Milwaukee Fires

See also Milwaukee Church Fires

Cross' Block Fire- 1861

Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, (Milwaukee, WI) Tuesday, January 01, 1861; Issue 1; col E
     Another Fire! Cross’ Block in Ruins!
Loss of Life

At precisely twenty minutes to two o'clock on Sunday morning, while a portion of the firemen were yet a the fire on Walker's point, the alarm was given for the third district, and Cross' Block on the corner of Huron and Water Streets was discovered to be in flames. The firemen, already drenched with water and coated with ice, repaired from one scene of destruction to another, and recommenced their efforts to save the property from the devouring elements. When first seen, the flames were confined to the hall in the third story, and there being no one in any of the offices at that tie, there is no theory that will account for the fire but that of incrediarism. From the hall the flames spread rapidly to the adjoining offices occupied by city officers, and in an incredible short space of time the Common Council Chamber, the City Clerk's office, School Commissioners' room, and the various offices were wrapped in a common blaze. Armstrong & Spink, Bankers, occupied the corner room on the ground floor. They succeeded in saving their office furniture, even to the carpet. THeir books and papers were secured in a large safe locked up at the rear of the house-which yet stands, apparently perfectly sound. All the papers in the City Clerk's office-records and valuable documents-were destroyed. There are nearly $200,000 of chattel mortgages, together with a large amount of bills and vouchers, in one of the Herrings safes, which fell from the third story. It will probably be opened to-day. In the Connell Chamber was a large amount of furniture, including oil paintings of the Mayors, upholstery work, records of the Board & c. The furniture of the chamber was worth about $3,000. In the city Comptroller's room were also valuable papers, but it is impossible to state with accuracy what is lost or saved until the safes shall be opened. The School Superintendent, Mr. Foru, informs us that he had $500 in money in his safe.

Mr. Summer, picture frame maker and gilder, occupied rooms in the building, and barely escaped with his life. Nearly all his stock, including his tools, is lost and could not be replaced for $1,000. He lived in the building with his family, and being a cripple-as we have said-barely escaped himself.

There was another room occupied by Mr. Aldrich, who, together with Russel Wheeler, will probably lose $500.

Mr. Bilty, the proprietor of the saloon in the basement, estimates his loss of $150. A man by the name of Ellesly, who had a stock of liquors in the East end of the basement, is also a loser, but to what extent we could not learn.

Edward Miller, type founder, just opposite, had a quality of stock in the building, most of which was removed in an injured condition.

R. Dunn's mercantile agency was in the same building. Loss Unknown.

This paragraph is blocked out.

Cross' Block blocked out.... and cost $12,000. It was insured for $30,000, with an insurance of $8,000 on the ???.

It has been occupied by the city for several years at a rent of $2,900 per annum. The City Treasurer had but recently moved his office to the new City Hall, thus saving everything.

The stones north of the main entrance was occupied by Geo. Dyer & Co., with a very large and valuable stock of saddlery, hardware, &C., amounting to about $60,000. There were insured, we understand for about $30,000. A great portion of their stock was removed, though their lost is heavy.

The north wall of Cross' Block fell upon the unoccupied four story brick store adjoining, with a tremendous crash, completely demolishing it. The building was owned by Eliphalet Cramer, and was worth $7,000 or $8,000-covered by insurance. It has fortunate ended, that the store was unoccupied at the time, as the smallest amount of fuel, in the shape of goods, added to the flames, would have caused the destruction of the entire block of buildings.

Friend Brother's Wholesale Clothing 1882

Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 1 Jan 1883


MILWAUKEE, Wis., Dec. 31.--Early this morning a fire broke out in Friend Brother's wholesale clothing establishment. It originated in the basement, either from an overheated or defective furnace, and worked its way up through the elevator. The interior of the building was completely gutted, destroying the immense stock. Friend Brothers' loss figures up $500,000; insured. The adjoining firms of Landauer & Co., wholesale dry goods and notions and Straw, Ellsworth & Co., wholesale hatters, suffered to the extent of $100,000, making the total loss $600,000. Three hundred tailors working in outside shops of Friend Brothers are thrown out of employment.

