Sykesville Hard Hit By Disastrous Fire That Sweeps Warfield Mill and Fertilizer Factory

December 9, 1920

Loss To Maryland Milling And Supply Company Will Be $25,000

Town’s Narrow Escape the scene of the blaze. 

Shift of Wind Would Have Lost Every Building in Business District

Town Was Helpless Until Arrival Of Hero Firemen From Catonsville

The flour and elevator, gas production building and fertilizer factory of the Maryland Milling & Supply Company at Sykesville, were destroyed by fire last night (Wednesday) causing a loss to the company of about $25,000. The property was fully insured.

That a single building stands upon its foundation today in the business district of Sykesville, is due to the favorable wind, which carried the flying embers away from the town. The fire was the most spectacular ever witnessed in this section and brought spectators from many points as far away as 20 miles, who thought the town was burning.

The fire started in the very top of the elevator shaft and was first seen by Jesse Poole, who hurried to Mayor Swain’s store and gave the alarm. At this time the blaze was very small and could easily have been extinguished by a moderate stream. Spectators could only look on, however, and see the flames work their way downward into the mill. After a look at the situation Mayor Swain, seeing that a disaster threatened, telephoned for the Catonsville Fire Department, 20 miles away. The department responded with alacrity, making the run to Sykesville in a little more than 25 minutes. The engine was placed at the river bank, on the west side of a line of hose run across and under the tracks of the B. & O. railroad, Wilson Arndt plunged into the cold water and brought the hose across the river. Louis Shultz and William Jones had dug a trench under the tracks for the hose and soon a powerful stream, handled by firemen who worked like real heroes, was playing on the flames. They soon fought their way into the fertilizer factory and combatted the flames from the ground floor. They succeeded in saving part of this building. The mill was past saving and nothing remains of it today but a mass of charred timbers and ashes.

Mayor Swain also called the Westminster firemen and they also responded in splendid spirit and were well on there way here when their apparatus broke down near Gaither. The firemen came on in automobiles and cheerfully did all possible to aid in suppressing the flames.

Sykesville itself was helpless. Only the ladders of its antiquated apparatus were available and with these a gallant band of volunteers, led by William Forthman, put up a great battle to save the dwelling of Dr. D. B. Sprecher. Wet blankets were put up and the nearby wells were emptied of water. Time and again the workers were driven from their posts by the intense heat only to return and renew their efforts. Dr. Sprecher wishes to thank all who helped him. The dwelling was saved but the fight it cost will long be remembered by those who had a part in it.

A stream of water from the bank on the Arcade Building was kept playing on the fence surrounding the big lumber yard and the fire was kept out. Senator Warfield was early on the scene, the coolest man on the job, and he directed his forces in masterful fashion. He was not made ill, as a Baltimore paper said this morning.

Considerable feed and flour was removed from the lower floors of the mill and the workers only ceased their efforts when the top floors began to come down.

The fire developed several resourceful and heroic workers. Aside from the splendid service of the Catonsville firemen, notable work was done by Wilson Arndt, William Forthman, D.r J. F. Waesche, Harry R. DeVries, Balley Dudderer, Louis Shultz, William M Jones, William Melville, Harry Beall and scores of others. The colored folks gave generous aid. Women helped to carry water to the Sprecher dwelling and to remove the goods from the house.

The mill was filled with grain and flour, some of which belonged to farmers. The fire will not interrupt the business of the company in any extent. It will continue to take in grain and other produce at the new warehouse and the mills of the company of Frederick will supply the flour trade.

Our people are under everlasting obligations to the Catonsville and Westminster firemen for their quick response to the call for help and the heroic service given. It was after 2 a. m. before the Catonsville men got away. Their truck became mired on the river bank and it required service of one of the big Arndt trucks to get it out. The men were wet and cold, but were supplied with hot coffee by Senator Warfield.

Mayor Swain was constantly on the scene. It was due his hurried calls to the firemen that brought the quick response and the splendid aid.

The mill and fertilizer factory will be rebuilt, with enlarged capacity. This will be good news.

In the meantime what about fire protection of our own? Will Sykesville learn the lesson?

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