Posts Tagged Village of South Evanston

Evanston Fire Department History – Part 17

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

The Villa Celeste
 
The Village of Evanston annexed the Village of South Evanston thereby forming the greater City of Evanston in 1892. The proponents of the annexation argued that if the two villages did not unite and form “a strong city of our own,” that separately they were both almost certain to be annexed by the City of Chicago. This domino theory was soon given further credence, as the Village of Rogers Park — South Evanston’s neighbor to the south — was annexed by Chicago in 1893.    

After Chicago annexed Rogers Park, some of the residents of South Evanston — led by fiery 3rd Ward Alderman Pat O’Neill —  insisted that the brand-new unified City of Evanston should allow itself to be annexed by its larger and more powerful neighbor to the south. The rationale was that a large city such as Chicago could provide significantly better city services — especially police and fire protection — than a smaller city like Evanston could. This was especially important to the wealthier residents of South Evanston, who felt that because they paid a larger share of property taxes, that they should receive better municipal services. And Chicago did, in fact, attempt to annex Evanston in 1894, but Evanston voters declined the offer, and it appeared that the annexation issue was laid to rest. However, the issue was unexpectedly resurrected 15 years later. 

On Thursday, March 11, 1909, at 12:30 PM, the Evanston Fire Department responded to an attic fire at the Villa Celeste, the palatial South Evanston home of P. Leonard (“Guy”) McKinnie, located at 721 Sheridan Road. Directing operations at the scene, Chief Fire Marshal Carl Harrison — as was his usual practice — initially ordered firefighters to attack the fire in the attic with soda-acid from one of the chemical-engines. By using only chemicals, Chief Harrison hoped to minimize water-damage to the rest of the house. But because the fire was entombed within the walls and ceilings, firemen were unable to locate and extinguish the seat of the blaze.

Firefighters soon found themselves utilizing water-flow from some 3,000 feet of hose-line — two 2-1/2” lines from Engine 1, one 2-1/2” line directly from a nearby hydrant, and a line from the chemical apparatus — in a vain effort to suppress the fire in the attic and third floor. With the fire department using 2-1/2” hose-lines, water damage to property located on the lower floors became a problem. All firemen were busily engaged in fire suppression and ventilation efforts, so neighbors enlisted the aid of children from nearby Lincoln School to assist the McKinnies in removing their priceless art collection and valuable antique furniture from the lower floors. 

As minutes turned into hours, it was becoming increasingly obvious to everyone present that firefighters were making absolutely no headway. Frustrated, homeowner McKinnie demanded that Chief Harrison send for the steam fire engine (old “City of Evanston No. 1”) that was kept in reserve at Fire Station # 2 on Chicago Avenue. McKinnie even offered to dispatch a livery-team of his own to Station # 2 to bring the steamer to the scene. Chief Harrison refused, explaining to McKinnie that lack of water was not the problem.

For six hours, the men of the EFD struggled mightily to contain the blaze. However, the flames encroached further into the ceilings and walls, and by nightfall the Villa Celeste was gutted. Six Evanston firefighters suffered injuries while battling the blaze: 

              Chief Carl Harrison – finger severed when cut by glass shards;

              Assistant Chief Jack Sweeting – smoke inhalation;

              Fireman William Hofstetter – hand laceration;

              Fireman Edward Johnson – foot injury;

              Fireman John Wilbern – smoke inhalation;

              Fireman William Wilbern – smoke inhalation / bruised when struck by falling debris.                                       

  As a coup de grace, the stubborn blaze rekindled at about 11:30 PM, five hours after the EFD  had left the scene. Firefighters dutifully returned, and spent another hour pouring water into the ruins.

The final damage estimate was $40,000, the fourth highest damage estimate from a fire in Evanston’s history up to that point in time. The only previous fires with a higher damage estimate had been the tragic Mark Manufacturing Company fire in 1905, the Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse blaze in 1894, and the Willard Block conflagration in 1872.

