Ghosts of Main Street: That Fiend Fire!

November 8, 2018

On the blustery night of November 3, 1904, 114 years ago last week, fire broke out in a building near Marion’s epicenter of Main and Mill. Almost before the alarm could be sounded the wind fanned flames were consuming the wooden structures of early Marion. By morning much of the Marion our forefathers knew no longer existed. Her look had changed but not her spirit.
Through its history, like any town or city anywhere, Marion has seen its share of buildings lost to fire. A couple of large and notable fires gave a new face to the downtown in the early part of the last century. And a real rip-roarer, still remembered by many, took out the 75 year old Gamble’s Store formerly Morton’s Hardware Co., in 1977. Marion’s Post Office suffered a notable fire on Valentine’s Day, 1994. Since then the business district, and most of the Village, has been relatively fire free.

This is a view of the empty block between Pickard and Carland Streets after the fire of 1908. 

This is a view of the empty block between Pickard and Carland Streets after the fire of 1908. 

But, it hasn’t always been so. Fire was certainly the enemy of the wooden structures and houses built in our town. In fact, fire claimed the first structure to mark this place. Built in 1876, Christopher Clark’s Saw, Lath and Planer Mill burned to the ground in September 1909. According to the files of the Marion Press, fires also plagued the Clark home. In 1904 it was reported that a fire started around the chimney and that Mrs. Clark successfully put it out. The house suffered from a couple more small fires, one from a lightening strike. The first home in our town, built in 1884, was claimed by flames in December, 1945.

The Marion Dispatch (now the Press) was burned out in the great fire of 1904. Originating in a building on the main corner, flames quickly got out of hand and by dawns’ first light the entire west end of the business district, some twenty-two buildings, was gone. Damage was estimated at $100,000. Certainly a lot of money at that time and only roughly a third was covered by insurance. In contrast, in 1951 when the newly remodeled Marion Creamery burned, damage to that single structure was placed at that figure. When things were rebuilt, much of the business district was constructed in brick and still serves today.

 The Marion Twp and Morton Hdw Co. building was spared in the fire of 1914 which took out the Alvin and telephone office buildings in the next block. This survivor would succumb to flames in 1977.

The Marion Twp and Morton Hdw Co. building was spared in the fire of 1914 which took out the Alvin and telephone office buildings in the next block. This survivor would succumb to flames in 1977.

Just a few years later, in 1908, the stores on the north side of Main Street, between Pickard and Carland, were taken out by another large fire. This time the Marion Bank was among the businesses lost. The Game brothers lost the third location of their meat market to flames. The frame bank building was rebuilt in brown brick and stood, fortress-like, until it was torn down in 1978 to make way for the present bank building and the Game Bros. Meats found a new location.

Another Marion landmark went down in the wee hours of January  1951 when that fiend fire struck again at old Marion relics, taking down the Marion House, a long time survivor whose footprint is the ‘front yard’ of the Horseshoe Bar.

Fire has reshaped the face of Marion more than once in her history. And yet to so many of her children she still looks the same.




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