Craddock: Early blazes razed downtown Longview

Much of downtown Longview burned to the ground in 1884. The City Council decided it might be a good time to buy some decent firefighting equipment.

After all, this was the second major blaze to gut businesses in the central district. In October 1877, a fire had destroyed 25 wooden buildings. The structures were rebuilt, this time in brick and stone.

Some six years later, in January 1884, a major fire razed several business establishments along Tyler Avenue (today called Tyler Street), including the N.H. Killingsworth and Co. grocery and Dr. J.N. Allison’s Drug Store. Among stores damaged was the Dock and Oliver Pegues Dry Goods House.

Members of the all-volunteer Longview Fire Department responded, forming a bucket brigade in freezing weather.

The Longview Democrat reported losses at $20,000, calling the blaze “the most destructive fire that has been in Longview since the fire of 1877.”

Hose cart

Adding insult to injury, folks in Marshall insisted that if Longview had a fire engine similar to theirs, the buildings might have been saved. Back in 1884, Marshall was a much larger community with some 6,000 residents. Longview’s population was less than 2,000.

In its Jan. 4, 1884, issue, the Longview Democrat wrote an article about “the loan of the Marshall squirt-gun.” Editor W. Alex Abney snidely said, “The spirit that prompted the good people of that burg (Marshall) to load their little fire machine on the (rail) cars, and their readiness to come, we wish to say in behalf of our people that it was not at the asking of those doing the most work fighting the fire that the message for help was sent.”

The Longview Fire Department was organized in 1885 with 35 members. (Another early source says the department was chartered in December 1881.)

The city eventually purchased a horse-drawn hose cart and a $6,000 steam pumper. The latter was called “Dolly” in honor of Dolly Northcutt, the daughter of LFD volunteer W.G. Northcutt. Miss Northcutt later married S.C. Forman, a Texas and Pacific railroad agent also active with the department.

By 1893, according to city hall minutes, the fire department was required “to drill once each month — to fire up their engine and report to the city council at each regular meeting.”

(Sadly, Marshall’s beautiful 10-year-old Harrison County Courthouse burned in June 1899. We can only hope Longview offered the services of its firefighting apparatus.)

Modernization

When G.A. Bodenheim was elected mayor in 1902, he set about modernizing the fire department. One of his first official acts was to buy a two-wheeled chemical engine. In October 1904, The Longview Times-Clarion reported:

“Longview now has a fire department and equipage of which she can well feel proud. The new chemical engine and hook and ladder equipment for the protection of the residence portion of the town have arrived and both were tested Tuesday afternoon under the supervision of Capt. W.W. Erwin, of Dallas Engine Co. No. 4. They worked like a charm and the members of the department are well pleased.”

The chemical tank featured “a 55-gallon tank, a receptacle for the fluid which is thrown on the fire through hose with considerable pressure.” The hook-and-ladder wagon boasted “one extension ladder, two straight ladders, one scaling ladder, 12 rubber fire buckets, two axes, two wall picks, two crow bars, four ceiling hooks, four lanterns and a gong, which works automatically.”

Around 1912, the city purchased what reportedly was Texas’ first automobile pumper from the American LaFrance Fire Engine Co. in New York.

By the way, “Miss Dolly” was honored in 1970 during Longview’s Centennial Celebration as “First Lady of the First Century” for her outstanding contributions to the city’s growth and development.”

— Van “Pick Ax” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column runs Sunday. His email is vancraddock@sbcglobal.net .

Today's Bible verse

“But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.”

— Psalm 22:19

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