Atlanta, GA Kimball House Hotel Fire, Aug 1883 - Entirely Destroyed


Entirely Destroyed by Fire - Loss $1,000,000 - The Particulars.

(By Telegraph.)

ATLANTA, August 12 - The Kimball House was discovered to be on fire at 5 o'clock and, soon, the flames getting beyond control, Mr. Scoville, the proprietor, ordered the guests to be awakened. Guards went through the hallways breaking open doors, when necessary, to insure the safety of guests. The fire having originated in the rear of the building was favorable to the escape of all. Within twenty minutes the hotel was emptied of its guests, and within one hour the structure was raized [sic] to the ground. The hotel was built by H. I. Kimball and owned by Robert Toombs, John Riley, Joseph P. Thompson and others. It cos $600,000 and the furniture was valued at $135,000. The insurance was only $50,000, scattered among many companies, the names of which cannot be ascertained, owing to the absence from the city of parties who are informed thereon. The Gate City National Bank, Haralson & Bro., tobaccoonists [sic], John B. Daniel, druggist, and others, are among the losers. The total loss is a million dollars, and the insurance is not over $200,000. The fire is claimed by Mr. Culberson, agent of the company, to be of incendiary origin. In the vaults of the Gate City National Bank were a half million dollars, and the safety is yet a matter of doubt.

ATLANTA, August 13. - The fire at the Kimball House was discovered about 4:30 o'clock by several persons and the alarm sounded. The theories as to the probable causes of the fire are conflicting. While those on the outside were preparing to fight the flames, those on the inside began to smell smoke. Charlie Snider and Phil Green, two boys, saw the fire as soon as it broke out, and realizing the danger of the guests, rushed into the building and made their way along the corriders, waking up sleeping occupants. In some instances they certainly saved lives, as there were persons in the house who had not been aroused by the first alarm. They proceeded to the top story of the house, and did good work in awakening people and saving furniture. Differing with most people, these boys expressed the opinion that when the debris is removed it will be found that some persons died in the flames.

The flames had enveloped the building on the west side before the officers of the Gate City Bank arrived. The president, L. J. Hill, was absent from the city in Coweta County. Wilburn Hill and E. J. McCandless hurried to the scene as soon as notified of the fire, and with the assistance of Henderson Fields and Bookkeeper Willy went to work to save the books and papers. The books were taken from the vault and carried to a place of safety, and a large desk, containing papers belonging to the firm of L. G. & W. A. Hill was thrown out of a Wall street window. As the desk was being lifted out if turned and fell on McCandless, who was trying to keep it from falling down the basement stairway. The whole weight of the desk struck him in the chest, hurting him badly, but not fatally. The bank's safe was in a side vault, but want of time prevented its removal.

At this time the roof of the building was in flames, the inside west walls were falling in large burning sections, rendering it dangerous to remain in the vicinity. The safe contained about $500,000 in valuables. A steady stream of water was turned on the vault, and it is thought that the money and papers in the safe will be saved. The vault at dark did not show any external evidence of damage.

When the news spread that no life had been lost it was scarcely believed. Had the fire begun anywhere but where it did this good fortune would have been impossible. Among the strangers in the hotel were the following: Sol Hass, Richmond; R. E. Foster, Charleston; S. Adams, Savannah; A. M. Adger and C. Mead, Charleston; D. B. Morgan, Savannah; John B. Bland, Virginia.

Among the first who came out to witness the fire was Senator Brown. He quickly decided that the Kimball House was doomed to destruction, and feared the flames might spread to the adjoining blocks. He knew that the Atlanta fire department would be unable to cope with the fire in the event of its spreading, and immediately telegraphed to the Marietta fire department asking if they would come to Atlanta. An affirmative reply was received, and in a short time a special train was on its way to Marietta to bring the department to this city. The train made the trip in twenty-two minutes, but by that time a telegraph was sent to Marietta telling the company not to come. When they received the last telegram they were already out, and, boarding the train, came to Atlanta in twenty-six minutes. Upon reaching the city the company did some good work.

When it is remembered that the hotel cost $600,000 and the furniture $125,000, the amount of insurance seems strangely inadequate. On the building and furniture there was only $50,000 insurance. Dr. Joseph Thompson, one of the owners of the hotel, has $25,000 insurance on his third interest, distributed as follows: Hamburg Bremen, 5,000; Home, 5,000; North British and Mutual, $5,000; Southern Mutual, $5,000. The third interest of John Rice is also insured for $25,000. One reason why the owners carried so little insurance was because of the high rate charged. The Republican Block, just opposite, was charged at the rate of one and a fourth per cent, the additional one-fourth being made because of proximity to the hotel.

Mr. Scoville, the proprietor of the hotel, spent $10,000 on improvements and furniture when he was preparing for the exposition. He carried a policy on this of $10,000 up to a year ago, when he declined to renew. At the time of the fire he had $1,200 insurance, placed in the North American company. He estimated his direct loss at from $10,000 to $15,000.

The Telegraph and Messenger, Macon, GA 14 Aug 1883