Saturday, September 3, 2016


Photo collage from Grip's Historical Souvenir of Cortland.
Cortland Standard, Friday, January 20, 1893.


Homer and Cortland Firemen do Their Best Work but the Flames Have too Great a Start to be Stayed.
   About seven o’clock Tuesday evening fire was discovered in the Homer academy, and in a few moments the interior of the building was in flames. To a STANDARD reporter Mr. George W. Downing, chief of the Homer Fire department gave the following account of the fire:
   I was at my home on William-st. at 7 o’clock when the alarm sounded and was at the scene of the fire within 3 minutes. I went in a cutter driven by my son Clarence. Tempest hose No. 3 was on scene first and got first water. The other companies, including Hook and Ladder company, arrived in short time. The first stream was put into the basement in the west wing on the south side. The second stream was thrown in on the north side of west wing. I went immediately to the front door on the east side of the building. I discovered on breaking into the second room from the front door on the first floor that the fire was clear through the building. I think it must have got there through the furnace flues. I shifted two lines of hose in front and had one left for the back side and immediately asked for assistance from Cortland. The Cortland department responded in a remarkably short time. In twenty-five minutes after word was sent to Cortland a Cortland company had water on the burning building.
   I assigned one of the hose companies and Cortland companies, under direction of the Cortland chief, to the west end of the building. I held the other two companies in front.
   Excelsior Hook and Ladder company from Cortland and another company then arrived and the Cortland chief immediately took charge of them. They rendered valuable assistance throughout the entire fire.
   As the village waterworks gave out we sent for the Cortland engine about 10 o’clock. Chief Peck of Cortland sent two Cortland companies back to Cortland when he sent for the engine.
   Owing to construction of the building and inconvenience of working in it, it was impossible to save it even with six streams of water. My theory is that the fire caught in some unaccountable manner in the furnace room and followed the flues of the furnace into other rooms.
   Prof. S. J. Ellsworth gave the following account: When I first got to the building, which was before any water had been thrown, I started to go into the front door to my room, which was on the second floor. I found the smoke so thick that I had to retreat. I then went to the back side of the building where I found the flames coming from the basement. The fire at that time seemed to be in the southwest corner of the building and was burning the first floor. There were two hallways leading from the basement in the back part of the building into the second story. It was evident to me that the fire started on the first floor where the flues went through the floor. The furnaces had been crowded to their utmost capacity for three days previous, owing to the cold weather. The pine casings about the heat flues where they pass through the floors and into different rooms had become so thoroughly dried and heated, in my opinion, that those passing through the first floor took fire. The fire followed the heat flues toward the front part of the building and toward the northwest corner, where it broke out in the cornice in the third story of the building. The hallway in the front part of the building helped to create a draft, so that as soon as the fire reached it there was no hope of saving the building.
   Mr. John K . Miller, the janitor, was seen by a STANDARD reporter this morning, and said in substance that at noon he shut the furnaces down to about half the force at which they had been running in the morning, as the school house was well heated. A t 3 o’clock he shut them down still more, and at about 6 o’clock he put on coal and fixed them for the night. Then everything appeared to be right. He knew nothing as to any danger or trouble till the fire alarm sounded. He said that Prof. Tuthill’s theory is that the gas must have accumulated faster than it could escape through the pipes, and that the door of a furnace must have blown open and the burning gas rushed out and started the fire. He said, however, that there was no kindling wood or anything else in which fire could catch even if coals had been blown out on the floor. The furnace room was located in the basement of the west wing, ground floor, and contained four furnaces, one in each corner. The furnaces were bricked in and were new furnaces, used for the first time last fall.
   As the Hitchcock Hose company boys started to leave for the Homer fire last evening they met with an accident at the very start that necessitated their remaining behind. The horse gave a quick jump, breaking the bolster of the forward bob and at the same time throwing the driver, Dave Moore, from his seat a distance of about ten feet against the side of the building, where he was considerably shaken up. From there the horse started with the forward bob attached to it, up Elm-st. to Main, where he ran into Mr. W. C. May of Union-st., who was standing on the sidewalk in front of Mrs. W. W. Gale’s fancy goods store. Mr. May was knocked down and bruised on his left side and about both ankles. From there the horse kept on until he reached Port Watson-st., when he turned down and ran until he reached Niver’s Livery stable, into which he ran among the cutters. There he was stopped. Upon examination the animal was found to be cut up so badly that it was thought best to leave him there for the present.
                              CHIEF PECK INTERVIEWED.
