The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily Times (Oswego, NY), Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1922

Full Text
Fire Destroyed Northwestern Elevator Last Night
Firemen Fought Spectacular Blaze In Zero Temperature Through All Hours of Night
Loss is Believe to Be Covered By the Insurance Carried On the Property - Contained Only Small Amount of Grain - Was Built Fifty-Five years Ago - Famous Old Structure

Lighting up the river, harbor and lake in a lurid glow that was reflected for miles, and painting the sky to the zenith, so that even the outskirts of the city the darkness of the night was overcome, the Northwestern Elevator last night went up in flames and smoke and furnished one of the most spectacular fires that oswego has known in recent years. Sparks were carried by the northwest wind high in the air, and menaced buildings on the east side of the river that had inflammable roofs, and the fire had been underway for only a few minutes before awnings on the east side of the stores were blazing and volunteers were engaged in quenching roof fires, any one of which might have caused a serious conflagration.

Occurring as it did in the early hours of the evening, when residents of the city were stirring about seeking the evening's amusement, in less than ten minutes after the alarm of fire had been sounded there were thousands on the lower bridge, and thronging the streets adjacent to the fire and on every point of vantage on the water front.

The blaze wad discovered about 7:50 o'clock by passersby on the lower bridge, who telephoned in the alarm, but even at that time the flames were shooting from windows high up on the sides of the big structure and when the department arrived on the scene it was evident that the elevator was doomed. Several leads of hose were quickly strung, although the few men at the disposal of Fire Chief Hennessey had to be helped out by willing volunteers before effective service could be given.

The heat from the burning building, the interior of which was an inferno of heat and white flame, when the department reached the scene, quickly caused the chief to do his best toward saving adjoining property from the threatening holocaust. The boiler house door was forced, but little could b done towards extinguishing the blaze with the big pumps in the engine room.

Mayor Neal Called Fulton for Aid

Mayor Neal, who was at the City hall ready for a Common council meeting, adjourned the meeting, after the aldermen, one by one, deserted to go to the fire, and he did his part by recognizing the danger of other buildings and telephoned to Mayor Stevenson of Fulton for what aid that city could send and learned of the fire raging in that city. Then the mayor joined the crowds at the fire and was one of those who was active in trying to save box cars and other movable property near the doomed building.

The fire engines, the old fashioned kind that furnished some of the usual accompaniments to every big fire with their sparks and noise of pumping and shrill whistling, were absent from this fire because the river was frozen over, and because when the alarm was sent in the auxiliary pump at the lake water pumping station was started and the pressure was as much as the firemen could handle on the leads. There was plenty of water and as much pressure as could be handled, the chief stated, and the old engines, cumbersome as they are, were not needed at any stage of the fire.

Wind Shifted in Time

When the fire was first discovered, a light wind was blowing from the north, with a tendency to east, but happily this shifted to the westward, carrying the sparks across the river. Had the fire been from the northeast there was a grave possibility that today Oswego would have been a mass of ruins for a considerable acreage north of Bridge street. As it was, the fire department hire all available men who wanted to work, at $2 per man to run the hose leads from one building to another as the fire department shifted his attack with the variables of the wind. The stone building of the former Oswego Milling company was menaced several times in the combustible roof, and at one time there were three leads of hose on to that building.

Similarly the blacksmith shop, spring repair ship and machine shop of John Parker was threatened and so much water was put on the latter building that it is sheathed in tons of ice today. A similar water preventive treatment was given to all buildings nearby, at at a frame stock house, with machinery and tools owned by Peter Raby, contractor, went up in smoke for a total loss at the end of the fire.

Sparks Carried to Oak Hill

Sparks from the burning elevator were carried up into the Oak Hill district, but they were black and old by that time and the radius of the danger did not extend much east of Bridge street or south of East Oneida street.

