Opera House in Gallatin destroyed by fire in 1914. Blaze of unknown origin causes a $40,000 loss and makes a spectacular sight when the whole east side of the Gallatin business square and the YMCA Building are threatened. Nothing in the Townsend Block is saved, and only part is covered by insurance.

One of the fiercest and most destructive fires ever in Gallatin occurred when the Townsend block — located on the southeast corner of the public square — and the Knight barn across the alley to the east are burned.

The fire was discovered about 4am on a Friday by Jno. T. Kimsey and John Hinkle who have rooms on the second floor of the First National Bank buildling directly across the street. They were awakened by the noise of breaking glass and the roar of the flames. An alarm was given at once, but nothing could be done. Fire hose was in bad condition and it was several minutes before water could be thrown on the fire.

Fire evidently started in the south room of the block, occupied by Killam & Sons furniture store. The front end of this room was seething with flames when the plate glass front gave way, allowing flames to rush out with an ominous roar. They shot upward to a great height and with much force, and soon the second story was ablaze. By this time the fire had spread to the north room and was burning fiercely. The flames leaped across the stairway and enveloped the Mann grocery store in their fiery embrace.

This postcard shows the Towsend Block of commercial businesses on South Main Street off the southeast corner of the Gallatin business Square in 1912. Signs ledgible in windows and on the buildings include dental parlors (2nd floor), Bailey & Sons “Dealers in Furniture and Undertaking,” and a cafe. The Arbelia Opera House, on the upper floor, was often used meetings including practice sessions of vaudeville and musical performing entertainers traveling by railroad from Chicago to performances at Kansas City.

The Arbelia Opera House and the Wilson cigar factory next fed the fire and burned like chaff. So rapidly did the fire spread that within 20 minutes from the time of the first alarm it was evident that the entire block was doomed. The Knight barn on the east, occupied by Dr. S.E. Sullivan as a livery barn and veterinary hospital, was next attacked. The fire shot across the narrow alley and soon the whole structure was on fire. Fifteen horses and most of the vehicles had been removed, but the loss on hay and grain is considerable.

The YMCA Building (later to become Gallatin’s city hall) was saved by a determined effort on the part of firemen. But it was damaged by heat and water. The Davis building, across the street to the north of the Townsend Block, was badly damaged by fire and water with all door and window casings burned away. For a time it seemed as if this building would go thus endangering the whole east side of the square, but firemen finally controlled the flames.

The First National Bank building was damaged by the terrific heat. Windows were melted and the varnish and paint inside blistered. The Comstock building, adjoining the Townsend Block on the immediate south, caught fire on its roof but a bucket brigade of men, women, boys and girls helped Davis Hill save his property. The Christian Church roof was on fire several times but was closely watched by Alva Pettijohn and Nelse O’Bryant.

The same block burned¬†on May 4,¬†1890, with only Townsend’s three brick store rooms on the corner left standing. The block also caught fire from an explosion in a cleaning establishment, on the second floor in 1913.

This fire of 1914 was an imposing spectacle to behold as it grasped the buildings in its destructive embrace and shot high into the air, lighting up the town and heavens so brightly that it could be seen for many miles. The following is a summary of the loss:

  • Mrs. Arbeila Townsend, Arbelia Opera House block (the opera house and three store rooms), loss $15,000, with $7,500 insurance
  • Mann Bros Grocery, loss on stock $4,000 with $1,700 insurance
  • W.D. Wilson cigar manufacturer (in second story of Arbelia Block), $800 in stock
  • Killam Furniture Company, loss $4,000 on stock with $3,300 insurance
  • Newton Knight, building valued at $8,000 with no insurance
  • Dr. S.E. Sullivan, loss on feed, veterinary instruments, and medicine, about $500, with no insurance
  • Davis Hill, loss on barn $500, with $200 insurance
  • O.E. Comstock (a meat market in a 2-story building), damage to building $300 covered by insurance; a high solid north firewall saved this building from further damage

The Daviess County Telephone Company suffered heavy damage by the burning of the large cables and wires and poles. The Davis building, north, and the First National Bank building, west, were also damaged.

— reprinted from the Gallatin Democrat
and the Gallatin North Missourian, Nov. 26, 1914