Planing Mills Destroyed

Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 1 Oct 1883


MILWAUKEE, Sept. 30.--A fire broke out at 8 o'clock this morning in the large planing mills of the Conway Manufacturing Company in the Menomonee Valley, and in two hours $200,000 worth of property had been destroyed. The buildings consisted of a two-story warehouse at the eastern extremity of the plant, 60 by 120 feet, filled with finished stock. Adjoining, on the west, was the brick planing mill, three stories high, 80 by 120 feet. In the north-east corner of this building, on the first floor, were the offices of the company. The building contained all the machinery and a large amount of unfinished stock. In the rear was the engine and boiler room. Adjoining the planing mill on the west was a one-story frame building, 70 by 100 feet, containing machinery and stock. To the west of this were five dry kilns which were filled with valuable hard-wood lumber. Each of these kilns was 16 by 75 feet and 20 feet high. To the west of them was a storing shed 18 by 140 feet. West of this was the barn, 40 by 20 feet, containing five horses, which were rescued. The brick planing mill was owned by the Rogers estate, and the other buildings by the Conway Company. The loss on the planing mill building in $10,000; on the Conway Company's buildings, $75,000; on the machinery. $60,000, and the balance is on the stock. The works employed about 250 men, and all lose their tools. When first seen by the watchman the fire was breaking out of the roof of the main building. The loss is nearly $200,000, and the insurance $94,000. The front walls tumbled in on a passing freight train, and three men were badly injured. Two of them will in all probability die. Two firemen were seriously injured.


Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 18 Dec 1883


MILWAUKEE, Wis., Dec. 17.---At 6 o'clock this evening, just a moment before the supper hour, a fire was discovered in the dry-room at the Plankinton House, and as soon as the alarm was given the wildest excitement prevailed. The fact that the Newhall House was burned less than a year ago, (Jan. 10 last,) by which fire 100 people were roasted to death, tended to make the people more panicky, and for the time being Milwaukeeans supposed pretty much the same kind of a tragedy was about to be enacted. There were between 300 and 400 guests in the house, the only hotel of any pretense in the town at present.

As soon as the news spread that the hotel was in flames, the guests became panic-stricken and began leaving the house in all possible haste. People rolled down the stairways and out into the street in whatever they happened to have on, and as many ladies were making their toilets for supper numbers left the building in very slight attire. The fire originated in the drying-room, and such headway was gained before it was discovered that the entire basement was filled with suffocating smoke as soon as the doors of this department were broken open. Seven girls were prostrated and were carried out as if dead. Mary Quinlan, who barely escaped from the Newhall House, was seriously injured, perhaps fatally. The volumes of smoke overpowered the firemen, and five were suffocated and had to be carried out. All of them revived after an hour or so.

The fire got into the walls and made rapid progress upward. The tile flooring in the diningroom had to be torn up, and everything in the handsome apartment was demolished before the flames were extinguished. The fire raged so fiercely that it is generally believed that the basement was filled with gas from broken pipes. The damage will amount to between $12,000 and $15,000. The most of this is from water. The fire was confined to a very small space outside of the dining-room, or the damage would have been very great. The hotel's escape from destruction was very narrow.

When the news spread over the town that the elegant hotel was on fire thousands of people rushed to the scene, fully expecting to see a re-enactment of the frightful Newhall calamity. There was a snow-storm in progress at the time and the scene was peculiarly picturesque. Twenty-five or 30 New-York people were in the hotel at the time of the fire.


Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 3 Dec 1884


MILWAUKEE, Wis., Dec. 2---The fire at the State University last night caused a total loss of $235,000, covered only by $40,000 insurance. Among the irreparable losses that were sustained was the destruction of the geological department with Dr. Irving's notebooks containing the observations of a dozen sections of rocks belonging to the university and to the geological surveys of the State of Wisconsin and of the United States. Lapham's geological collection of 10,000 specimens' and Strong's of 3,000, of great value, met destruction. The art gallery, of considerable value, was also in this wing. In the south wing were the lecture rooms, various chemical laboratories, assaying, zoological, and others and all were destroyed, leaving at the present time nothing standing but badly charred stone walls. The building, including heating and water fixtures, cost about $100,000: Dr. Davies's physical apparatus is valued at over $10,000: Dr. Birge's zoological department is worth about $8,000. Prof. Irving's department, containing those great geological collections, meets the heaviest loss of all and which is hardly capable of a money estimate. With the machine department, engine rooms, many laboratories, and private library and apparatus of the Professors, which were kept in the building, is[sic] is doubtful if $250,000 will cover the loss.

