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Washington Hall: Fire

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▶ Washington Hall: Newspaper Articles

- from the Daily Intelligencer, December 1, 1875


Yesterday morning about 9 o'clock smoke was observed issuing from near the southwest corner of the roof of the Masonic Temple, over Washington Hall, and in a moment the cry of "fire!" was heard on all sides. The streets were soon thronged with people, and a dense crowd assembled in the vicinity of Washington Hall. As the smoke continued to increase in volume the excitement grew and intense, and the greatest confusion prevailed.


had not yet been called to order, and the members who were upon the floor were conversing in groups or writing at their desks when the alarm was given. A regular scramble ensued, but after the members, officers and others ascertained that their persons were in no immediate danger they returned and hastened to remove the furniture, books, papers, etc. This work was participated in by Senators, Representatives, officers and citizens, Our distinguished friend, Gen. G. O. Davenport, patriotically rushed for the flag which was suspended back of the Speaker's desk, and carried it to a place of safety.


A number of citizens brought out the Hope hose reel, and stationing it at the Market street entrance to the Masonic Temple hastily made a connection to a plug in the vicinity. The hose was passed up to the third story into the outer room of the Masonic Hall, which was filled with smoke. The fire was found to be located between the ceiling of the room and the roof of the building, and did not appear to be any larger than an ordinary table. It was in the vicinity of a flue which had not been used for years until the meeting of the Legislature, when a stove was put in Washington Hall near the stage for the use of Clerk of the House, and connected with the flue. It is supposed that on account of the densely cold weather a big fire was built in the Clerk's room yesterday from which the fire no doubt orginated.


After the hose hail been taken to the third story and made ready for work, it was found that there was no water to be had. There were two hydrants on the floor, but the water had been shut off from both. Ten or twelve buckets of water would have extinguished the flames and saved the building.

The smoke became thick and oppressive, but the men waited, anxiously calling for water. When it did come, it was in a stream so feeble as to be of no service whatever, and after several ineffectual attempts to accomplish something, they abandoned the hose and retreated downstairs.


About fifteen minutes after the alarm was sounded the steamer Atlantic arrived upon the ground and took up its position at the corner of 12th and Main streets; the Vigilant soon after appeared and made an attachment at the McLure House corner, and the United followed at the corner of 12th and Chapline streets. It took some time to make the necessary preparations for work—many say longer than really neccessary—but finally a stream was thrown against the wall of the which looked like business, if it didn't amount to anything. It was found impossible to throw a stream to the top of the building, and accordingly considerable water was wasted, and nothing accomplished. A short time afterward a stream was thrown on the burning building from the roof of the City Building, which appeared to have some effect. About thin time, however, the United engine "run through herself," and was abandoned as wortheless. We understand that the engineer of the United was not at his post, and an ignorant boy was running the engine at the time of "the accident. The Vigilant steamer also met with a slight accident by the bursting of her air pump, but she was not entirely disabled and continued to throw a pretty good-sized stream of water.

The upper part of the building was now burning fiercely, and although every effort was madee to stay the flames it was of no avail. Great sheets of flame ascended to the heavens, and the smoke became blacker and denser. Many thought at first that the two lower floors of the building could be saved, but the fire made such rapid progress that it wan soon evident toall that the entire building would go. The dull, rumbling sound of the falling roof startled the multitude on the street, and there was a general surge backwards for some momentss, as if with one mind the hundreds of frightened beings expected the walls to fall. The fall of the floor, too,created considerable alarm, but it was not long before the most timid were again venturing into dangerous proximity to the walls.


The flames were nearly if not quite extinguished by 1 o'clock, but all that was left of the beautiful building which had so long been an ornament to the city were the bare walls standing above the first story. Within was one mass of burning timber. The engines continued to play upon the ruins, however, until a late hour in the afternoon.


About fifteen minutes before 11 o'clock a man appeared at awindow in the third story of the building, fronting on Market street, and called for assistance. Communication with the stairwav had been cut off, and with two companions he was imprisoned in the burning building. A ladder was quickly put up against the side of the building, and as it did not quite reach the window the prisoner win handed a pike with which to let himself down. This he threw aside, declaring that he would not come out unless his companions, who were badly hurt, could also he saved. A longer ladder was procured and the three men were assisted out of the window and to terra firma. It was a perilous descent.