Army Sent Fire Fighters

Major J. Barrett Glover, commanding Fort Ontario, ordered out the chemical motor apparatus at the post, but the apparatus had difficulty in getting away because of the snow and a breakdown. hand carts and chemical apparatus were dispatched, manned by soldiers but the army hose couplings did not fit city hydrants. However, the soldiers did good work in and about the east side waterfront near the plant of the Peoples Gas & Electric Company, which caught fire three or four times from flying sparks, and in and around other buildings.

Steamer Hinckley Damaged

At a time when the sparks were flying thickets the steamer Hinckley caught fire through the cabin roof which volunteers extinguished after chopping away most of the top.

The roof of the Hennessey Bros. plumbers building caught fire but no damage was done, and similarly there were other slight fires from the sparks. Awnings at the Puritan Store, Wells' Clothing Store, Dales' Jewelry Store, the roof on the Benz building, all took fire at different times but were extinguished by volunteers. One large piece of metal from the cupola of the building was seen sailing off to the southeast. it was found today near the corner of East Ninth and Hamilton streets. Sparks from the burning building were carried as far south as the east side reservoir, the entire Oak Hill section today showing evidence of the deluge of sparks.

Elevator Built 55 Years Ago

The destruction of the Northwestern elevator removes the last of the flouring mills and elevators that once were the pride of Oswego, all having been destroyed by fire. It was built by the late Theodore Irwin and George B. Sloan, of heavy timbers and was the best known construction of its day. It was burned on the night of November 6, 1866, with a heavy gale from the northeast. It made a blaze that could be seen for many miles around, far into the lake, where there was a fleet of grain laden vessels headed for this port, many of them to discharge their cargoes at the burning elevator.

Irwin & Sloan made a specialty of dealing in barley. Much of it was brought from the Ban of Quinte district, Canada, and some state barley was used. A gentleman who was present at the burning of the first Northwestern elevator says that there were thousands of bushels of grain in storage at the time of its burning and that the burning of the latter kept the Old Volunteer Fire Department busy for several days and filled the city with a smell of burning grain that entered practically every home here, lingering for days.

Steps were taken for the immediate rebuilding of the structure. The contract for getting the timber was awarded to Jugartha Carpenter, who had a large tract of timber land and a large sawmill on Carpenter's pond near the Granby-Hannibal town line. Seventy-five expert axmen were brought here from Canada lumber camps coming on one of the boats that came late in the fall. They occupied shacks built in the woods and went to work early.

There was a heavy snow all that year that made easy slipping to get the timber to town. The wood lot when it was cut extended from the new state highway that runs from Fulton to Hannibal, over into Oswego Town. There was over a million feet of timber cut for the elevator that burned last night. The foundation timbers were of red beech, 14x23 and forty-five feet long. They were used under water and upon them the mammoth pile stood with its hundreds of tons of grain, and never gave the slightest indication of structural weakness.

Built By Sanford Ormsby

The building was designed and constructed under the direction of Sanford Ormsby, father of F. W. Ormsby. It was one of the last big elevators of its type built in this city. It had a capacity of 450,000 bushels, one of the largest in the country at that time. Every timber was carefully examined, for flaws and its strength to see if it would carry with safety the load that it was destined to carry. When completed the building was sheeted with corrugated iron on three sides as an additional precaution against fire, and from that day it has stood as one of the monuments of the old days when the grain business of this port was of mighty volume. Its passing is regretted, but it is believed it will soon be replaced by a modern storage elevator, built on modern lines, and designed to accommodate modern grain boats that may come to this port with cargoes to be transshipped via the Barge Canal. The west wall was brick and the boiler room and engine house were separated from the structure. From the river to the top of the cupola it stood 109 feet high.

Loss Is Covered

R. Downey & Company, owners of the elevator, were not able to give any figures on the property loss sustained. The elevator was potentially valuable, but when idle was costly. It had been used almost continuously , but only for small quantities of grain, in many years, just about sufficient to pay the upkeep, insurance and labor costs.

