Stillwater, MN State Prison fire, Jan 1884



MINNEAPOLIS, Minn., Jan. 26. - A fire broke out in the State prison at Stillwater at 11:45 last night, and in spite of every effort all the buildings were destroyed. The prisoners, including the Younger brothers, were taken ot and placed under a strong guard in the yard. The loss is probably $50,000. The fire caught under the main office of the car company, and when the fire department arrived it was impossible to do any effective work on account of the dense smoke. At 1 o'clock it became evident that the prison was doomed, and Company K of the State Militia was called upon to assist in removing the convicts. About 330 in all were shackled together by means of long, fine chains and removed to different points in the prison grounds.

The fire spread with remarkable rapidity, and starting at the east end of the prison soon reached the Warden's office and the rooms occupied by the guards. It spread to the offices of the North-western Car Company, the entire front part of the building being a mass of flames. From the office of the car company the fire went to the kitchen and eating-room of the prison adjoining, in which the chapel is situated. All of those departments were gutted. The front part of the building where the fire started was composed of a good deal of wood-work, which afforded a means of transmitting the flames to the cell department of the prison, which is capped by a wooden cornice. The cells proper are fire-proof, and had it not been for the difficulty alluded to the fire could have been confined to the front or office part of the building. The convicts were transferred with little trouble and are now under guard. When the fre first started Chief Joy, of Stillwater, went into the burning structure and had a narrow escape from death. He was caught in the office of the car company, overpowered with smoke, and while in this condition some one from the outside turned on a stream of water into the room, which knocked him down and put out the light. He was discovered, almost suffocated, and dragged from the building more dead than alive. A fortunate circumstance was the saving of all the private and personal papers and letters of Senator Sabin, President of the car company.

The fire was marked by an act of great heroism by George P. Dodd, of Stillwater, a member of Company K. Immediately after the convicts had been removed a cry was raised that a man was confined in cell No. 200. Dodd rushed into the building, and was lost to view in a column of blinding smoke. In less time than it can be recorded he had reached the cell of the convict, who proved to be a new man in the prison, and in a few minutes he returned with the rescued prisoner.

The convicts were behaving well yesterday. They have been housed comfortably in an adjoining foundry, with plenty to eat, and are throughly guarded by militiamen. It will be some time before the prison can be replaced and made tenantable, and during the interim some disposition must be made of the convicts. Gov. Hubbard, who is on the ground, has telegraphed to Minneapolis and St. Paul asking how many the County Jails in the two cities can accommodate, and also to the State prison at Waupum [sic] (Wisconsin) to make arrangements for the incarceration of the Youngers and other important convicts, as the County Jails are usually to untrustworthy. The Washington County jail has accommodations for 12 only, and the question as to what disposition can be made of the convicts is a puzzling one.

The New York Times, New York, NY 27 Jan 1884