Forged by Fire: Elkton’s Main Street

In August, a Window on Cecil County’s Past did a piece on the 1948 Main Street fire.  Today we’re posting a piece that examines the other Main Street fires in the 20th century.

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The history of Elkton’s Main Street has been one of disastrous fires. In fact, one such conflagration in September 1891, has­tened the formation of the Singerly Fire Com­pany. During that blaze, Wilmington firefight­ers loaded steam engines onto a P.W. &B train and rushed to help Elkton.Advances in fire safety codes, fire depart­ment equipment, and fire suppression meth­ods have reduced the threat of fires in heavily built-up areas. Nonetheless, in this century some big ones have occurred on the old thoroughfare’s business district.

The Payne Store Fire, December 14, 1901 – One stormy, rain soaked Saturday night, a fire raged on the south side of W. Main St., across from the present-day courthouse. The wind was blowing a “perfect gale” as the fire bell at Council Hall pealed out its call for help. Having started in Payne’s millinery store, the fire destroyed or badly damaged Heatzig’s General Store, the Levis business block, the drug store of J. Frank Frazer, and the office and exchange of the Eastern Shore Telephone Com­pany. Before fleeing the exchange, the night operator made one last-minute call, a connection with the home office in Dover, Del. inform­ing them the exchange was doomed. The late train from Dover that night carried a new switchboard; it arrived in Elkton early Sunday morning. At the fire’s height, Mayor George McQuilken tele­graphed for aid from Wilm­ington, Del. but the request was cancelled before help left that city. The loss was estimat­ed at $25,000.

The East Main Street Blaze, June 21, 1923 – One hot day, nine fire companies, including Engine 5 of Wilmington, Del., fought a blaze that destroyed or badly damaged five build­ings on the south side of W. Main St., between North and Bow streets. The fire, centered in the area occupied by the Anthony William’s barber shop and Jewelry Store and the American Stores, spread to other businesses including the A&P Store and, Elkton Candy Land. Companies took stations on Johnson’s Wharf along the Big Elk Creek to re­lay water to Main Street.  A Steam Fire Engine, Chesa­peake City’s, having been towed to Elkton by motor­ truck, had the longest line of hose. The loss was about $50,000.

The Howard House Blaze, April 12, 1926 – Elkton’s “old­est and largest hotel,” the Ho­ward House and the adjoining clothing store of Jacob Sigman were badly damaged by a fire that originated in the hotel in the overnight hours. “At the time there were between 40 and 50 persons in the building; some of them experienced con­siderable difficulty in escap­ing,” said the Cecil Democrat. Eight volunteer fire companies assisted Elkton. An emerging fire department technology, the automo­bile, made a difference in con­trolling the blaze, the Cecil Democrat asserted. “Prompt response from distant towns . . . would have been impossible without the modern, automo­bile fire engine. Monday’s fire . . . very forcefully demon­strated the necessity of “modern fire-fighting equipment for rural communities.” Damage was estimated at $60,000.

The World War II Blaze, No­vember 15, 1942 – On a Mon­day evening during World War II, a fire, burning out of control for more than six hours, destroyed or badly damaged five buildings on the creek side of E. Main St., be­tween North Street and the courthouse. Damage was esti­mated at $100,000. Besides area volunteers, Singerly was assisted by a squad from Bainbridge Naval Training Center and the munitions plant.

Reubenstone Building Blaze, December 6, 1953 – Fifty-two years earlier a fire occurred in the same area of E. Main St., opposite the present day courthouse, an area then known as the Payne Block. This early morning blaze swept through midtown, gut­ting a restaurant, four stores and several apartments, in­cluding Frazer’s Drug Store and William B. Merrey and Sons Wholesalers.

The Christmas Eve Fire – De­cember 24, 1964 – A Christmas Eve fire on E. Main St., across from the courthouse, required five companies to control a blaze that heavily damaged two buildings. Starting in the “Auctioneer’s Outlet Store/’ it did heavy damage to the law office of the Kenneth A. Wilcox and smoke damage to other offices. Companies checked the fire on Christmas morning.

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