Brisbin, PA Fire, May 1884

Houtzdale, May 2. For some days past the woods in the vicinity of Brisbin and Houtzdale have been on fire in different place. No decided move was made toward stamping it out, and it gradually drew nearer to the town of Brisbin. This morning a heavy gale from the westward set in and blew the flames in the direction of Hoover, Hughes & Co.'s mill. The men were promptly put to work fighting the fire fiend, but without avail. Shortly after 7 o'clock the hose which has always been kept in readiness for an emergency of this kind was playing upon all parts of the mill. At 12 o'clock the whistle sounded an alarm of fire, and the most strenuous exertions were made to save the structure, but without avail. It finally caught, and in a short time the greedy flames were ding their fearful work in the immense lumber piles.

The Town of Brisbin. Brisbin is situated between two hills, the mill being at the western end of the town, and with a steady gale carrying the flames from house to house it was but a short time until the space between the hills was as seething mass of flames. We have no means of estimating the loss, but it is enormous. Hoover, Hughes and Co's mill and lumber yard, their office, Hoover's stores, Simon Dinger's store, Thelagt Hall and at least 250 other buildings were burned. But few people saved anything and the scene is agonizing in the extreme. Several sick persons were taken from their homes with great difficulty. Over 100 families are bereft of everything in the world save their clothes.

Burned to Death. Mrs. Donovan, and old and respected lady, was caught by the fire and burned to death. During the process of the fire a Hungarian was detected appropriating articles which were being taken from a building and was most severely kicked and beaten. Another party of Hungarians who were detected drinking beer from several kegs in the burned district were made to decamp hastily by an officer as threats were freely made against them. The fire, it is said, was started on Sunday last by a party of Hungarians, who too that day to clear patches of ground by fire. Much indignation is felt against them, and it is likely they will be obliged to leave this section.

A Brave Engineer. Mr. T. C. Cryal, engineer at Hoover, Hughes & Co.'s mill, remained at his post until completely surrounded by fire. He was compelled twice to bury himself in the earth to save being burned to death. He finally managed to get through the flames and made his way to the top of the hill above Brisbin, where he was found by Dr. Whittier and moved to the home of the latter. From the doctor it is learned that his condition is critical, and it is feared that he may be fatally injured through inhaling smoke and flames. The citizens of Houtzdale are doing all in their power to assist the homeless ones.

The following call for assistance has been issued:

The Appeal

We, the committee of relief of Houtzdale, appointed at a general meeting of the citizens, appeal to the benevolent citizens of the state of Pennsylvania for relief for the 2,500 needy citizens of our sister borough of Brisbin, who were this day burned out of house and home. Money, clothing and provisions are needed.

(Signed,) THOMAS R. CORBOY, Chief Burgess.

W.W. PATTERSON, Secretary


Daily Gazette and Bulletin, Williamsport, PA, 3 May 1884


A Town Destroyed. Houtzdale, Pa, May 3. --The fire which destroyed the neighboring town of Brisbin is supposed to have been originated half a mile west of Hoover, Hughes & Co.'s mill where some Hungarians set fire to brush to clear a piece of land for cultivation. The wind carried flames to the saw mill and they were quickly swept away. The progress of the fire was then very rapid through the town, and the inhabitants were compelled to fly in every direction, and in many cases without sufficient clothing. When the first alarm was received the business people placed every team in the town at the disposal of their neighbors, and every bar-room as closed.

The losses definitely stated now amount to $380,000, and the estimate of the total losses put the amount at $1,036,000. Of this amount Hoover, Hughes & Co. lost $150,000; the Opera House (unfinished) $5,000; George Pearce, $5,000; W. H. Phillips, $3,000; F & J. Somendinger, $10, 000; J. C. & J. W. Hooker, $15,000; George Gould, $5,000; George Rhoades, $3,500; Jones & Prosser, $4,000; Church of God, $3,500; Moore & Van Dusen, $500; Henry Roach, $3,500; Odd Fellows' Hall, $25,000; M. Burns $3,500; R. H. Powell & Co., $8,000; M. L. Cupples $3,500. The number of families homeless and destitute is about one thousand, most of whom are suffering for the necessaries of life. Supplies are coming in slow and the demand is great. Anything that can be utilized in the shape of provisions, clothing or money will be gladly accepted by the relief committee. Goods or the sufferers will be transported free of charge by the Pennsylvania Railroad. About one hundred and fifty employees of Hoover, Hughes & Co. are thrown out of employment in addition to about thirty at John Maurice's Mt. Vernon colliery and one hundred and seventy at R. H. Powell & Co.'s colliery. Mrs. Donovan was burned to death. The insurances are much less than the losses. Subscriptions have been liberally given in neighboring towns, and persons have been provided with provisions during the day. The sufferers are mainly poor miners who were at work in the mines when their houses were laid in ruins.

Evening Observer, Dunkirk, NY, 5 May 1884


Houtzdale, Pa., May 6 -- A large number of people visited the ruins at Brisbin Sunday. Rain dispelled the fears of a renewal of the fire. A strong appeal has been made for immediate aid. Hundreds are compelled to sleep in their clothes having no bed covers or bedding. Money is needed to provide shanties. The citizens of Houtzdale and neighboring towns are doing their best, but with the population suddenly doubled by the refuges from Brisbin they are unable to do all that is necessary and are compelled to appeal to charity.

Evening Observer, Dunkirk, NY, 6 May 1884


BOROUGH OF BRISBIN The coal operations in the neighborhood of the town were rapidly developed after the building of the railroad and the population of the town continued to increase and the town prospered and was a thriving place until on the 2nd of May, 1884, it was totally destroyed by fire. The fire first started in the woods, west of the town, and spread so rapidly that the inhabitants were not able to save any of their property or personal belongings, but were forced to flee for their lives. One aged lady, who after reaching a place of safety, returned to try to save her cow, lost her life.

Although greatly discouraged by the destruction of their town, the people of Brisbin went bravely to work to rebuild their homes and soon a new Brisbin sprang up and prospered until the timber on the adjoining lands was cut and manufactured and the coal underneath exhausted, since which time Brisbin has not increased much in population or business.

Twentieth century history of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, 1911, Page 318