   A reporter of The STANDARD to-day called upon Chief N. J. Peck of the Cortland Fire department and obtained his version of the fire. At the time the fire bell struck last night at 8:10 o’clock Chief Peck was at his home on Washington-st. He hastened to Main-st. and found Water Witch and Orris Hose Cos. and Excelsior Hook and Ladder Co. standing by the Cortland House awaiting orders to leave town. He was informed of the accident that had befallen the Hitchcock Co. and that the Emerald boys had not yet got out. He left orders for those two companies to remain in Cortland to guard against a fire here, while he took to Homer the three companies that were standing on the street.
   A pair of horses taken from one of Garrity’s omnibuses drew the Hook and Ladder truck, while the two hose carts were attached to two pairs of bobs drawn by other teams of Mr. Garrity. The Water Witch and Hook and Ladder boys rode on the bobs, while Beard & Peck’s team took the Orris’ boys up. Arrived in Homer they found the Emerald Hose Co. already at work. They had come out of their hose house with their customary dash and promptness, had obtained a team from the livery stable of John Morris and had departed for Homer before Chief Peck knew of it. They had a stream of water on the fire in exactly twenty-five minutes from the time the bell struck in Cortland.
   As soon as [Village of Cortland] President Price knew that three hose companies had gone, he drove to Homer as fast as his horse could take him and searched out Chief Peck to inquire what arrangements he had made in case of an alarm of fire in Cortland. Mr. Peck told him that the Hitchcocks were here, but that there was one more company in Homer than he had intended should go. A part of the Water Witch company then returned home. In the engine house here there were over 1,000 feet of hose and one hose cart, and the Hitchcock company had their usual allowance. So Cortland was not left unprotected through the zeal of the boys to help their neighbors.
   In Homer Chief Downing of the Homer Fire department, asked Chief Peck to take charge of the work on the north and west sides of the building, while he himself attended to the south and east sides. Mr. Peck says the Homer boys were very active, but they had not enough hose to reach the hydrants, and the extra supply from Cortland was very acceptable. At one time they had nine streams of water on the burning building. About 9:30 the water began to fail and the pressure began to be slight. The Homer water comes from a huge tank on East hill, but it is obtained from wells up there and not from a living spring as in our own case. The wells were becoming pumped dry. At 10:30 the remainder of the Water Witch company was released and sent home, as not water enough could be obtained to keep all the companies busy.
   Before 11 o’clock the water had given out entirely, and at that time Emerald Hose Co. and Excelsior Hook and Ladder Co. were released and sent home. The fire was now wholly confined within the brick walls of the building, and if they stood all right there was little danger of the fire spreading further. For the last half hour that the water lasted only two streams had been employed, and they were directed one at the church on either side of the academy. The fear was that the walls would fall outward upon the churches and set fire to them. In case this should happen the fire boys were powerless to do anything through lack of water. The Homer steamer was out of repair as entire confidence has been placed in the water works. Chief Peck accordingly sent for the Cortland steamer. President Price gave permission for it to go. It left the engine house at 10:50 drawn by a pair of Garrity’s mules and arrived at 11:30. The steamer was placed on the banks of the river and about 1,000 feet of hose were laid and an attempt was made to turn a stream on the ruins. But the hose was frozen up, as it had lain for an hour filled with water, and by the time this was thawed out the steamer wouldn’t work, although the veteran engineer, George W. Cleveland, had it in charge, and a heavy pressure of steam was on. The trouble appeared to be in the pumps. They are being overhauled at the engine house to-day. New pumps were put in about five months ago, and, except for the test then, there has been no occasion to use the steamer since.
   Orris hose was the last to be released and it returned to Cortland about 2 A. M.
   The entire interior of the building was burned out. The middle half of the upper story fell. The wall of the west wing still stands. Part of the upper stories of the south wing fell. Although most of the walls are still standing they are valueless.
   The original contract for putting up the building was let to Geo. W. Almy of Homer, a well-known architect and builder, the contract price being $30,000, which did not include the finishing of the upper story, which was afterwards let to the same man for about $1,500. Since this time a number of changes have been made and much added to it.
   School will not be opened before next Monday.
   The board of engineers and trustees of the village held a meeting in E. W. Hyatt’s office in the Brockway building at 9 o’clock this morning. Mr. C. A. Ford was appointed chairman. It was moved and unanimously carried that the Homer Water Works company be notified to appear here forthwith.
   A committee consisting of E. J. Bockes and A. W. Hobert was appointed to put up danger signals in front of the building. Messrs. Bockes and Chas. H. Danes were appointed a committee to purchase necessary hose.