The material saved from the lower floor is practically of no value, as everything valuable except the machine and carpenter's shop appliances were on the upper floor. Owing to the peculiar character of scientific and mechanical instruments requiring elaborate apparatus it will be impossible to fit up temporary quarters till the Spring term, and nearly 100 students will have to suspend studies till then. One of the dormitories will doubtless be arranged for such classes as can go ahead without much paraphernalia. The Legislature will be asked to appropriate not only enough for a new and better building, apparatus, and cabinets, but also to fit up temporary quarters. With $40,000 insurance in hand it will take an appropriation of about $150,000 to anywhere near replace last night's loss.

Science Hall was the largest and most important of the university buildings, and its loss is a very serious blow to the institution. President Bascomb says that even if the Legislature is prompt in the reimbursement it will take at least 10 years to recover from the effects of the fire and restore the collections to anything like the condition they were in yesterday. There is not doubt that the management of the fire was wretched. The city department was wholly incapable and its appliances quite inefficient. The persons in control of the building also lost their heads, and the elaborate system of university water works was rendered wholly useless from mismanagement and lock of hose. The building itself, in spite of being a costly stone structure valued at $100,000, was a mere tinder box inside, and was built with no regard whatever to possibilities of danger from fire. All departments at the university are paralyzed to-day, and, though in the midst of the term examinations, the affairs are in almost a chaotic condition. No one was injured by the fierce fire, but several students who tried to save some of the Washburn apparatus had a narrow escape, only saving their lives by jumping from the upper windows.


Source: Marshfield Times, Marshfield, Wisconsin | Friday, December 18, 1885 | Page 2

Two of Milwaukee's Large Flouring Mills Burned to the Ground-A terrific explosion of Flour Dust Mangles Four Fireman-The Heaviest Loss of the Year

At an early hour on the morning of the 8th inst., Milwaukee was visited by the most disastrous conflagration that has occurred in the city since the Chapman fire in October last year. Two of the oldest and finest mills in the Northwest-the Daisy and Empire; located between Commerce Street and the old canal bed-immediately north of Poplar Street, are now blackened ruins. The Daisy Mill is a total loss and the Empire Mill nearly so. Soon after the discovery of the fire a terrific explosion of flour dust occurred in the top floor of the Daisy mill, wrecking the building and seriously if not fatally injuring four firemen. The entire fire department and all the available men on the police force were called out, but both buildings were totally destroyed with their stocks and machinery. The owners of the Empire Mill, S.H. Seamans & Co., estimate their loss at $85,000. The Daisy was owned by Edward Sanderson and E. P. Allis, who place their loss at about $100,000. There was $85,000 insurance on the two mills.


Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 7 Jan 1887

MILWAUKEE, Jan. 6.---The Reliance Machine Works of E.P. Allis & Co. caught fire to-night in the core room of the foundry department. The fire blazed fiercely for two hours, but was continued to the foundry building, the progress being staid by a fire wall. E.P. Allis, Jr., a member of the firm, estimates the loss at $250,000. The works are covered by a blanket insurance policy or $400,000.


Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 19 Jul 1889

Firemen Fighting Flames on the Roof of Grace Hotel Fall with the Walls---Five of Them May Die.

MILWAUKEE, Wis., July 18.---Fire to-night destroyed the Grace Hotel, a four-story brick structure, at the corner of Park and Reed Streets, on the South Side. About twenty-five firemen were injured, of whom five may die. The pecuniary loss will be small.