Mr. John Moreland, who first appeared at the window, Mr. John Reid and Mr. J. C. Oliver, the latter a resident of Philadelphia, were upon the floor of the banquet room of the Masonic Hall when it gave way, and fell to the main floor below. Mr. Moreland escaped with a sprained ankle and other slight injuries, Mr. Reid's leg was broken, and Mr.Oliver wasfatally injured internally. The former descended the ladder with but little assistance. Mr. Reid was almost carried down by Mr. Edward Clator. Mr. Oliver, a very large man, was entirely helpless, but he was rescued and carried safely down the ladder by Jasper Clator, a young man who will not weigh more than one hundred and thirty-five pounds, This was a thrilling scene indeed, and hundreds of sympathizing citizenswatched the progress of the brave men and their helpless burdens with breathless interest. The ladder was covered with ice, but Jasper Clator—noble son of a noble father—with one arm sround the almost inanimate bodv of a fellow creature, descended step by step, at the imminent risk of losing his own life, and reached the ground in safety.

Mr. John Moreland is carpenter's apprentice and lives with his mother in East Wheeling, near the Zane Street M. E. Church. His injuries, as already stated, are slight.

Mr. John Reid is a tanner, and resides No. 126, 16th street. His right leg was fractured, and he received various injuries about the back, face and arms. His injuries will not prove fatal. He was attended by Drs. Hildreth and Wunderlich.


Mr. J.C. Oliver was a traveling agent for the wholesale notion house of B.G. Godfrey & Co., of Philadelphia. He arrived inthe city on Saturday morning last, and stopped at the Grant House. It was while endeavoring to save the property of the Order of which he was a member that he met with the accident that cost him his life. He was taken to McLain's drug store, when it was found he had received several severe contusionsupon the head and serious injuries internally. Suffering excruciating pain, he was carried to his room at the Grant House and given every possible attention. Drs. Baird, Allen and Edwards, jr., were with him until his death, which occurred about 2 o'clock.

Oliver had been in the city frequently before, and was known to many of our notions and dry goods men. He was about forty- five years of age, and leaves a wife and two children, who reside in Philadelphia. He was formerly a salesman in Henry During's notion house, on Market street, Philadelphia. Just before his death he made himself known to Dr. Baird as a Royal Arch Mason. When asked why he risked his life among strangers he replied that he wad an old fireman, and when he heard the alarm he could not resist the temptation to participate. The Masons of the city took charge of the body, and enclosed it in a suitable casket. A telegram was sent to the friends of the deceased, asking what disposition should be made of the body, and an answer was received last night requesting that it be held until further orders. A committee was appointed by the Masons to escort the remains to Philadelphia, if necessary. The committee consists of Capt. C.J. Rawling, Andrew Kolb and John Moorehead.

Mr. Brooks, foreman of the Register bindery, and Mr. Snider, foreman of the Atlantic steamer, were on the third floorat the time it gave way with Messrs. Moreland, Reid and Oliver, but escaped injury and succeeded in getting down thestairway.


The third story of the building was owned by the Masonic fraternity, and the hall was considered one of the handsomest and most commodious in the West. About a year ago $2,500 was spent in furnishing, frescoing, and decorating the hall. This part of the building was insured by the Masons for $4,000, follows: Peabody, of Wheeling, $2,000; German, of Wheeling, $2,000. The furniture was insured for $2,00 in the Citizens, of Wheeling. The Masons estimate their loss at $12,000 to $13,000, outside of insurance. The most of the Knights Templar equipments, the robes and jewels of the Chapter and Lodges were saved. The library of the Grand Lodge, valued at $600, and a number of valuable papers, chairs, desks, fixtures, etc., were destroyed.

