The Worst Fire in Elkins History Saw a City Block Lost in 1897


The worst fire ever to strike Elkins, surpassing even the well remembered "Murphy's Fire" of 1967, was the great fire of 1897. The great 1897 fire destroyed an entire city block, and over twice as many businesses as the Murphy's fire.

At around 7:15 a.m. on March 14, 1897, a Mrs. Long, who resided or was staying on the second floor of the Woodward Hotel, where the west entrance to Murphy's now stands, noticed flames on the second floor of the Elkins Furniture and Hardware building across the street where the Wilt Building now stands. Mrs. Long sounded the alarm, the railroad shop whistle blew, the church bells began to ring, and the town of Elkins was flung into what was considered its

At the time there was no fire department in Elkins. To aggravate matters, nearly all of the buildings in town were wooden structures, and a brisk wind was blowing. Soon after the alarm the streets were crowded with people, a bucket brigade was formed, and a hose was brought over from the shops at the railroad yards.

The hardware store went up fast, as it was stocked with a full supply of oi1s and varnishes. Soon powder kegs in another hardware store were exploding, and the citizens were frantically dragging the stock of the many businesses and residences on the west side of Davis Avenue out into the street. Then the wind shifted and the fire jumped across to the east side where Cato is now located, and several buildings on that side of the street were damaged. All of the buildings on the west side Davis Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets were leveled, and at Fourth Street the fire jumped across the street and caught the Randolph Hotel, where the Elkins Convalescent Home is now located on fire, but it, like the buildings on the east side Davis Avenue, was damaged but spared. A couple of buildings on Railroad Avenue were also dam aged, including the brick office of the railroad.

The town of Davis in Tucker County had a well drilled fire department, and they were loaded onto a special train and hurried to Elkins, arriving at noon The Elkins fire however, was by that time under control. Also, the fire was to far from the river for the Davis equipment to be of much help.

The exact extent of the damages and losses in the fire of '97 are difficult at this point to determine. It is known that the monetary losses approached $100,000, a figure only about a tenth that of the damages in the Murphy's fire but in 1897 the sum was an astronomical figure.

Among the businesses and residences destroyed or damaged were: The Elkins Furniture and Hardware Company, Granville Harvey's store, E.M. Peart's residence, J. H. Fout's store, the Inter-Mountain newspaper and printing offices, James S. Posten's residence, Dr. L. W. Talbot's drug store, Harwoods Elkins Cash Grocery, William Pettingale and Company's Clothing store, Monroe's bookstore, Nusbaum's clothing store, Darden's feed store, the Hotel Randolph, the Elkins National Bank, Wilhide's Drug store, Keim's grocery store, Cunningham's restaurant and pool room, Stalnaker's saloon Feight's stable, Platz's bakery, Davis' barber shop, Brandley's jewelry store, Stark Reger's law office, Hanrod's cigar store, the Bee Hive store, the railroad offices and Wilmer's stable.

The cause of the fire of '97 was never satisfactorily determined. It was known to have started in a second story room occupied by the Crescent Club, but no one was known to have been in the room since the night before. It was thought that a carelessly laid cigar or a spark from the stove in the club may have been the cause. Historians have written that the massive rebuilding effort undertaken after the fire was to a large extent responsible for the later prosperity of the town.

Photo of Fire Scene

Twice as many businesses were destroyed in 1897 as compared to the 'Murphy's Fire' of 1967. The monetary losses approached $100,000, an astronomical sum in that time period Businesses Lost, Woman Dies in Fire

Businesses Lost, Woman Dies in Fire

Plumes of smoke were still coming from the gutted buildings the morning after the April 26, 1967 fire in midtown Elkins. The old Elkins National Bank Building (above), then occupied by the Lamplight Restaurant, Tyre's Shoe Store and Polly O'Kernick's Fidelity Finance Co. on second floor, was lost along with Fountain Cut Rate store next door, apartments and a large section of the G. C. Murphy Co. building. A woman who lived in an apartment over Fountain Cut Rate died in the blaze. No trace of her body could be found in the ashes, but firemen saw her near the window before the structure became a blazing inferno. The old bank building was razed soon after the fire to allow for the construction of a new one story building which was later occupied by Cato's Clothing Store.

Comments regarding this page to: Deborah Johnson.