Among the injured are Chief James Foley, Capt. P. J. Linehan, Capt. John Wolf, Assistant, and Chief Clancy. It is feared that Capt. Linehan and Capt. Wolf cannot recover.

Two alarms were sent in, owing to the dangerous locality. At a time when the fire seemed to be under control, and while several firemen were in the structure to subdue what little flames were left, with ten others on the roof, the structure collapsed and nothing but a mass of debris was left.

The firemen on the roof and those on the ladders and within went down with the ruins. It was an unexpected catastrophe, and the crowd groaned as one man when they realized what had happened. The work of rescue then began, and as quickly as the injured could be gotten out, ambulances and other conveyances hurried them to the Emergency Hospital.


Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 27 Mar 1895


Several Large Buildings Destroyed, Others Burning.

Started in the A. F. Tanner Company's Store at Grand Avenue and Fourth Street.


The Young Men's Christian Association Building in Flames--Guests Warned Out of Hotels.

MILWAUKEE, Wis., March 27--3 A. M.-- A fire which originated in the building occupied by the A. F. Tanner Furniture Company and Landauer & Co., dry goods, is still raging and threatens to become one of the most destructive fires ever known in this city.
The loss will be at least $1,000,000.

Before the fire department arrived on the scene, Grand Avenue and Fourth Street, the block was one mass of flames, and about ten minutes after the alarm the walls fell in with a big crash.

Just east of Tanner's store was the clothing house of Barling & Whithold. It has been burned to the ground. The flames jumped across Grand Avenue and caught a row of wooden tenement houses, so that the firemen and ploicemen with difficulty saved the occupants.

The heat was so intense that the building of the Young Men's Christian Association on the other side of Fourth Street caught fire, and also the library building.

The guests of the Davidson and the Schlitz Hotels were called out, as there was danger that the flames would spread to Third Street, where these hotels are situated. The dry goods house of James Morgan & Co., corner of Third Street and Grand Avenue was damaged by water.

The library building is burning, and it is not probable that it will be saved. Every effort will be made to save the books.

The east part of the building, which is owned by the Plankinton estate, is occupied by the Columbia Clothing Company and Benedict & Co., wholesale clothing.

The Germania Society, the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Company, and the West Side High School also occupy part of the building.
On the north side of Grand Avenue, among the houses destroyed is the art store of Roelsen & Reinhardt, and most of the valuable pictures are a complete loss.

The Young Men's Christian Association Building probably will be destroyed, though every effort is being made to save the structure, which is one of the finest in the city.

There is hope that the fire in the Library Building will be extinquished before it shall reach the books, of which there are about 25,000.
The total loss is now roughly estimated at $1,000,000.

The five-story brick building which is occupied by the shoe firm of Au Bon Marche, on the southwest corner of Grand Avenue and Fourth Street is gutted.

The fire has caught the James Morgan building and the roof is burning.

The fire is fanned by a breeze from the southwest, and sparks are flying all over the lower part of the city. Several small buildings caught fire, but the flames were quickly extinguished.

Many Buildings Gutted or Destroyed in Milwaukee Blaze 1901

The New York Times, New York, NY 23 Mar 1901


Many Buildings Gutted or Destroyed in Milwaukee Blaze.

MILWAUKEE, Wis., March 22--Fire tonight completely wiped out the big piano establishment of William
& Sons, on Broadway, and wrought further destruction to adjoining property, entailing a loss close to $300,000, fully covered by insurance.
The fire started in the Rohlfing store, a four-story structure, which was heavily stocked with pianos and sheet music. The building and contents were licked up in the space of half an hour and the fire quickly spread to buildings on either side. William Rohlfing & Sons' loss will reach $250,000.
William E. Goodman, plumber, occupying the next building north, lost $10,000 on his stock, and Ferry & Giass and Elmer Grey, architect firms, and William Marnitz, tailor, sustained losses aggregating about $25,000. The flames then leaped to the sixth floor of the old insurance building to the south and completely destroyed that floor. The loss on this building will reach $10,000.
A number of attorneys in this building also suffered losses. The cause of the fire is unknown.


Source: The New York Times, New York, NY 14 Feb 1909

Milwaukee Firemen Caught Under a Falling Wall.

