Double Disaster in 1909

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Double Disaster in 1909


In the first days of August, 1909, Richmond was dealt a double disaster which left it stunned for a while.

Dark clouds came up ominously about the time people were sitting down to their evening meal on Aug. 5. Before the supper dishes could be washed, bright flashes and cracking thunder ushered in an intense and frightening electrical storm.

“Richmond was visited," the Climax editor reported, "by the worst storm ever seen in this section." Amid a torrent of rain, lightning was seen in all directions, and sparks popped loudly on the carbon arrestors on wooden wall telephones. The air was filled with crashing noises as many of the city's tall trees were struck down.

A telephone call brought out firemen to fight a blaze caused by lightning at the barn of Steve Haynes, a local mail carrier, but all they were able to save was his horse. The hose was scarcely loaded back onto the fire wagon when the word came that lightning had struck the Stanifer & Soper store building on Main Street. Three streams of water were soon trained on the conflagration, but the whole top story was ablaze and the final damage was heavy. The immense stock of "gent's clothes and furnishings" was also greatly damaged, and the insurance was not enough to cover about $4,000 loss on the stock.

While the fire department volunteers were using their equipment at the Stanifer & Soper fire, lightning struck the barn of John and Ed McCord near town. The entire barn was soon destroyed, as well as its contents. The McCords, who were large horse dealers, lost five thoroughbreds and one jack. One thoroughbred was led from the burning barn but broke loose and ran back in to its firey death.

The fear and anxiety which had swept over the city increased as darkness came on. Many homes were without electric lights or telephone service because of the numerous trees which had fallen across power lines. It was extremely dangerous to venture outside on the wet ground with the "hot" wires hanging loose.

People were still talking abort the terrifying storm four nights later when another disaster struck. About 9 p.m. on Aug. 9, fire broke out in the loft of the huge J.W. Azbill livery stable on Main Street, between First and B Streets (later the location of Witt Motor Co.). The fire department was on the job with just about everything it had, but the entire loft and second floor were engulfed in flames.

Almost miraculously, all the horses were led to safety and several buggies on the ground floor were pulled out. Unfortunately, all the best vehicles including the private carriages of several customers were all destroyed on the second floor.

The fire raged through the long building all the way back to Irvine Street. There, the flames leaped to the fire department building next door and reduced it to ruins. A set of horse cart harness was about all the fire equipment that was consumed, for everything else was around on Main Street at the time. Another building on Irvine Street that was burned was Joe Thurman's warehouse where animal hides were bought and prepared for shipment.

Next door to the livery stable on Main was Thurman's grocery which did not burn, but still had considerable damage from well-meaning volunteers who carried the groceries out and stacked them in the street. Kennedy Bros, pool room next door suffered considerable water damage. Total losses were estimated around $30,000. After their all-night work, the firemen wearily parked their horse-drawn equipment and bedded down their horses temporarily at Duncan's livery stable on Irvine Street until more permanent quarters could be arranged.


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “Double Disaster in 1909,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed April 15, 2024,