THE MAIN BUILDING was insured as follows:
Fire & Marine, Wheeling ......................$4,000
Citizens'. "                     ....................... 2,000
Ben Franklin, Pittsburgh ...................... 2,500
National,                "       ...................... 2,500


The storerooms on the ground floor were occupied as follows: C.P. Brown & Co., jewelers; Wm. Lauchlin, cigar manufactory; B.E.Tift, insurance agent; Feargus Whalley, shoemaker; S. H.Greer, grocer; Fred. Vaas, "Office Saloon." The corner storeroom was vacant, McLain Bros. having recently removedtherefrom. The stocks and fixtures were insured as follows:
Wm. Lauchlin, Fire & Marine................$1,500
S.H. Greer, Citizens,    ......................... 2,000
C.P. Brown, Aetna   ............................. 3,500
C.P. Brown, Citizens   .......................... 3,500
Fred. Vaas, German ............................ 1,500

The loss of stock will be very light. Mr. Brown succeeded in removing everything except his safe, regulator, stove and other immovable articles. More damage was done by water than fire in this part of the building.


Washington Hall was erected in 1851-2 by an incorporation known as the Washington Hall Association. The building and ground cost about $46,000, but were probably worth nearly double that before the fire. An already stated, the entire insurance on the building was only $15,000—of this $4,000 was upon that part belonging to the Masons.

Upon the 18th day of May, 1850, the following Board of Trustees was elected by the Association, which had just rereived its charter: Morgan Nelson, Wm. Hamilton, W.S. Wickham, George W. Sights, John McLure, Wm. T. Selby, Alex. T. Laidley, Jacob W. Warden, Wm. Fleming. The Board organized June 11 of the same year by electing: Morgan Nelson, President; Alex. T. Laidley, Secretary; Geo. W. Sights, Treasurer.

On Saturday, April 20, 1851, sealed proposals were received for the erection of a building on lot 4, corner of Market and 12t streets, known as "Mendel's lot." The carpenter work was awarded to Messrs. Luke & McWilliams, the brick work to John W. and G. W. Boring, the iron work to J. and J, Baggs, the stone work to Joseph Pedley, the plastering to John Downs, and the excavating to Smith & Gooding.

The building was erected under the superintendence of a Building Committee consisting of Geo. W. Sights, Walter Scott and W.S. Wickham, who wore appointed at a meeting of the Board June 24, 1851.

The Committee on Finance were Wm. Fleming, M. Nelson, J. W. Warden; the Committee on Assessment, W. J. Bates, John McLure, jr., J.H. Thompson.

The building was first opened to the public in the winter of 1852-3, when the completion of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was celebrated with a grand banquet in Washington Hall. It was not dedicated, however, until a short time afterwards.

Mr. Alex Rogers succeeded Mr. Nelson as President of the Association, and still holds this position. G.W. Sights succeeded Mr. Laidley as Secretary, and was in turn succeeded by I.H. Williams, the present Secretary.

The third story of the building was transferred to the Masonic fraternity by holding stock valued at $5,000, and the title to that part of the building is held by the trustees selected for that purpose.

The capital stock of the Association was reduced to $24,700, and the shares, valued at $20 each, were held by the following parties: Wm. Goshorn, Mrs. Hugh Sterling, estate of A.J. Pannell, Allen Howell, L. S. Delaplain, Alfred Caldwell, Clark Haines, I. H. Williams, estate of Geo. Mendel, Wm. H. Irwin, John Zoeckler, Caroline Zimmer, John Knote, C.P. Brown, Alexander Rogers, David Fleming, Robert H. Irwin, Dr. J.C. Hupp, James W. Warden, (of St. Louis), Mrs. A.M. Brown, estate of Morgan Nelson, Jerry Mason, Hannnah Bliss, Harry Brentlinger, F.W. Bassett, George Bayha (trustee), Sallie Donlon (now Mrs. Merriman), C.W. Ditman (trustee for Miss Harbour), George B. Caldwell (guardian), J.R. Greer. Alfred Hughes, J.L. Hargreaves, C. D. Hubbard, Isabella Irwin, Arthur Little, E. M. Norton, Margaret L. Ott, Ohio Lodge No. 1, James Paull, Wheeling Union Chapter, Frank Unrah, Wheeling Commandery No. 1, Wm. P. Wilson's estate, E. L Wild, Jacob Wise, Wheeling Lodge No. 5.


A meeting of the Trustees of the Association was held last night, and the propriety of rebuilding discussed. No definite action was taken, but we understand that there is a strong probability of rebuilding.

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