One of the members of the company today said that there were grain bags, a quantity of grain for the Ontario Milling Company, and some warehouse property stored in the structure. All of this is covered by insurance this official stated, and he also said that when everything is taken into consideration, it is believed that all losses are covered by the insurance carried on the structure.

He Saw It First

Clarence Swartz, a jeweler, of 115 East Fourth street, saw the fire while crossing the lower bridge at 7:55 o'clock. He pulled box 35 after asking the Western Union to call headquarters. C.P. Gilmore was on the lower bridge and saw the flames shoot out into the river. He called Arthur P. Copson, manager of the Postal Telegraph Company to the place and in just one hour the structure was fallen and the firemen were playing water on the ruins.

One Car on Tracks

There was just one car on the tracks by the burning elevator. It was loaded with firebrick and wall plaster. The car took fire from the sparks but was saved by streams of water that were directed upon it but today it is covered with ice and could not be opened.

Fought Fire in Low Temperature

The lowest temperature recorded last night was three degrees above zero. It was about six wile the elevator was burning. The heat from the structure kept the firemen within the zone of heat warm during the first half hour of the blaze but after that the heat began to die down and at ten minutes to nine the firemen were working in an almost zero temperature and kept that up all night. At intervals they were supplied with hot coffee by those living in the vicinity of the fire. They had worked valiantly and by their efforts and labor had saved much surrounding property.

Last of the Mohicans

In 1870 there were twenty-nine flouring mills and eleven elevators. Five had mills attached. The Northwestern was the largest elevator, having a capacity of 450,000 bushels, the next largest being the Washington mill and elevator, capacity 250,000 bushels. the Northwestern was the last of them to be destroyed by fire. On May 20, 1892, five of the elevators on the east side were destroyed, the Marine elevator, Washington mills, Columbia mills, Corn Exchange, and Continental elevator.

Removing the Debris

Commissioner of Works Collins stated today that the city, the railroad company and the owners of the elevator will have work to do in the vicinity of the ruins of the structure as the streets near the building are blocked by debris. Three streams were poured on the ruins which were still smoking and steaming at noon. The firemen worked in relays all night and kept three streams busy until 7 o'clock this morning.

Chief Blackburn Grows Reminiscent

Former Chief of the Fire Department R.G. Blackburn got a bit reminiscent this afternoon when speaking of the fire. He remembers distinctly, he said, the burning of an elevator which was on the site of the Northwestern in November 1866. He was then a boy of 16. Mr. Blackburn also recalled that last night's fire was the third one classed as "bad" to occur on January 23. On that date in 1879 the Cummings flouring mills were destroyed with great loss. On January 23, 1884, the grocery of the late Frederick D. Dowd, corner West Eighth and Utica streets, which was one of the most heavily stocked in the city, was totally destroyed. this fire broke out at 4 p.m. and as was the case last night the weather was bitter cold and a stiff wind was blowing.

The former chief was an interested spectator at last night's destruction of the Northwestern, and commends the handling of the fire by Chief Hennessey.

Saw Reflection of Fire in Watertown

The extent of the blaze and reflection is shown by the fact that passengers and train crew on the 9 o'clock train from the east saw the reflection and glow of the fire in Watertown and knew there was a big fire somewhere in the vicinity. When the train got to Sandy Creek the flames were distinctly visible.

People in Phoenix saw the flames plainly and Fulton, even thought it later had a fire of its own, got thoroughly excited by the Oswego conflagration. In hannibal every one was thoroughly aroused and the flames were so bright that they felt the fire was only two or three miles away and could not figure out what could make such a big fire. Quite a number of people started to drive to the fire but changed their minds after driving a few miles and not apparently getting any nearer to it.

A number of people telephoned to friends in the city from all the surrounding towns and villages to find out just what was burning.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Original:
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1922
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

Daily Times (Oswego, NY), Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1922