MILWAUKEE, Wis., Feb. 13.---Five firemen were killed and about a dozen injured, two fatally, by the toppling over of a brick wall while they were fighting fire in the big plant of the H. W. Johns Manville Manufacturing Company at 225 Clybourne Street this afternoon. An employe[sic] of the concern received burns in his attempt to escape from the burning building which resulted in his death at a hospital.

The pecuniary loss is estimated at $25,000, covered by insurance.

The dead are:

Assistant Chief James G. Gunning, Lieut. N. J. Whaley, Joseph Bilinski, pipeman; James Burke, John Kraft.

The dead employe was Thomas Pitchs.

Two companies of firemen were stationed on a wall and roof of the Waltham Piano building south of the H. W. Johns Manville plant when, without warning, the rear wall of the burning building bulged outward and crashed down. The firemen were caught under the mass of brick and timber, which smashed through the roof of the piano warehouse, carrying the firemen to the floor below.

The fire followed an explosion of oil on the second floor of the plant of the Manville Company.




Source: Milwaukee Free Press, Milwaukee, WI 25 May 1909

Historic Old Building Lately in State of Collapse and Decay - In the Midst of Fine Neighborhood.

Fire of unknown origin caused the practical destruction of the famous old "Crow's Nest," at Tenth and Cedar street, perhaps the best known and oldest landmark in the Second ward, yesterday afternoon. A rambling old frame structure, made up of at least ten additions built in as many years, it had been used as a saloon and palm garden continuously for the past sixty years, until one month ago when it became vacant. From the once most popular Bohemian resort in the city it had degenerated in that time to an almost desterted tumble-down tavern.

For the past few years the "Crow's Nest" had been conducted by Mrs. C. L. Turner, who took charge on the death of her husband. But with the change of conditions incidental to the enlargement of the city and the deterioration of the building much of the real romance and many of the well-known traditions connected with the inn were forgotten and its patroms steadily decreased in number.

Last Occupants Were "Hobos."

About one month ago Mrs. Turner vacated the building and it has remained unoccupied since that thime, with the exception of a few stray "hobos" who, according to the neighbors, made it their headquarters.

The proeprty is owned by Edwin H. Slvyer, 258 Tenth street, and although it is said that the Blatz Brewing company holds a lease on it for another year, it is probable that the landmark will be razed. The flames, which were discovered at 2:45 o'clock, destroyed the roof and scuttled the entire building before they were extinguished, about half an hour later.

Lots Originally Cost $25.

In 1845, John Hess, one of the Second ward pioneers, bought the lots on which the building now stands, and those adjacent, paying $25 each for them. The change in value of land is shown by the fact that the east 277 feet sold for $16,000, considered low, in 1901.

In the 40's the south branch of the Watertown plank road started at Cedar and Eleventh streets, and ran southwest to join the north branch at Fifteenth and Prairie streets. Hess realized that this corner would be an attractive one for a tavern, and he built the original one-story frame building. The streets had not then been graded, which accounts for the building being so high above the present level.

Old settlers recall the tavern set back among the trees, appearing in the evening when the lights were lit, for all the world like a stage picture of an Alpine hut, half concealed by dense foliage. It was there that the Turn Verein Milwaukee, which has since won athletic prizes on both sides of the Atlantic, was organized. There in the quaint wainscoted tap room, in which lamps and candles gave light for a quarter century before the gas pipes, laid bare on the walls and ceiling, were put in, it was that the pioneers of Milwaukee would gather each evening.

Bowling alleys, removed two decades ago, were in constant use.

There also the first skat enthusiasts tried their skill.

Once Was a Brewery.

Every corner in the building is rich in tradition. From its construction until 1852 the building was used as a tavern; from then until 1857 it was a brewery, after which time it was again used as a tavern. During its history brands of beer, now almost forgotten, including Owen's, Melm's, Best's, Gippel's, Schultz & Schneider's, John Brown's, August Krug's, Jacob Ennes's, Wehr's, Schweickhart's, Goes & Falk's, Altpeter's, Mayer & Hohl's, Blossob's, Felix Calgeer's, and others, were retailed there.

