By Edwin C Aborn
A perusal of the history of Warsaw reveals that the city has, during its career, been visited by a number of most destructive fires. Perhaps one of the most disastrous was the burning of the Wright House, or Lake View Hotel, as it was called at the time of its destruction. The hotel was located at the northeast corner of Center and Buffalo streets.
The original Wright House, a two-story frame structure, formerly occupied the same site and was destroyed by fire in May, 1868. Benjamin P. Wright was the owner of the hotel and a most public-spirited citizen was he. Undaunted by the ravages of the fire fiend, Mr. Wright immediately began planning the erection of a new structure to replace the burned hostelry.
The New Hotel
The new Wright House was a four-story brick edifice, consisting of a footage of 88 feet on Center street and 66 feet on Buffalo. The design was in keeping with the architecture of that day and the building when completed presented a most imposing appearance. The ground floor and basements were reserved for business rooms, a broad staircase on the Center street side led to the second floor, on which were located the business office, parlor, dining room, kitchen, laundry, sample room, etc., while the third and fourth floors were given over entirely to sleeping apartments. The new building was dedicated and formally opened with an elaborate banquet. On July 26, 1869, which at the time was regarded as one of the outstanding events in the social history of Warsaw. A large balcony extended the full length of the building on Center street from which numerous dignitaries of both state and nation addressed throngs gathered in the street below.
Name changed to Lake
Upon the occasion of the death of Benjamin Wright, the management of the hotel was assumed by William Kirtley, founder and former manager of the Kirtley House, a well known hotel of the early days. Mr. Kirtley changed the name of the Wright House to that of Lake View Hotel. The east room of the building had for some time prior to Mr. Wright's demise become the property of John Grabner and was divided from the main portion of the hotel building by a fire wall.
Again Destroyed in 1883
On the evening of Tuesday, March 20, 1883, forty-nine years ago tomorrow, fire was discovered in a room adjoining the office on the second floor. In this room was kept the lamps, oil and supplies for illuminating purposes. Warsaw at that time possessed no electric light plant and gas mains had but recently been installed. When discovered the flames had already gained much headway. An alarm was turned in and the volunteer departments responded. It should be borne in mind that the city had no water works system in those days, the only water available being contained in large cisterns at some of the street intersections. The fire continued to spread and the water in the cisterns became exhausted. All available fire hose in the city was insufficient to reach from the scene of Conflagration to Center Lake, three and one-half blocks distance.
Mayor Summons Help
So intense had become the fire, and fanned as it was by a brisk west wind, other buildings in the vicinity were greatly endangered. Mayor Edward J. Greene thereupon wired Mayor Zollinger, of Fort Wayne, for assistance. Fire Chief Hilbrecht of the Fort Wayne department, was accordingly ordered to dispatch a company of his fire fighters and necessary equipment to Warsaw.
A Record-Breaking Run
Arrangements had already been made with the Pennsylvania railroad officials for a special train to rush the Fort Wayne department to Warsaw's aid. A locomotive in the Fort Wayne yards was in readiness to be coupled onto a west-bound freight train, but was hurriedly diverted therefrom and ordered attached to two gondola cars upon which the fire-fighting paraphernalia had already been loaded. A switch engine buckled a caboose containing a train crew onto the gondolas and the special was on its way. The railroad at that time was a single train line and the train dispatcher had ordered all trains sidetracked between Ft. Wayne and Warsaw that the special might have undisputed right-of-way. The locomotive pulling the special was one of the clumsy freight engines of that period and was not equipped with modern appliance of locomotives now in use.
Meanwhile Warsaw's populace was in a turmoil of excitement. All hope of saving the hotel structure had been abandoned and attention wholly directed to preventing the flames from spreading to adjacent buildings. The arrival of the Fort Wayne department was eagerly awaited. The special train came pounding through the night at terrific speed, and when a stop was finally made at Buffalo street it was announced that the running time between Fort Wayne and Warsaw, a distance of forty miles, had been a fraction more than thirty-eight minutes, remarkable speed for that era. Rodney Ellenwood was the engineer of the special and demonstrated that as an annihilator of space he was indeed pre-eminent. He had been given a "rush" order and certainly obeyed instructions. Mr. Ellenwood died at his home in Fort Wayne about three years ago, although he had been on the retired list for some time prior to his death.