Chief Harrison would later say “… dozens of engines couldn’t have saved the house… the only way to extinguish the fire would have been to submerge the house into the lake…” (Which Harrison probably would have done if it had been an option!)

The fire was extinguished, but controversy simmered and boiled. Guy McKinnie and other wealthy South Evanston residents asserted that Evanston should once again invite itself to be annexed by Chicago. However, Fire Marshal James Horan, chief of the Chicago Fire Department, threw cold water onto the idea. Chief Horan candidly explained that some outlying areas of Chicago had no fire protection, and that if annexed, Evanston would be mainly ignored until other more-pressing needs were addressed. Horan claimed that major fire protection improvements were needed at the Stock Yards, and that Chicago also needed a high-pressure waterworks in the downtown “high value” district.

And Chief Horan’s analysis of Chicago’s fire protection needs would be proven tragically (and ironically) correct. Horan and 20 other Chicago firemen were killed when a wall collapsed onto them while they were fighting a fire at the Stock Yards on December 22, 1910.

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History of Evanston Fire Department – Part 6

More from Phil Stenholm:

At 4 AM on Saturday morning, September 14, 1889, fire struck the brand-new J. J. Foster Building (stores and apartments) at the northeast corner of Church & Benson. With Fire Marshal Sam Harrison absent from the village, former EFD Chief W. R. “Bob” Bailey took command, assisted by several former members of the legendary Pioneer Fire Company.

A main broke after water-pressure was increased, causing the direct-pressure system to be ineffective. With very low water-pressure, firefighters were unable to get enough water on the fire, and the blaze communicated to the 2nd Baptist Church chapel to the north and threatened Haven School to the east. (The original Haven School was located at the northwest corner of Church & Sherman). Bailey called for assistance from both the South Evanston and Chicago fire departments. The fire was finally extinguished after a Chicago F. D. engine company arrived with a steam fire engine, but not before $25,000 worth of damage.  

On Saturday, December 26, 1891, Evanston firefighters battled a blaze in a barn situated behind the French House. (Located at the northwest corner of Hinman & Greenwood, the French House was one of Evanston’s two hotels at the time). The barn and its contents were quickly destroyed, and high winds threatened to extend the fire to several surrounding homes, as well as to the hotel itself. Chief Harrison called for assistance from neighboring towns, and firefighters from the Village of South Evanston, the Village of Rogers Park, and the City of Chicago responded.

Although the assistance provided by the South Evanston and Rogers Park fire departments was appreciated, it was the steam fire engine from the Chicago F. D. (Engine Co. 55, under the command of Capt. Galbraith) that made the difference. Supplying three 2-1/2 inch hose lines, Engine 55 made quick work of the battle, and the neighborhood was saved.

The Village of Evanston (population 12,072) annexed the Village of South Evanston (population 3,205) in 1892, forming what is known today as the “City of Evanston.” The Village of South Evanston’s waterworks had failed during 1891, and Evanston would only provide water to South Evanston if its residents agreed to annexation… which they did, albeit reluctantly.

Evanston’s firefighting force was increased from four men to seven, and the position of Fire Marshal was made full-time (and the Fire Marshal’s annual salary was increased from $200 to $1,000) after the annexation. The annual salary for Evanston’s “line” firefighters was increased from $480 to $600 in 1893.

The fire & police departments moved into the new city hall at the northwest corner of Davis & Sherman in 1893. The fire department was evicted from the facility in 1897 however, amid complaints from fellow city hall occupants regarding residual smoke from the fire department’s steam fire engine, and the sickening odor caused by the stabling of the EFD’s horses inside the building.     

Lincoln Avenue is what Main Street was called at the time Evanston annexed South Evanston in 1892, and by 1894, the street name still hadn’t been changed. The Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse was the only school in South Evanston at the time. It was located at the southeast corner of Lincoln & Benson (Main & Elmwood), the future site of Central School, and consisted of the original school building (a three-story brick structure — two floors plus attic, with a full basement), and an attached annex (wood-frame & brick) that was built in 1890.

