History Column: 1888 fire sparked red rock downtown
February 11. 2014 1:32PM
It was Feb. 14, 1888. Remnants of white unfriendly snow were evident, piled around the nearby structures. Time all but stood still, a small brief moment that would change the history of Dell Rapids forever.
As he stood there, everything and everyone was moving in slow motion, hearing the calls for help, orders from volunteers, trying, hopelessly to quench the roaring fire with the meekest items available.
It started as a simple fire, quickly extinguished. Kerosene fires were not that uncommon, but this one, would become undying, unsatisfied with its short life. Quickly it roused again, with much more speed and ferocity than before. Once again our courageous volunteer fire department came to the rescue and put it down.
With a life of its own, it simply would not die!
Time and sound began to gain speed and comprehension. The fire department was now disabled from fighting the flames from the previous outbreak. It seemed hopeless, all one could do was stand by, pray and watch as this terrifying event grew with such intensity never seen in Dell Rapids before.
It was too late for Mr. Pollard’s store. Simply put, it was gone. All focus and power had to be turned to other nearby buildings, saving lives and their belongings.
It was only by the most arduous work that the buildings on the north side were saved. Had the winds been any stronger, this devastating event could have overcome the remaining buildings on Pearl Street.
He watched as Mr. Triggs and Irv Howland distinguished themselves by taking turns standing on the roof of Collins’ building (on the north side), smothering sparks as they lit on the front. At one point the heat from the flames were so hot the resin oozed from the handle of brooms the men had been using to extinguish the sparks.
His friend, Dick Keating, had been hailed a hero, the savior of Dr. Parker’s barn. Ed Haley showed great valor and endurance in saving Uline’s roof nearby. The list goes on as many courageously, tirelessly spent hours fighting the beast that defied the odds growing beyond manageability.
By early morning hours the town’s people had won, at a severe cost.
B.P. Moore, Rob Cad and Will Lander each had an eye hurt and Clint Bryant had his face burned. Many others only escaped with minor burns, scratches, bruising and a nightmare that would last for days. It was amazing no lives were lost.
Many store fronts and buildings on the south side were damaged beyond repair. The buildings of: Law & Maule’s machinery shed, Burks’ restaurant, C.J. Johnson’s hardware store, Olley & Schawl’s saloon building, Tresidder’s harness shop, Pollard’s store, Meredith & Son’s store, Parkers house, Irwin’s store and the Merchants Hotel were ruined, leaving ash in the fires wake.
Lowest estimate of $25,000 worth of property, 11 buildings, parts of several stocks of goods and household goods, all lay to waste. Fortunately some had insurance, approximately $13,250 in property insurance. Many did not, everything lost.
Yes, this was a night that would change the history of Dell Rapids forever. The Dell Rapids Village Council had enacted Ordinance #28. “No building shall be deemed fire proof unless the outer walls thereof shall be composed of stone, brick, metal or other non-combustible material not less than fourteen inches in thickness…”
One night, one chance moment in time, it all began Feb. 14, 1888. 126 years later, Dell Rapids now has one of the most beautiful unique main streets ever built.