Friday, May 13, 2016

Channel Cat Tales: The Town with no WATER that Caught on Fire

Earlier on this blog we published a post about the Bridgeport Fire that also occurred on a Friday the 13th.  One of the exhibits at our History Center features photos and maps of the fire.    A new municipal waterworks system was practically completed when the  fire broke out in the business section of the city about 2 o’clock.   It  burned fiercely for five hours and wiped out two entire blocks of the city’s best business buildings, doing damage  roughly estimated at over a half $1 million (1913 dollars) 

The fire started in the blacksmith shop, situated on west Second street and is said to have been due to the igniting of a pan of gasoline. Owing to the six-week drought everything was ‘as dry as tender’ and the city supply of water in the cisterns was decidedly limited, making it impossible for the flames to be fought successfully. As a result of flames spread rapidly and were soon beyond control.

Jacob S Spiker of Vincennes who was the engineer in charge of  installing the waterworks system in Bridgeport stated that the water plant was practically completed and that the city would have had ample fire protection in just a few weeks. The water for Bridgeport was to be furnished from the Lawrenceville Water Company; the main between Lawrenceville and Bridgeport being already laid.  In addition about 3 miles of pipes in the city of Bridgeport had been completed and 14 fire hydrants set.  The pipelayers were actually within a couple of blocks of where Friday’s fire occurred. While the main water lines were to be completed within a week or two the standpipe (water tower), which would hold 150,000 gallons of water was not completed and would not have been for another six weeks.  However, had it been completed and the water turned on, Bridgeport would have had  water pressure of about 75 pounds, which would have been ample for all of the city’s needs. 

The Bridgeport Fire Friday, June 13, 1913
On Friday, the 13th of June, an awful thing did turn up,
A fire broke out that afternoon and tried to burn the town up.
The blacksmith shop was first to go and then the livery stable,
But Jackson quickly took the cue and got out every table.
The elevator went up next and lost their wheat and barley;
Then in a jiff it took a whiff and out were went Hamburg Charley.
Dick Lewis ran out in the street and hollered, “Heaven Save Us!”
And saw the flame make one big scoop and clean up Junky Davis.

When Mrs. Sutton’s room house went; she thought Old Nick had got ‘er
With all the town just burning down and not a drop of water.
The Boston store went with a roar and then burned J.H. Mills’ up,
When Dr. Jones’ office went; it melted all his pills up.
The burning brands with flaming hands soon cleaned out Mr. Cox’s;
I thought about that Bible piece of Samson and the foxes.
The Oil Well and the Jarecki too, forgot to pay their rental,
And crossed the street with fiery feet to join the Continental.

Lawrenceville and Vincennes came as fast as they could whizz ‘er,
And oil men came from miles around and likewise every Scissor.
The old machine shop went so fast and everything in stock, too,
That all were beat for speed and heat and skinned a country block too.
The oilmen fought away like mad and never stopped to tank up,
And then the fire broke through the roof and burned the Bridgeport Bank up.
The fearful heat across the street soon took the old hotel out,
And then like rain before the flail the Seeds just fairly fell out.

The grocery store just went along although we really need ‘er,
And then the fire stopped on its way and took the Bridgeport Leader.
And everyone heaved a sigh and hope at last came to us,
As the fearful fiend laid down at last at the home of Dr. Lewis,
And the only thing that we repent which causes us to weep, Oh!
Is just because we lost the bank and we saved the – –!! Depot.
“There is no great loss without some gain,” this comes to one and all,
But the only place where Bridgeport gained – – we lost the City Hall.

Ed Note: The author of the above poem is  unknown, but it was written shortly after the eventful fire. No offense to present day Bridgeport Mayor, Brad Purcell.
Next time you are in the museum ask one of the volunteers to show you the 1912 Bridgeport map  and where the fire was located. Nancy K has the actual photos of the fire, mounted and made a part of the new exhibit as a companion exhibit to the Smithsonian Exhibit coming in September.