Water Pumped From Center
Immediately upon arrival of the train at Buffalo street, the equipment of the Fort Wayne company, consisting of a steam fire engine and a supply of hose, was quickly unloaded at the foot of Buffalo. When the hose had been laid it was found to be insufficient to reach the scene of the blaze, but fortunately the hose happed to be of the same size and make as that of the Warsaw department, so this difficulty was readily overcome.
A heavy volume of water was soon available and from that time forward the flames were kept under control, though it was apparent that the building had already undergone irreparable damage. But the safety of other structures was assured. Soon the great walls began to sway and special policemen who had been hurriedly appointed, beat back the dense crowd of spectators. An none to soon, for the south wall crumbled and crashed with a deafening roar, smashing in the show windows and fronts of business rooms on the opposite side of the street, namely Shane's grocery and some of the rooms in what was then called Balcony block. The streets were at that time unpaved and sidewalks narrow and built of boards. The only accidents reported was one wherein a man by the name of Julius Borglund, a tailor in the employ of the Phillipson Clothing Company, sustained a broken leg on a defective sidewalk, and J. D. Kutz received a painful injury by being struck with debris hurled into the street by a falling wall.
In addition to the loss sustained by the owners of the building and William Kirtley, the landlord, were the following persons who maintained business establishments in the structure: George Pringle, who conducted a saloon in the corner room; Richardson & Moran, with a stock of dry goods, clothing and boots and shoes, occupying the second door east and fronting on Center street; the third room was occupied by the Gottsman Sisters as a millinery emporium On the Buffalo street side was a cigar and tobacco store operated by George Crebbs, the balance of the space on this side of the building being taken up by two stairways, one of which was the ladies' entrance, the other led to the culinary department. Considerable merchandise was carried from the business rooms, but damage from smoke and water contributed greatly to the loss. Only a moderate amount of insurance was carried. The hotel furnishings, as well as clothing and other effects belonging to guests and the family of the manager, were a total loss. The room to the east of the hotel proper, owned and occupied by John Grabner as a hardware store, escaped serious damage, due to the existence of the fire wall above referred to.
The postoffice was at that time located in the room now occupied by Coffin Music Shoppe. At one time during the progress of the conflagration the destruction of the entire block seemed imminent and the removal of the office was deemed advisable by the postmaster, Capt. John N. Runyan. On the opposite side of the street, in a frame building where now stands the Elks' Temple, was a saloon and pool room operated by Robert M. Hickman. It is said of Mr. Hickman that he suggested to Postmaster Runyan that Warsaw could probably better manage to struggle along with one less saloon for a time than to be deprived of a postoffice, and accordingly placed his room at the disposal of the postmaster. To this location the office was removed, where business was carried on until the former quarters were again placed in readiness for occupancy.
The Lake View Hotel was a mass of smoldering ruins, a wreckage of brick, stone, mortar and twisted iron. Within a comparatively short time, however, the real estate changed ownership and the present three-story ownership and the present three-story structure, which now graces the site, was erected.
A most accurate idea of the appearance of the hotel may be found by viewing the Grabner room, now occupied by Pottenger Bros. The entire building was an exact prototype of that room, the surviving remnant of the Wright House block.
It is no exaggeration to state that the fire above described was one of the worst that has occurred in Warsaw within the memory of those now living, not excepting the memorable conflagration which destroyed the Empire Block in 1871. It may be appropriate to state, however, that with our present water system, modern equipment and efficient fire department, a repetition of the Lake View Hotel fire is highly improbable.
Warsaw Daily Times & The Northern Indianian Saturday March 19, 1932
Wright House --In the days of the horse & buggy. This building was replaced by what is now known as the Crownover Building, southeast corner of Center & Buffalo streets.
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