Friday, September 09, 2011

“The Great Chardon Fire”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

One familiar story for most Geauga County residents is that of the Great Chardon Fire of July, 1868. As a tragedy it remains unparalleled in local history. This woeful happening destroyed the village’s entire downtown area, including the courthouse which preceded our current capitol structure.

While doing newspaper research, I discovered that an article from the long-lost Chardon Democrat still existed, in the New York Times archives.

The prose used in this report was descriptive in a sweet and anachronistic way. The writer conveyed his sorrow in a genuine fashion, with naked emotion. To be sure, the art of journalism in that era differed greatly from modern, stream-of-consciousness detachment. While those of us in the 21st Century are able to fling words around the globe with abandon, our limited attention span often curtails the careful crafting of useful phrases.

This bygone report not only provided a history lesson, but it also highlighted how professional writing has evolved since the 1800’s:


The Entire Business Portion of Chardon, Ohio in Ashes – Loss Over $100,000

From The Chardon Democrat Extra, July 27

“On Saturday morning last, between 2 and 3 o'clock, a small fire was discovered in the rear and on the outside of J. O. TEED'S saddle and harness shop, where it adjoined PARLIN PARKIN'S store, and immediately after two others near by, the circumstances showing conclusively that they were all the work of an incendiary. The one first discovered spread so rapidly that, before many of our citizens were aroused from their slumbers, all efforts to extinguish it were abandoned. It soon swelled into an immense conflagration, spreading terror and destruction on either side. On, in their appalling course, swept the flames, gathering volume every moment, until they enveloped the whole line of the business blocks, from the Court House to the Democrat Office and Post Office. It was a grand and awful scene, such as we never again hope to witness. One building after another, with the certainty of fate, went down before the devouring element, until only a few blackened walls remained standing, and to-day, as we look out upon the dark waste where but so recently was our Main-street, the prospect is sad and desolate beyond description.”

A list of those who suffered losses in the fire followed this report:

J. O. Converse – Democrat Office and Post Office; $3,500 (?)
Rush & Harrison – hardware store & tinshop; $2,500 (combined)
A. Weaver – boot and shoe store; $3,500
E. A. Hayes – billiard room & saloon; $500
Canfield & Canfield – law office; $2,000
L. J. Randall – dry goods store; $8,000
J. U. Adams – boot & shoe store; $2,000
Mrs. M. A. Marsh – millinery rooms; $200
Eggelston & Brother – photograph gallery; $500
Hy. Chapman – rooms; $800
Tucker & Clark – grocery store; $2,000 ($1,000 insurance)
Parlin & Parkin – grocery & crockery store; $4,000 ($3,000 insurance)
Bestor & Tibballs – photograph gallery; $2,000
B. W. & H. F. Canfield – insurance agents; $100
Miss Caroline Parmele – dressmaker; $200
J. O. Teed – saddle & harness shop; $2,500 ($1,000 insurance)
Alph. Cook – drug store; $5,000 ($500 insurance)
Nichols & Parsons – drug store; $4,000 ($2,000 insurance)
W. S. Wright – jeweler; $200
Samuel Squire – dry goods & grocery store; $8,500
B. W. Canfield – clothing store; $2,000 ($1,000 insurance)
John Strohl – tailor; $100
I. N. Hathaway – law office; $800
E. D. Richardson – dental rooms; $1,000 ($800 insurance)
Murray & Canfield – bankers; $2,000
Robert Murray – dry goods store; $5,500 ($800 insurance)
J. F. Bruce – hardware & tin store; $3,000 ($1,200 insurance)
B. N. Shaw – shoe shop; $500
C. H. Marsh – tin shop; $2,000
Shaw & Shaw – dry goods store; $3,000 ($1,000 insurance)
D. C. Kellogg; $2,000 ($1,000 insurance)
Kelley Bros. – hardware, dry goods and groceries; $14,000
Joseph Ehrlich – dry & fancy goods; $100
R. P. Munsell – boot & shoe store; $1,500
Durfee & Stephenson – law office; $1,500 ($700 insurance)
Masonic Lodge; $2,000
I. O. O. F. Lodge; $2,000
A. J. Walton; $500
Court House; $30,000

One common theme became apparent upon reading their names – almost none of them had any insurance. The damage done to our county must have been staggering, indeed.

Fortunately, efforts to rebuild Chardon and erect a new Geauga County courthouse, the one we know and revere, commenced without delay.

We owe a sincere debt of gratitude to those stout souls from yesteryear. What they created in the aftermath of destruction was a thriving capitol center that has endured, ever after.

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