Flames Sweep Through Mt. Airy

March 26, 1914

Busy Little Town Suffers Loss That Will Aggregate Close to $100,000.00

The Place Without Fire Protection

Our neighboring city of Mt. Airy has begun to recover somewhat from the disastrous fire that swept the town on Wednesday, causing a loss that will aggregate close to $100,000.

The fire started in the boiler room of the Farmers’ Milling and Grain Company shortly before noon and practically wiped out the business district in spite of the most desperate efforts to check the flames. How it originated is a mystery. A brisk wind fanned the flames and as the little city was practically without means of fighting the fire little could be done to check its progress until outside help arrived.

While the fire was raging a 50,000-gallon water tank on a hill above the scene of the fire stood empty and opposing bodies of citizens were before the Legislature fighting for and against a bill to give their town the right to issue bonds with which to build a water supply.

Until the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad got its engines to drawing water from a tank five miles up the track there was not a drop of water with which to fight the flames Except that taken from pumps or wells by buckets. There are no volunteer firemen and a call for help brought forty men with apparatus from Frederick.

A list of the property destroyed and of the amount of insurance carried in eiach case follows:

Farmers’ Milling and Grain Company, damage to building and stock, $15,000; insurance, $10,000.
Watkins & Banks, general store, damage, $15,000; insurance, $9,000.
First National Bank, damage $15,000; insurance, $8,000.
E. M. Molesworth, lumber and coal, damage about $15,000; insurance about $7,ooo.
Runkle & Wagner, ice plant, damace about $15,000; insurance about $9,000.
W. W. Baker, dwelling, damaged about $2,500; no insurance.
H. L\., Runkel, hardware store, damage about $5,000; insurance about $3,000.
Arnold Fleming, barn and outbuildings, damaged about $2,500; covered by insurance.
C. L. Skeggs, general store, damage, $1,500; insurance about $1,000.

The block wiped out was the west side of Main street, from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks north. Its location made it possible for the Frederick fire engines to take water from the Baltimore and Ohio locomotives.

George Davis, fireman for the milling company, was shoveling coal in to the furnace when R. L. Runkel shouted the alarm of fire. He saw the flames behind the furnace and, releasing the water from his boiler, fled. W. W. Baker, the manager, saw that nothing could save the mill and ran to his home, a frame building, 200 yards away. His wife and 4-year-old daughter, Carrie, were there. They got the sewing machine, organ and some bedclothes out. The bedclothes burned as fast as they were removed, for the flames jumped to Molesworth’s lumber yard, between their home and the mill. W. O. Banks’ home, above the Skeggs grocery, with every piece of furniture and every shred of clothing, was the next to burn.

Milton G. Urner, President of the First National Bank, ordered the money there put into a trunk. Forty thousand dollars’ worth of greenbacks and coins was dumped in, and Mr. Hall, in an automobile, with an armed guard on each side, carried the money to Frederick.

When the Frederick firemen tumbled off the cars they were greeted with shouts. It had been feared that the flames would spread to the opposite side of the railroad to the  big grain elevator of the Mt. Airy Milling and Grain Company, holding several thousands of bushels of grain and many barrels of flour. The offices of this company was scorched, but the firemen kept the fire within the block in which it started.

This is the third disastrous fire in the history of the town. Twenty years ago $100,000 worth of property on the site of today’s fire was destroyed. Then years ago a block on the south side of the railroad was destroyed, with a loss of almost as great.

Mayor Francis J. Leatherwood, while the ruins were still smoldering, declared that the burned area would be rebuilt as soon as possible. He said the city would take heed of the lesson taught and that he would favor the establishment of a fire department, or at lest an efficient fire brigade, as well as proper water facilities.

A number of the residents of Sykesville, including Deputy Sheriff W. W. Ritter, George Linton, Elmer E. Jenkins and others, hurried to Mt. Airy, but could do nothing to aid the stricken town. Others went up in the evening to view the ruins.


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