Some fires were fought harder than others
Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about the history of the Wadena Fire Department.
Through the years there were, of course many fires, both large and small. The early fires were probably more severe because all of the original buildings in Wadena were wood frame and with poor or no fire fighting equipment it was inevitable. The good part of this process was that the buildings were rebuilt with brick.
I will try to recount the major early fires. In 1880, the Wadena Hotel, located where the present True Value Hardware is, burned. In 1887, what was known as the Barron Fire destroyed that portion of the 102 Jefferson block which encompassed the present day Emporium, Lyle's Shoes and the next two buildings south.
In 1888, all of the block where Weber Hardware is went up in smoke one August evening, with the exception of the Merchant's Hotel, (2007 Super One parking lot). The newspaper commented on the lazy male population who stood with their hands in their pockets and watched the women "man" the pumps.
In November 1893, there was a fire which destroyed the present day bakery south through Jefferson Square, Tae Kwondo School and McDonald Studio plus one more building south. The fire started in the Hassan & Son Furniture store at 213 South Jefferson and rapidly spread both north and south, due to the bad condition of the fire engine and the lack of people to help.
In 1895, the Catholic Church was completely destroyed. Because there had been no fire in the church for several days, it was believed that the fire had been set. Immediate steps were taken to build a much larger and beautiful church of brick and stone.
The Ebner block (present day Boondocks cafe) burned in 1897 and was rebuilt with brick. It burned again in 1900 and was rebuilt to its present status. After the second fire it was known as the Phoenix block, a reference to the rising Phoenix of Greek mythology.
1897 was a bad fire year as the 202 Jefferson block from the building north of the Cyber Cafe through the Uptown corner burned one evening, also destroying buildings south of the present VFW club rooms.
In 1898, the Francis Furniture store (present site of Smith Furniture) burned, with five firemen seriously injured. This building was the original school building which sat on the north end of the Court House block.
In 1898, the Burch Opera House building burned. (Present day home of Ameriprise Financial.) This building faced north on Front Street (Aldrich Avenue) and was rebuilt of brick facing Third Street (Jefferson).
In 1898, the Waldo Hotel (present day Work Force parking lot) burned with the loss of life of three people. Two of them were in town serving on jury duty and the third a woman described as an Arabian woman, about 20 years of age, carrying packs indicating she was a peddler.
In 1900, the Whitney Murray block (present day Brink's Jewelry) was destroyed. This building burned way to the alley to the east.
Also in 1900 the building at 217-219 Jefferson South, the home of the two new movie theatres in 2007, burned and again in 1911. In 1900, it was known as Society Hall because the upstairs was the meeting place for most of the fraternal groups in town. In 1911 it was known as the Eagle Block.
In 1908, the cold storage plant, the Minnesota and Dakota Produce Company, owned by the Merickel Brothers and one of Wadena's first creameries, located at the east end of present day Colfax burned. It was never rebuilt.
In 1915, the old wooden Northern Pacific depot on the north side of the tracks burned. The story goes that the citizens stood on the hose to stop the water flow so the depot would be destroyed and the railroad would be forced to replace it with a modern brick building.
In 1921, the Merchant's Hotel, present day Super One parking lot, burned. Owned by Dennis Theriault, it was immediately rebuilt.
In 1934, the original Great Northern Depot burned and was immediately replaced with a modern brick and stucco building.
In 1950, the last remaining wood buildings on Jefferson burned, 110 to 116 South Jefferson. They housed five businesses, Gordon's Eat Shop, Helmer's Barber Shop, Murray Land Office, Engh's Grocery and Engh's Bakery and the Masonic Lodge on the second story. This building, owned by the Masonic Lodge, was replaced and leased to the J. C. Penney Company. At the present time it is owned by the Village Emporium.
In 1968, Mason Brothers Wholesale Grocery warehouse located at 124 Aldrich Avenue Southeast was destroyed. Owned by the Harrison family, they have since built at 4th Street Northeast and the original property is used by the Buckwheat Growers Association.
In 1990, the Reid Murdoch Canning Factory building, later owned and occupied by the Minnesota Wool Growers Association, burned. At the time of the fire it was owned by the Merickel Brothers and had several tenants.
As stated earlier there have been many other fires but none to the degree of the above.