Destructive fires historic problem for Elida

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Elida has had more than its share of trouble with disastrous fires during its century of existence. But in the early days residents kept rebuilding.

Within a little over a year of the town’s incorporation on July 3, 1907 fires had pretty much destroyed the simple plank buildings on the north side of the square, according to newspaper accounts.

According to a newspaper interview with Jane Howell, years later, the first destructive fire occurred Sept. 30, 1908. It started in the livery stable, on the site where Walls Grocery was built in the 1940s. The fire spread into an adjoining saloon and also engulfed a small restaurant. A butcher shop east of the livery stable was destroyed and removed by firefighters in an effort to save the Commercial Hotel and a store.

A month later fire broke out on the south side of the square and burned the Shannon and Kirkham department store and the Booth Brothers bakery and ice cream shop. A third fire that year destroyed the Roach and Kilpatrick general store.

The string of fires continued over the next few years, taking out Boyd’s Meat Market, the Elida Hotel, Kemp Lumber and other businesses until a town ordinance was passed calling for building materials to be more fire resistant.

A couple of anecdotes told in newspaper interviews years later about the early fires included the joke that “The damn ice box got so hot it caught on fire.” about the meat market blaze and the recollection that “Uncle” Joe Aschbacher extinguished a “set” fire with watermelons.

The most destructive fire in the town’s history was perhaps the one that occurred on May 23, 1946 which destroyed a new grocery store, the Roosevelt County Record’s newspaper plant and the Wallis Hotel.

Kenneth Ward, a state highway department engineer who was renting a second-floor apartment in the hotel narrowly escaped with his wife and three children by exiting across a rooftop.

Fred Anthony, who said he was 6-years-old at the time and lived two miles south of town, remembers the fire which broke out about 8 p.m. He said he watched it from his yard.

“To me it just looked like the whole sky was lit up,” Anthony said. “It was the biggest fire I had ever seen. I thought maybe the whole world was on fire.”

Cherie Peterson was in her teens and living in California at the time of the fire but said it started in a heater in the hotel then spread to the newspaper office and then the grocery store.

The water supply in Elida proved to be inadequate in fighting the 1946 conflagration. The month previous residents had approved bonds to improve the town’s water supply but the changes hadn’t been made yet.

Elida residents living today recall the “fire sale” the grocery store held. They said canned goods with the labels burned off were sold cheap. One resident joked that you didn’t know what you were having for lunch until you opened the can.

Schedule:

Saturday

• Car and Farm Equipment Exhibit
All Day
South Side of US 70 and North Side of Square
• Elida Envelope and Sale of Commemorative Postal Stamp
8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Post Office
• Vendor Booths
3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Town Square
• Food Booths
4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
In the Park
• Fireworks Display
At Dusk
• Dance
8 p.m.
Cement Slab

Sunday
• Car and Farm Equipment Exhibit
All Day
South Side of U.S. 70 and North Side of Square
• Exhibit of Ownership Map of Town Square
All Day
Rains Lumber Company Window
• Registration
8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
On the Square
• Cowboy Church
9 a.m.
Cement Slab
• Art Show
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Goods Feed Store
• Tour Brochures and Elida Book Sale
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Goods Feed Store
• Barbecue
$8.00 per person
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
On the Square
• Kids Games
1 p.m.
East Side of Square
• Vintage Style Show
2 p.m.
Elida School
• Music and food in the park
Vendors on the square