Son's Hardware Store, which stood fronting Main Street in a long narrow building closely paralleling Cherry Alley (located where the Pharmacy parking lot is now - 2007). Within 20 minutes after the blaze was discovered there were several hundred people on Main Street. Before the night was over almost the entire population of the town and scores of country folks were on hand to witness Nashville's first really disastrous fire. Within the course of three hours, five business places were wiped out and two families were left homeless.

Although there was no wind, the flames soon spread to the building next door north, which was owned by R. S. Brady and occupied by Ed R. White. Mr. White operated a meat market on the ground floor and he and his wife lived  in an apartment above their store. They had retired for the night when the sound of shouting awakened them, and they dressed hurriedly and carried a few of their possessions into the street before the blaze enveloped their building.

Those first frame buildings had been built close together and it was only a matter of minutes before the third one was aflame. This next building, which was owned by C. C. Linsley, was occupied by C. A. Stebbins and Captain Boise, who operated a general store. They sold dry goods, groceries and many other items, including gun powder and dynamite. Salvage of their merchandise was greatly hampered by the fear of an explosion at any moment. Above their store E. J. Feighner operated a photograph studio and he lost a new camera which he valued at more than $200.

Next building to break into flames was across the narrow alley. It was owned by C. C. Linsley and was occupied by Troutwine & Barlow as a barbershop and fancy store, with William Clark's harness shop on the second floor. Mr. Linsley lived in a small apartment at the rear of the barber shop on the ground floor.

By this time the few level heads directing the fire fighting had decided drastic methods were necessary to save the rest of the business section. After a hurried consultation, it was decided to use dynamite with the utmost caution on the Brady building, which was already past saving, and to tear out the building which housed the news office, in an attempt to halt the spread of the flames in the other direction. With the dynamiting, glowing, burning timbers were blown a hundred feet into the air. The flying debris started a few small new fires but nothing that could get out of  control, and while bucket brigades wet down nearby buildings, the fire fighters concentrated on literally tearing apart the frame building that housed the News office. Ropes were made fast to vital points and with several hundred men and two teams of oxen straining to the task, the building was toppled over and hauled clear across the street, out of danger from flying sparks.

Before this, Orno Strong, publisher of the News, had been busy carrying his possessions out of the shop and his final achievement was the rescue of the 1,100 pound press, which was picked up bodily by about a dozen men and carried to safety. Young Strong had come to Nashville and started the News less than six months before and had estimated $300 loss from the fire was perhaps more of a blow than that suffered by some of his neighbors. True to the traditions of his business, Editor Strong issued a newspaper two days later, and the biggest news of the week had to do with the fire. The story told in detail how, after the News building was torn down, teams of oxen hauled the larger portions away and how two lines of men were formed to pass water to the fire, while others swarmed onto the roof of D. C. Griffith's store next door and kept exposed parts covered with wet carpets and quilts. "And thus", wrote Orno Strong, "Nashville's big fire finally was checked."

Most of the residents of the town stayed up all night. Barrels of whiskey were broken open and set conveniently for anyone and everyone to partake of. Next morning, few of the sawmills could operate because of missing employees.

All in all, Nashville was lucky. Had there been a wind, the newly-built village would have been wiped out in a hurry. Naturally such a conflagration inspired talk of an organized fire department, but it took another 17 years to truly fill that need. Only after the disastrous Lentz Table Factory Fire in 1891 did the village get busy and provide an efficient water system. The late 1870's however, saw the construction of numerous fire wells, bricked in cisterns underground in the business district for storing a reserve supply of water. Some of these old cisterns exist underneath present sidewalks and streets.

The cause of the big fire was never determined although there was considerable talk at the time about its having been the work of an incendiary. The losses fell heavily upon C. c. Linsley, who owned four of the buildings and who carried no insurance. He operated a patent medicine business and carried several thousand dollars worth of liquors and medicines in his cellar for use in manufacturing processes. His total loss was estimated at $6,000 and that of Holler & Son was set at the same figure. Holler had $2,400 worth of insurance, however. Stebbins & Boise and Ed White also carried at least partly enough insurance, as did R. S. Brady. As for the News publisher, he carried no insurance at all.