Richard D. L. Fulton

Readers of November 27, 1897, issue of The Baltimore Sun, were greeted by this: “A fire, which at one time threatened to sweep away the whole town of Taneytown, Carroll County, began this evening (November 26) about 7 o’clock (p.m.)…”

Those who resided in the Taneytown area at large were likely already aware of the blaze, as the reflection of the flames in the sky and the rising smoke were reportedly seen as far away as Emmitsburg, and Hanover, Pennsylvania, more than 15 miles away, according to The Democrat Advocate.

Although the cause of the costly fire was never ascertained, a number of newspapers, large and small, reported on much of the details of the event, which The Advocate summed up in their headline, “Taneytown Narrowly Escapes Destruction.”

Three factors aided in the spread of the flames:

    The majority of the businesses and homes in Taneytown at the time were wooden-framed structures, as was the case in most of the rural Mid-Atlantic towns and communities dating back to their founding. Trees were common then. Bricks were more expensive.

    The second issue was the lack of a water supply system and its associated pipeline infrastructure. Construction of a waterworks had been previously begun, but had not yet been completed, according to The Baltimore SunThe Democrat Advocate noted that, fortunately, there was plenty of water available (mainly in the form of local wells, but …

    The third factor contributing to the spread of the fire came into play – Taneytown did not have a “regularly organized” fire department at the time that could have delivered and utilized the water from the wells.  As a result, The Baltimore Sun reported, “every citizen responded to the call for help,” no doubt through the employment of bucket brigades, wherein people form a chain, passing buckets of water hand-to-hand from the source of the water to where it is needed, and then passing the empty buckets back to the wells.

While, as previously stated, the cause of the fire was never determined during, or in the wake of the inferno. Where it began was known almost immediately.

According to The Democrat Advocate, the fire started in a wooden “hay packing warehouse,” belonging to Tobias H. Eckenrode around 7:45 p.m. on the evening of November 26. The Baltimore Sun, which gave the time of the fire as having been 7:00 p.m., also stated that the warehouse was also storing hay, grain, and other items at the time of the fire.

Destructive fire was no stranger to Eckenrode property in Taneytown. In 1889, a blaze broke out in his coal and lumber sheds, fanned by high winds, according to The Baltimore Sun. That fire was also described as posing a threat to the town, as well as to the warehouse, which was ultimately leveled by the 1897 fire.

As far as the 1897 blaze, the Baltimore newspaper reported that “in a short while both warehouse and the adjoining buildings were in the flames.” So quickly was the fire gaining ground and potentially threatening the town, that help was sought to combat the fire from as far away as Littlestown, Pennsylvania (whose fire department reportedly arrived by 9:00 p.m.). The Baltimore Sun, however, reported that by the time the Littlestown hose company arrived, the fire was essentially already under control, although a “number of the buildings were still in flames.”

The Democrat Advocate reported that it was clear from the start that the Eckenrode warehouse was “doomed,” and, thus, the citizens endeavored to protect nearby property,” further noting the intensity of the heat had quickly spread the fire to a building housing the local newspaper.

The Democrat Advocate further reported that local authorities had also sought help from the Hanover firefighters but were told the Hanover firemen could not take their apparatus out of Hanover “without the permission of the burgess, and before he could be found, the last train had departed.”

Also arriving were multitudes of interested observers. “Great crowds of people from the vicinity and surrounding county were at the fire, as the blaze could be seen for (10-15) miles (in all directions).” The Advocate reported that “the flames were fierce, leaping high in the air.”

The next notable structure which had succumbed to the inferno was a wooden, three-story building, belonging to E. E. Reindollar, which contained the office and printing operations of The Carroll Record, according to The Sun.

All of the newspaper’s machinery, lead type, and other equipment were destroyed in the fire; arrangements were subsequently made by Editor P. H. Englar with The Frederick News to publish The Carroll Record in their offices, until The Record’s office in Taneytown could be restored, The Sun reported. The Record had only been in business for about four years.

From the building that had housed the newspaper, the fire had quickly spread to Stanley Heaver’s saddler shop, a dwelling owned by Eckenrode and was being rented by Josiah Snyder, and a double dwelling owned by John Davidson.

The fire was essentially declared under control before midnight, The Sun stated. Most of the fire-fighting effort was the result of citizen volunteers, who had extinguished the worst of it by hauling water from wells, before Littlestown firefighters could arrive at the scene.

Damage to the buildings that were affected by the flames amounted to some $20,000, by early estimates, but the value of the business and personal contents of each of the buildings that had burned remained undetermined at the time, according to several newspapers. Those included (according to The Sun):

The loss suffered by the burning of the Eckenrode warehouse, which included a dwelling, other structures, and the stored grain and hay, was given as being $8,500, of which only $5,600 was covered by insurance.

    The loss of the Carroll Record Printng Company(the newspaper) and the saddlery shop amounted to $5,000. The loss of the contents of the newspaper was listed as $2,000, of which only $1,000 was insured.

    F. S. Stakey’s cigar shop (located in a building owned by Stanley Reader) sustained an estimated $900 in cigar stock, of which $500 was insured.

    John Davidson’s dwelling, including contents, sustained a loss of $4,000, of which $3,400 was insured.

Other buildings in the town were also damaged by the fire, but their sustained damages were “very slight.”

That there were no noteworthy injuries or deaths associated with the fire-fighting effort was remarkable, given that it was largely brought under control by citizen volunteers.

But five miles out of Taneytown at Bruce Mill Junction, another devastating fire had destroyed Hammond’s Mill, located along Little Pipe Creek, on December 3, only a week after the Taneytown fire.

The outcome was not so fortunate. 

Miller George Biehl was last heard from when he was calling for help from within the burning building.

According to The Democrat Advocate, “After the fire, his bones were found in the ruins of the mill and taken to his residence… They were interred later.”

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