Atlanta, GA Kimball House Hotel Fire, Aug 1883 - Kimball House in Ruins


The Kimball House in Ruins - The Origin of the Fire - Safety of Guests - The Loss - Insurance - Strictures on the Governor.

ATLANTA, August 13. - Your readers everywhere have already heard of the blaze that reduced the celebrated Kimball House to ashes and smoking walls, the safe escape of every inmate, the great loss of property, and the inconsolable grief of Atlanta, who mourns even as a mother mourns over the loss of her first-born. I shall only give you, therefore, a passing sketch of the fire, an estimate of the loss, and notice such incidents as have not already been given to the public.


The best information dates the discovery of the fire between 4 and 4:30 Sunday morning - though I have heard that the existence of the fire was known even earlier. At 4:30 the alarm was given on the railroad side of the hotel, and it was thought to originate in the basement under Adair's real estate office. This, however, is scarcely true, as the first efforts of the fire department directed to that point had no effect, and showed conclusively that the fire was farther in the hotel. Inside a night watchman detected fire in the rear of the hotel, in the neighborhood of the laundry department, and gave the alarm at the office. Then the hotel men were at first inapprehensive of any danger. Soon, however, as it appeared that the hotel was afire and under no control whatever, the hotel men, under the lead of Mr. Scoville, went through the hotel and aroused every guest.


At every door, on every floor, these men carried the alarm, knocking the door in when necessary to awake the sleeping. In a short time every guest in the house was safe out of it. Of course, in the movement of nearly 300 guests out of a burning hotel, many of them ladies, [illegible] the excitement of such a fire and impending peril, there were scenes and incidents which will be a part of the unwritten history of the occasion.

The hotel people are entitled to great credit for heroic attention and care of their guests, and it is largely due to their efforts that there is not one horrible death, hardly an injured man, woman or child to add its tragic interest to a great fire. True, there was ample time from the alarm till the movement of danger fully an hour, in which to empty the building, time which has often been thrown away by hotel men in looking after their own property, or in pursuading guests that there was no danger.


It is almost unaccountable that a fire should be discovered so long before it had gained headway, the alarm given, firemen reach the spot, people looking for it inside and outside the hotel, and nearly an hour elapse before it burst its bounds and swept its way over the building. Even now no one seems able to explain that circumstance, or ever to locate the the [sic] place where the fire originated.

The question is still mooted whether the fire was the work of an incendiary. I doubt if it will ever by anything but mooted.


About 7 or 8 o'clock yesterday morning the fire had spent its force, and the Kimball was in ruins. The flames seemed to be fully satisfied with easting up the hotel, and left almost without damaging the blocks of buildings surrounding, seperated only by narrow streets. It spared even the line of stores on Peachtree, which adjoined the hotel.

The business people under the hotel, in stores and offices, saved their property with slight loss, generally covered by insurance.

In the Gate City National Bank, under the corner of the hotel, toward the passenger depot, there was for a time some excitement in removing the valuable property of the bank. The books and papers were removed from the vault, the private boxes of customers and special depositors were removed safely. I understand there were about $80,000 worth of diamonds locked up in some of these boxes. The money of the bank was in a safe in the vault, locked with a time lock, set to open this morning. It contained about $100,000 in paper money and specie. It was left in the vault, and it is thought will be taken out to-day uninjured.


There has been a great deal of exaggeration about the loss from the fire. The Atlanta reports fix the aggregate loss at a million dollars! It is difficult to estimate the value of the Kimball House as a hotel property, and its value to the city of Atlanta, but a business estimate of the actual loss would hardly put it outside of $300,000. I am informed that responsible contractors are of opinion that the building can be put back for $500,000. Mr. Scoville's loss was small, not beyond $12,000, and the loss of those engaged in business in the hotel, and others damaged by the fire, would swell the figure far beyond my estimate.


A leading question is will it be re-built? I think it is likely a large hotel will be built at no early day, either on the old site or elsewhere in the city. Such a hotel is in absolute demand in Atlanta - a neccesity, and every week that work is delayed in that direction will be a serious loss to the city and a serious inconvenience to the traveling public. Atlanta's push and the enterprise of her capitalists will be put to the test.


The owners of the hotel were insured between $80,000 and $125,000. The exact amount is unknown. The business men under the hotel and those near by damaged by the fire were in most cases amply protected by insurance. Mr. Scoville carried only $1,200 insurance on about $12,000.


In the interview with Mr. Walter R. Brown in the TELEGRAPH AND MESSENGER Sunday he makes some strictures on Gov. McDaniel which are unjust. I refer to the following particularly:

"Governor McDaniel only values a life at $100 and offers a reward accordingly. Bad men will continue to commit deeds of violence in the executive trifles in offering rewards inadequate to place detectives at work. He must place a higher value on life."

Mr. Brown should know first that if there is a wrong in this respect it cannot be charged to the Governor. The Legislature appropriates a contingent fund which is chargeable with many contingent fund which which is chargeable with many contingent expenses. He cannot go beyond this fund, and he could not offer large rewards for fugitive criminals when there was no appropriation for it. After the war, and through Governor Smith's administration, the contingent fund was $20,000. During Governor Colquitt's first term the fund was $10,000. During his second term and until the present year the fund was $7,500. This year the appropriation was $8,500. When Governor McDaniel went in office in May, there was unexpended to this account $2,500, and outstanding claims which, when paid, will sweep it all away. I believe Governor McDaniel has asked, or will ask, the Legislature to supplement this appropriation by a sufficient amount to cover the expense attaching to the contingent fund until January 1st, 1884.

It appears, therefore, that Governor McDaniel is not at fault. If there be a wrong, Mr. Brown should charge it to the Legislature, where it properly belongs.

The business men burnt out Sunday are settling into new quarters to-day.

The Gate City National Bank has accepted the courtesies extended by the Atlanta National Bank on Alabama street and will continue business there for the present. Fortunately the Gate City has a magnificent building nearing completion and will probably be ready for them in thirty days.

Crowds of people from the city and country reviewed the smoking ruins of the Kimball House yesterday as though it were a state funeral. The crowds are still there to-day, but in less numbers.

The Markham House is handling a great crowd and pleasing everybody. People who have never stopped there will have an opportunity of finding out what an excellent hotel it is.

C. A. N.

The Telegraph and Messenger, Macon, GA 14 Aug 1883