How Vermilion burned its way into the 20th century

By; Rich Tarrant

During the early years of the 20th century there were a number of very significant fires in Vermilion. In December of 1903 nearly all the buildings on the west side of Division (now Main) Street, just south of the railroad tracks, went up in flames. And just seven years later, on April 1, 1910, twenty-two cottages at Linwood Park were lost in a raging inferno that was stoked by high winds, a shortage of water and choked pumps on the town’s firefighting equipment. Remarkably, no lives were lost during any of these conflagrations.

It is important to understand that during these years the primary lighting and heating source for most folks was either coal, wood or some form of very flammable liquid. Marry such things to the human condition and it’s a veritable wonder that such fires weren’t more prevalent. On the other hand, having a crackerjack volunteer fire department was, is and remains very advantageous too.

On Monday August 31, 1931 the fire bell rang out again. This time the alarm was for Linwood Park where a 3-story cottage (aka Friendship Apartments) owned by one Rev. Fassinger of Warren, Pennsylvania and an adjoining cottage (aka Forest Nook) owned by Miss Agnes Gray and a Miss Kistler of St. Louis were in flames. Mrs. Fassinger and a Mrs. William Dornhern of Pittsburg along with her two children were in the Friendship Apartments – and Agnes and Anna Gray, along with Myrtle Wiley were in the other cottage.

It seems that Mrs. Dornhern had risen early to light the oil stove to heat water for washing clothes. She then returned to bed and was reading to her husband when their daughter, who had been asleep on the third floor, called down to tell her that she smelled smoke. Initially, Mrs. D. ignored her daughter. But when she called down again she arose, started for the first floor, and was met by smoke and flames.

Meanwhile the Forest Nook cottage families were still in bed. By the time they understood the situation the only things they managed to save were themselves. While Miss Gray had grabbed a coat and a suitcase of clothing she had placed it on the ground too near the fire and flames, and it, too, was consumed.

It is very likely that firefighters vividly remembered the horrendous 1910 Linwood fire. And though the two cottages in this event were destroyed the Vermilion Fire Department led by Chief W.A. Tischer did manage to contain it to just the two buildings. The loss was estimated to have been around $5000 with the contents equaling that amount.

Unlike the 1910 fire there were several casualties related to this one. Vermilion’s Fire Chief suffered a painful gash on the arm when a burning branch hit him. Also, the Lorain Fire Department, that had been called to assist and to insure that the fire did not spread, crashed into a car at the bridge at Beaver Creek injuring five members of their department. Fortunately, their services were not needed.

In a letter written one day following the fire a young lady who had been staying at Linwood described the fire to her mother: “…[The fire] Started with the kerosene stoves and after the fire was going good you could hear the different stoves explode (the oil tanks I mean). The cottages were a mass of flames from the ground up to the great big tree over 100 years old…It’s a good thing it didn’t happen today instead of yesterday, as there is a high wind blowing from the back…”

On September 11, 1931 a local newspaper ran an article noting that Park representatives had met with J. Gessner of the Northland Construction Company to talk about further extension of a water main for added protection in the Park. But better yet, about a year later natural gas was brought to the park significantly reducing the need and / or the desire to use kerosene, oil, coal or wood as a regular fuel. The Twentieth Century – the Age of Extremes and Possibilities – was surely now underway.

Ref: Special Thanks to Joel Vormelker; The Sandusky Star-Register 09/11/1931; The Vermilion News 09/03/1931; Through These Gates: Linwood Park by Karen and Ray Boas.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com

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