Clarksville, TN "The Great Fire of 1878", Apr 1878 - A Great Disaster

A Great Disaster
Terrible Conflagration at Clarksville, Tenn., An Area of Fifteen Acres

The Whole Center of the Business Part of the Town a Mass of Ruins.

Clarksville, Tenn., April 16.- The fire which has been looked for among underwriters as sure to occur in this place, in consequence of the false economy of property owners in building frame rears to their business houses, took place Saturday night. About 11 o'clock the alarm was sounded. The flames, which were first discovered in the rear of Kincannon, Wood & Co.'s tin and house-furnishing store, No. 41 Franklin street, soon began to leap [illegible] and to grasp the tinder-boxes which lay contiguous thereto in profusion. Nearly all the business houses in this block on the south side of Franklin, between First and second streets, have been extended by the addition of frame rears. The fire soon spread to the adjoining building, the Franklin bank and the J. G. Joseph, clothier, and kept on in its heated career until the Franklin hall on the east was reached. Here the flames seemed to hold for a time, but only to take a fresh start in the rear of Franklin hall. Emery & Perkin's carpenter shop was soon destroyed, and then the flames leaped across second street to Caldwell & Shelton's livery stable, which was almost in an instant in flames. Eighteen feet east was the beautiful Melodeon hall, but recently built, by John B. Elder. Being a frame building, adjoined on the east by three frames, it was but one gulp to the devouring element. The Tobacco Leaf office, a brick, metal-roof building, soon succumbed to the heat, and melted before the fiery blast like tissue paper. Next the flames spread to the Central house, West Side of Second street, and continued on their desolating path, carrying with them the residence of Charley Averett, the hook and ladder hall and grocery warehouse. The residence of Mrs. Jennie E. Johnson, known as the old Boyd place, was soon in flames, the occupant, Mr. Samuel Johnson, having scarcely time to remove his furniture. On the north side of Franklin, corner of Second, T. P. Burk's large frame agricultural implement and seed store was at last forced to yield, on account of the intense heat caused by the burning of Caldwell & Shelton's livery stable. The flames lapped over Franklin street to Buck's barber shop; and soon set fire to Mr. Sullivan's grocery: which spread the flames to Charley Lehman's saloon. Here the fire stopped on the north side of Franklin street, but with a seeming knowledge that the old Court house was and has been for years an eye sore it pounced upon that old temple of justice, and soon blotted it from our vision. Two bricks in the rear of Mr. Sullivan's grocery were the next victims. From thence the fire engine-house and office of Polk G. Johnson, clerk and master, were licked up. From Burke's frame building, the dwelling and blacksmith shop of Conn Duncan were fired, from which the flames were comminicated to Mrs. M. E. A. Wheatley's residence, on the North side of Franklin, between Second and Third Streets.

Powder Used To Stop The Conflagration.
The excitement of this time was intense. and the general impression was that it was a hopeless case, and that the whole city would be destroyed. Telegraphic dispatches were sent to Nashville and aid in the early part of the conflagration, and the news reached us that one of Nashville's engines was at the depot, which proved to be a fake report. In order to prevent the fire from spreading down Franklin street powder was placed in the building adjoining Macauley's drug store, from the effects of which the walls were soon shaken to the ground. This, together with the fire walls of Macauley & Allwell's block, stopped the fire in this direction; while the high fire walls of Hillman's block checked the flames on the opposite side of the opposite side of the street.

A Mass of Ruins

Clarksville new presents a picture like unto Chicago. The whole center of the business portion of the tow is a mass of ruins. The loss is estimated at from $250,000 to $300,000. The cause of the fire was evidently the act of an incendiary. At the time of the alarm a Coroner's jury was sitting at the market house on the body of Columbus Seay, colored, who was shot and killed by officer Frank Phillips for resisting an arrest. Threats were openly made in the presence of certain parties that the city should be burned. The authorities will take steps to ferret out the fiend.

Fifty special policemen are patrolling the streets of Clarksville to-night. Nine hundred hogs head of tobacco were destroyed by the fire and rain. The lists of houses embraces all kinds of business, and among them a newspaper office, court house, bank, two jewelry stores, two dry goods stores, eight groceries two public hall and ten residences.

Saturday Night's Tragedy.
Clarksville, April 16.- At about 10:30 o'clock, Saturday night, Policeman Frank Phillips was notified of some trouble that had occurred between a young white man and a negro named Columbus Sat. Phillips started in search of Seat, who it is claimed, resisted arrest and attempted to run away. Phillips called "halt" a few times; but, no attention paid to this, he fired. He again called "halt" a few times, when he fired the second shot, which felled Seat, who was taken to the station house and soon expired. The coroner's jury returned verdict of "killed while resisting arrest".

A very bad feeling was manifested by the negroes toward the whites, owing to the killing of Seat by Policeman Phillips. The negroes acted very badly on the streets on Sunday morning, and in several instances caused those fighting the fire great inconvenience. There was a grave feeling over the people today. Threats of mobbing Policeman Foley were made, and on this account and for the protection of goods, fifty deputy policeman were enrolled. Phillips is still in jail for protection and everything is quiet, but the least disturbance would likely precipitate a collision between whites and blacks. There is no longer any doubt that if conflagration was not started by the blacks, there was a concerted understanding that they would not lend a helping hand for love or money; but there were some worthy exceptions. Some prominent colored men are heavy losers by the fire, and have no insurance to falt back upon.

It was rather curious to note the different rumors along the road concerning the fire. At Gutherie they had it that the loss by fire was two millions; that the colored people had assembled and sent a note to the mayor demanding Phillips for the purpose of lynching him. No such proceedings were had, and on Sunday night the negroes had quieted down, and not twenty-five were seen on the street. The Equitable, of Nashville, had $18,000 on the property destroyed, and the State, of Nashville $7,550.

The Citizens in Council
The citizens held a meeting at 12 o'clock. Mayor Henry, Chairman, and Messrs. Wright and Ingram, secretaries. Expressions of sympathy and offers of aid were received. Judge Lurton made a speech relative to the feelings between the whites and blacks. He said rumor attributed the fire to the killing of a negro Saturday night. The killing, as well as the burning, should be fully investigated, and he moved the appointment of a committee of ten to investigate them, both races to be represented.

H. H. Lurton, Polk Johnson, ex-Mayor Sullivan, John Ricke, D. Kincannon, John O'Brien, were appointed on the part of the whites, and J. A. Jackson, A. Ewing and John Barley on the part of the blacks.

It is probable the court house will be rebuilt on a new style. Everybody seems determined to go to work and rebuild at once. The feeling between the whites and blacks is very bitter, and I fear we have not seen the end of it. This has been growing ever since the lynching of Winston Anderson for attempting rape. The white people are very determined. Special policeman were out last night.

Already is the debris being removed and arrangements have been made for rebuilding at once. Some have already bought lumber and bricks. The houses will be of a more substantial character.

The Daily Constitution, Atlanta, GA 17 Apr 1878