This incident occurred on the first day of Spring (Wednesday, March 21, 1894) at 10:20 AM.

SOBS AND MOANS FILLED THE AIR AS THE FLOOR WHERE THE CHILD WAS LAST SEEN BROKE AND CRASHED DOWNWARD. BUT THEY WERE SUDDENLY CHANGED TO SHOUTS OF JOY AS BRAVE SAM HARRISON AND GEORGE HARGREAVES CAME INTO VIEW BEARING THE LIMP FORM OF THE CHILD FOR WHOM THEY HAD RISKED THEIR LIVES. THEIR FACES WERE BLACKENED AND THE BLOOD WAS RUNNING FROM A PAINFUL WOUND IN HARRISON’S HAND.

THEY FOUND THE CHILD IN ONE OF THE AISLES, LYING FACE DOWNWARD. THE SMOKE WAS SO THICK THAT IT WAS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THEY RETAINED STRENGTH TO REACH THE DOORWAY LEADING TO THE STAIRS. ONCE HARRISON FELL, BUT FORTUNATELY RETAINED HIS SENSES. IT WAS THEN THAT HE INJURED HIS HAND.

JUST AS THEY REACHED THE HALL OF THE REAR ANNEX, THE FLOOR AREA OVER WHICH THEY HAD GROPED WENT DOWN. HAD THEY BEEN A MOMENT LATER, BOTH RESCUERS AND GEORGE HARGREAVES MUST HAVE PERISHED.”

Chicago Herald, March 22, 1894.

Fire destroyed the school, but all of the children were rescued, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Evanston firefighters (Sam Harrison and George Hargreaves in particular) and an expressman named Sam Mack. Mack was passing by the school en route to the South Evanston C&NW RR depot when he noticed smoke pouring from the school’s windows, and children crawling out onto a second floor ledge. Mack calmly directed the children to jump into his arms to escape the flames, repeating the drill until the arrival of the Evanston Fire Department. Chicago F. D. Engine Co. 70 assisted Evanston firefighters in quelling the blaze. 

The Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse fire would stand for more than ten years as the single worst fire in Evanston’s history, until the Mark Manufacturing Company fire of December 1905.

In the aftermath of the Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse fire, the Evanston City Council gave the EFD virtual carte blanche to improve its operations. Chief Harrison successfully lobbied for acquisition of a fire alarm telegraph, with placement of fire alarm boxes on street corners to provide citizens with the means to report a fire quickly. In the case of the Lincoln Avenue schoolhouse fire, a citizen ran three blocks to report the fire in person at Fire Station # 2 on Chicago Ave..

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Evanston Fire Department history

From Phil Stenholm:

105 years ago today…

The Village of Evanston annexed the Village of South Evanston (forming the greater City of Evanston) in 1892. The proponents of the annexation argued that if the two villages did not unite and form “a strong city of our own,” that separately they were both almost certain to be annexed by the City of Chicago. This domino theory was soon given further credence, as the Village of Rogers Park (South Evanston’s neighbor to the south) was annexed by Chicago in 1893.

After Chicago annexed Rogers Park, some of the residents of South Evanston (led by 3rd Ward Alderman Pat O’Neill) insisted that the brand-new unified City of Evanston should also allow itself to be annexed by its larger and more powerful neighbor to the south. The rationale was that a large city such as Chicago could provide significantly better city services (such as police and fire protection) than a smaller city like Evanston could. This was especially important to the wealthier residents of South Evanston, who felt that because they paid a larger share of property taxes, that they should receive better municipal services. Chicago did, in fact, attempt to annex Evanston in 1894, but Evanston voters declined the offer, and it appeared that the annexation issue was laid to rest. However, the issue was unexpectedly resurrected 15 years later.