Firemen Poisoned by Arsenic Fumes 1915

The New York Times, New York, NY 23 Apr 1915

Seven Men Including Deputy Chief Langford Overcome After Leaving Small Blaze.
Blaze at Which Men Were Prostrated Like Milwaukee Fire After Which Twelve Died.
Deputy Chief Langford got one whiff of the fumes which poured from the quarters of the Sheffield Standard Plating Company on the second floor of 206-208 Canal Street early last evening and then ordered the men of Engine 31 and Truck 6 to get out of the place at once. some chemicals were giving off fumes which the Chief recognized as containing arsenic, and although there was no fire, he knew that the fumes were more deadly than any smoke or flame. Several hours later he himself was overcome by the poison and five men had been taken to the hospitals.
Firemen Louis Keller and Frederick Hendrick of Truck 6 succumbed in the quarters of their company at 77 Canal Street and were removed to Gouveneur Hospital. Battalion Chief Crowley and Fireman Morrell, also of Truck 6, became ill later and were hurried to the hospital also.
Then an alarm came in for a small fire in the upper stories of a rear building back of 17 John Street. Fireman John Spineer, Crowley's driver, was working there when he sank down. Dr. Archer, the Fire Department surgeon, said he was suffering from poison received at the first fire and sent him to Volunteer Hospital.

Captain Sidney Johnson of Fire Patrol 1 was also taken sick in quarters, but was not removed to the hospital. Dr. Archer said he and Chief Langford were not as badly affected as the others and probably would recover without going to a hospital.
Chief Kenlon said that the Canal Street blaze was like a fire in Milwaukee two years ago, after which twelve firemen, none of whom complained while fighting the fire, died within twenty-four hours of poisoning.

Rescue Company 1 was called to the work yesterday, and the men with their oxygen helmets entered the place and found that a thiry-two-gallon cauldron was filled with bubbling chemicals which were boiling and giving off the deadly fumes. They bailed the cauldron out until they could lift it, and then emptied its contents into the sewer. The wooden floor was smouldering, but there was no fire.

Blaze In Phoenix Plant Checked To A Loss Of $4,000

Source: Sheboygan Press, Sheboygan, WI 25 Feb 1925

Milwaukee (UP)--A blaze in the plant of the Phoenix Light company here last night was checked just as it was spreading into large quantities of excelsior and straw. Had the alarm been delayed a few minutes the flames would have been out of control. Nearby was a carload of excelsior and a bin full of straw, used to pack fragile light fixtures.

Loss is estimated about $4,000, the blaze damaging light shades of delicate color and fine texture.


Source: Waukesha Daily Freeman (Waukesha, Wisconsin) 1949 May 28

Is Destroyed by Fire

Milwaukee (UP)- A historic landmark in Milwaukee was destroyed by fire early today, and officials said the fire might have been started by vandals.

The tiny log cabin, the original home of Solomon Juneau, was burned to the ground before firemen were called to the scene.

Rooming House Fire 1956

Source: Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin) 1956 January 19

6-Death Fire
Second Worst in Milwaukee, Chief Says

Milwaukee (AP) - Fire Chief Edward Wischer, in an official report to Mayor Zeidler, Wednesday called Sunday's rooming house fire which killed six, "second to the Newhall House fire from the standpoint of civilian loss of life."

"In my experience," the veteran fire chief said, "this is one of the worst tragedies that has ever happened to Milwaukee." He went on to cite the "progress of the fire, the number of occupants, the early orning hour and other factors,"which he said could have contributed to an even higher toll of lives.

Flames were discovered in the three story brick building on the city's lower East Side at 1:47 a.m. Nearly 50 people were in the structure at the time. Survivors escaped by jumping from windows into firemen's nets, were carried down ladders and leaped to the ground.

Damage was estimated at $80,000.

Wischer said additional investigation was scheduled for today in the continuing probe to discover the cause of the blaze.

The Newhall House fire, in the early hours of Jan. 10, 1883, resulted in 100 deaths.