It was a busy day for Kittanning Firemen on Friday, November 26, 1897 the day after Thanksgiving. It was about 1 o’clock in the morning and Al Wilson and George Neubert noticed dense volumes of smoke billowing into the air somewhere on Market Street. Others in town began to notice the smoke and all started towards the location. It was discovered that the clothing establishment of Louis Biehl was on fire as well as the hardware store of James McCullough in the 200 block of Market Street. The fire alarm was sounded while two men broke the door in on Biehl’s store out, fire shot out through the opening.
As the smoke rose into the air and hovered over the downtown district, the boys from of all three of Kittanning’s fire companies were on the scene. They soon had every foot of hose in use to combat the blaze. As fire began to break through other windows, someone informed the firemen that a rather sizable amount of dynamite was being stored in the basement of the building. The intense heat of the fire caused additional concerns on Market Street. Plate glass from surrounding buildings including, the post office, Lindeman’s Jewelry, R. A. Heilman’s, G. R. Brown’s pharmacy, A. S. Schreckengost’s photography, Moesta’s clothing store and Weylman’s Jewelery, began to shatter and fall into the streets.
Fortunately, the police had made good order in keeping spectators safe from harms way. It was reported that there was an additional 300 hundred people in town for the holiday weekend and for Institute Week.
Sometime around 2 o’clock the buildings of Biehl and McCullough fell in and it was discovered that the fire has spread to the large furniture store of E. E. Heilman. Fear spread that the entire block might burn, just as it had in 1878. Fortunately, the firemen were able to keep the fire in check and managed to prevent any major spreading. At one point the Brown Building and the Neale buildings had caught fire, but judicious amounts of water extinguished both. Additional glass from Mechants Bank and the Arcade shattered and fell into the street and alley.
After about two and half hours, the major danger had passed and the fire was under control. Later it was discovered that the burning embers had flown to various places in town and caused slight fires that were kept in check. Dr. Edward Wright on North McKean, Mrs. Clark Adams went to her roof several times and through what she said seemed like a blizzard of burning ash used her broom to keep her roof from catching fire. The Reed Block on North Grant caught fire several times. The roof on City Hall had also caught fire during the night.Shattered glass in many buildings on Market Street opposite the 1897 fire.
Dr. S. A. S. Jessop and William Knoble sustained injuries from glass. James Bush and Walter Gerheim also received unmentioned injuries while fighting the blaze.
The five story Ellermeyer building was built first in 1898, followed by James McCullough’s large four story building, which housed his hardware establishment and Biehl’s clothing store. Later, G. C. Murphy’s 5 & 10 store would be housed in these buildings.
Credits: Information acquired from Kittanning Times, November 26 & December 3, 1897., 1884 picture of Kittanning from the Collection of Christopher Anthony obtained from the F. E. Patterson files, 1897 pictures from the Collection of Christopher Anthony obtained from the Armstrong County Historical Society archives.