On Thursday, March 11, 1909, at 12:30 PM, the Evanston Fire Department responded to an attic fire at the “Villa Celeste,” the palatial South Evanston home of P. Leonard (“Guy”) McKinnie, located at 721 Sheridan Road. Directing operations at the scene, Chief Fire Marshal Carl Harrison–as was his usual practice–initially ordered fire fighters to attack the fire in the attic with soda-acid from one of the chemical-engines. By using only chemicals (soda-acid), Chief Harrison hoped to minimize water-damage to the rest of the house. But because the fire was entombed within the walls and ceilings, firemen were unable to locate and extinguish the seat of the blaze.

Fire fighters soon found themselves utilizing water-flow from some 3,000 feet of hose-line (two 2-1/2” lines from Engine 1, one 2-1/2” line directly from a nearby hydrant, and a line from the chemical apparatus) in a vain effort to suppress the fire in the attic and 3rd floor. With the fire department using 2-1/2” hose-lines, water damage to property located on the lower floors became a problem. All firemen were busily engaged in fire suppression and ventilation efforts, so neighbors enlisted the aid of children from nearby Lincoln School to assist the McKinnies in removing their priceless art collection and valuable antique furniture from the lower floors.

As minutes turned into hours, it was becoming increasingly obvious to everyone present that fire fighters were making absolutely no headway. Frustrated, homeowner McKinnie demanded that Chief Harrison send for the steam fire engine (old “City of Evanston No. 1”) kept in reserve at Fire Station # 2 on Chicago Avenue. McKinnie even offered to dispatch a livery-team of his own to Station # 2 to bring the steamer to the scene. Harrison refused, explaining to McKinnie that lack of water was not the problem.

For six hours, the men of the EFD struggled mightily to contain the blaze. However, the flames encroached further into the ceilings and walls, and by nightfall the “Villa Celeste” was gutted. Six Evanston fire fighters suffered injuries while battling the blaze:

Chief Carl Harrison – finger severed when cut by glass shards
Assistant Chief Jack Sweeting – smoke inhalation
Fireman William Hofstetter – hand laceration
Fireman Ed Johnson – foot injury
Fireman John Wilbern – smoke inhalation
Fireman William Wilbern – smoke inhalation/bruised when struck by debris.

As a coup de grace, the stubborn blaze rekindled at about 11:30 PM (five hours after the EFD had left the scene). Fire fighters dutifully returned, and spent another hour pouring water into the ruins. The final damage estimate was $40,000. Chief Harrison would later say “… dozens of engines couldn’t have saved the house … the only way to extinguish the fire would have been to submerge the house into the lake …” (Which Harrison probably would have done if it had been an option!)

The fire was extinguished, but controversy simmered and boiled. Guy McKinnie and other wealthy South Evanston residents asserted that Evanston should (once again) invite itself to be annexed by Chicago. However, James Horan, chief of the Chicago Fire Department, threw cold water onto the idea. Chief Horan candidly explained that some outlying areas of Chicago had no fire protection, and that if annexed, Evanston would be mainly ignored until other more-pressing needs were addressed. Horan claimed that major fire protection improvements were needed at the Stock Yards, and that Chicago also needed a high-pressure waterworks in the downtown “high value” district.

Talk of annexation died as fire protection in South Evanston was upgraded in 1911. Three fire fighters were transferred to Fire Station # 2, and two new horses were acquired (bringing the total number of horses in service with the Evanston Fire Department at this point to 19 … the most it would ever have), allowing the Ahrens steamer to be placed into front-line service at Station # 2 on February 15th. (“Truck Co. 2” became “Engine Co. 2” at this time).

Chief Horan’s analysis of Chicago’s fire protection needs would be proven tragically (and ironically) correct. Horan and 20 other Chicago firemen were killed when a wall collapsed onto them while they were fighting a fire at the Stock Yards on December 22, 1910.

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