   The clerk of the board telegraphed for a representative of the Water Works company to come to Homer and find out why the supply of water gave out. The telegram was sent to Syracuse and to New York.
   A resolution was also passed instructing the clerk to draw up suitable resolutions to express the gratitude of the trustees, engineers and citizens to the chief of the Cortland Fire department, and through him to the Cortland fire companies for their prompt and efficient work in response to the call for aid.
   The meeting was then adjourned.
   (For Notes on Fire see 5th page).

Notes on Homer Fire.
   What Homer needs is a new steam fire engine.
   There were thirteen teachers employed in the institution.
   A rare collection of stuffed birds was saved without damage.
   None of the books belonging to pupils or teachers were saved.
   There were about 560 pupils in attendance on the school this term.
   All of the records of the institution were removed without much damage.
   The Cortland steamer came up at 11:30 and was lustily cheered.
   Besides the piano in Prof. Ellsworth’s room an organ was also burned. One piano was saved.
   The probability is that temporary quarters for the school will be arranged in the Union building for the present.
   The value of the books burned belonging to the scholars is estimated at between $1,000 and $1,200.
   The contents of the chemical laboratory and collections of geological specimens valued at about $1,000 were destroyed.
   A meeting of the board of trustees is being held this afternoon to take steps to locate the school temporarily until a new building can be erected.
   All of the books in the library, about 2,000 in all and valued at about $2,000, were saved. The physical apparatus, valued at about $500, was also saved.
   We are indebted to Messrs. Stevens & Danes of the Homer Republican for some trouble in obtaining and forwarding to us the cut of the late Homer academy which appears in our issue of to-day.
   The academy boys worked hard in getting the books out of the library. The books were taken to the Congregational church, Dobbins’ house, and Kellogg’s vacant store in the Union building.
   When the hose companies arrived on the scene the fire seemed to be all in the furnace room in the west wing. It followed the furnace flues to nearly every part of the building and was soon beyond control.
   The school building was insured for $15,000 with Atwater & Foster, who had placed the risk with the following companies: Etna, $2,500; Hartford, $2,500; Phoenix, $2,500; Royal, $2,500 and Lancashire, $5,000.
   Several people claim the honor of discovering the fire, but it seems to have been seen by several at about the same time. The cry of fire was first raised on the streets about 7 o’clock, and Mr. Carl A. Dillenbeck rang the bell.
   An attempt was made to save the piano in Prof. Ellsworth’s room, valued at about $300, but it failed. The instrument was full of water before it was reached. The legs were saved but the body left. The professor’s desk containing records and text books was also destroyed.
   The building which was erected in 1869 was of brick, three stories in height. It contained six departments. The third floor was used as a lecture hall, the six departments being on the first and second floors. The basement contained the furnace rooms, gymnasium and chemical laboratory.
   A party of five or six gentlemen walked up to the railroad crossing between the villages last night when the alarm was sounded, but as they could see no light at that time they came back and attended the lecture at the Opera House. They went up again after the lecture when they knew what was burning.
   The ladies of the Congregational church opened a room in the church and the Women’s Relief corps served coffee, pie and sandwiches to the firemen. The coffee was made and donated by Mr. Charles Nichols of the Mansion House, and the sandwiches and pies were donated by various persons.
   When the fire burned so fiercely in the cornice on the north wing, there was considerable danger that the Episcopal church, which is a wooden building, would also take fire, but water was thrown on it in large quantities and it was saved. Had more of the north walls of the academy fallen they would probably have fallen on the church and ruined it.
   Among the things saved that are valued very highly are large oil paintings, one, of Elder Bennett, one of the old board of trustees, painted by Frank B. Carpenter, the well known artist, nearly fifty years ago, and others of Dr. John Miller, of Truxton, Judge Townsend Ross, of Homer, Jedediah Barber, Rev. John Keep, Rufus Boies, David Coye, John Osborn, Noah R. Smith.
   A story was going the rounds of the town this morning that a little girl in one of the lower departments, while writing on the blackboard yesterday, noticed that it was very much heated as if a fire were smouldering in the partition behind it. Professors Tuthill and Ellsworth do not put any faith in the rumor, as there was no indication of smoke, fire or unusual heat in the building when they left it at 4:30 P. M.
   E. N. Sherwood of 9 James-st., Cortland, put up a 40 foot ladder very straight against the cornice of the building and went up to turn a splice. One of the spikes in the foot of the ladder sunk into the ground, threw the ladder over and he fell about fifteen feet to the ground. His knee and ankle were badly sprained. He was brought home immediately after the accident, and though his leg was very much swollen he was resting comfortably this afternoon.

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