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The Midnight Fire



Levels Three Fine Business









The Texas and Pacific Railway Headquarters, Merchants'Exchange and Henderson Buildings Destroyed -- Schedule of Losses and Insurance.

This morning, shortly after 12 o'clock, the fire bells in the chorus of a general alarm announced one of the most serious and devastating conflagrations which has visited the city since the great fire in 1886.

Soon, the apparatus of the fire department was rattling over the bois d'arc pavement down Commerce street. There was no trouble in locating the dreaded midnight monster of destruction, for already, the flames were leaping and darting through the openings on the second floor of the office building of the Texas & Pacific Railway Company on Commerce street.

This was a beautiful three-story brick and stone building. It was wedged in between the splendid building of Gaston Bros., formerly the Merchants Exchange, on the west and the three-story Henderson office building and the beautiful four-story club building on the east. These fine, costly buildings made up the south half of one of the magnificent blocks in the city, lying between Poydras and Lamar streets. The north half of the block is composed of the three-story building of the National Exchange bank, Fendrich's cigar store, the Coney Island saloon and club building, Domnau & Samuels' pawn shop, J. W. Webb's jewelry story, C. H. Clancey's shirt factory, Austin's jewelry store, the city ticket office of the Houston & Texas Central Railway Company and Knepfly & Son's fine three-story jewelry and office building. some of the most costly property in the city was at stake and in eminent peril with the flame wedged in the center of the south side of the block.

In a very brief space of time, two lines of hose were laid. The crackling flames were leaping higher and higher every second. The fire spread rapidly through the building, an excited citizenship gathered from every direction and the southern breeze wafted blazing cinders to the north and east and deposited them on buildings on Main and Elm streets, threatening the ultimate destruction of the business center of the city. Seeing the great damage to buildings in the vicinity, they were soon covered by thoughtful people who smothered the blazing fragments as they landed on the tops of the houses.

When pressure in the water mains came with full force, five streams were set to playing upon the fierce flames, which now lighted up the whole city, and which, were beyond control so far as the Texas & Pacific and Henderson office buildings and the Gaston building were concerned. Two streams were playing in front and three in the rear of the Texas & Pacific building, while one was carried inside the Gaston building on the second floor, where the Board of Trade rooms were located. The beautiful curly pine finish on the inside of this building was combustible material of the first order and the fire fed upon it and spread rapidly. Another stream of water was playing upon the Henderson office building from the top of the Dallas Club building, and thus [creating] a gleam of hope, cheered the firemen on to the strongest effort to confine the fire to its limits, though nothing but the coolest judgment directing the best efforts could accomplish this.

It was only a few minutes more until the district became a solid mass of seething flame, throwing out intense heat, which kept back the great crowd of people who had collected at a respectful distance. A portion of the wall of the Texas & Pacific building fell, and this was almost immediately followed by a loud crash caused by the precipitation of a part of the heavy brick work of the Gaston building.

Within an hour, the flames had accomplished their worst, but the danger line was by no means passed.


Chief Wilkerson, of the fire department, said this morning: "We had six distinct fire all going at the same time. There was the fire in the Texas & Pacific office building, where it originated; there was the fire in the Gaston building; another in the rear of the Henderson building; one in the rear of the new building adjoining the North Texas National Bank; another at Benedikt's on Elm street, and one on the roof of Walker's China Hall. I had my hands full looking after all these fires. The entire department worked desperately, but our force is not large enough. We need more apparatus. The suction pipe of engine No. 2 gave way, and that was a serious mishap."


Early in the engagement, a carriage was sent for Mayor W. C. Connor, who can size up a fire as well as any man in the country, having spent eleven years in the service, and being, at one time, chief of the Dallas department. He rendered valuable assistance in giving directions where to throw streams and in aiding Chief Wilkerson, who had more than his hands full. While Mayor Connor was thus engaged, a policeman rushed up to him and said, "Here, you get out, or I'll run you in!" The mayor replied, "Give me your number and I'll let you off in the morning!" The policeman reeled beneath the force of the blow, blurted out an apology and vanished. During the fire, Mr. Connor missed his footing and stepped unexpectedly off the curbing, receiving a sprain in his right leg. He said this morning: "We have a very efficient, but small fire department and the fire was handled well. As is the case at all large fires, people will run in from the crowd and offer suggestions to the firemen. This results only in confusion and people should remember to leave the work of giving directions to experienced heads who are employed for that purpose."


Not a word of complaint was heard from a member of the fire department about deficient pressure in the mains. Upon the other hand, the chief states that the pressure was very good from the start. The register at the pump house showed 82 pounds pressure at the time the fire started, and it did not fall below this during the fire. The engineer states that the water was within a foot and a half of the top of the stand-pipe. The gauge in the office of the superintendent of waterworks, which is in the second story of the city hall, registered 42 pounds at 10 o'clock, 47 pounds at 11, over 49 pounds at 12, and 40 pounds at 1 o'clock. This was equal to a pressure of between 80 and 85 pounds at the pumping station. The superintendent states that it was a good average pressure for a fire.


The schedule of losses is approximated, the insurance is authentic from the agents:

Gaston building, three stories and a basement, 75x100 feet, corner Lamar and Commerce streets, loss $50,000, insured as follows: Phoenix of London, $2000, Commercial Union $2000, Queen $2000, Norwich Union $1500, German of Frankford $2500, Empire State $2500, Southern of California $2500, Liberty of New York $2300, German American $5000, North British Mercantile $3000, Teutonic of New Orleans $2500, Sun Fire Office of London $4000, Pennsylvania of Philadelphia $3000. Niagra of New York $3000, total $38,000.

In this building, the following were located: In the basement, Garsia & Co., merchandise brokers, loss and insurance not ascertained; Texas & Pacific Railway Company supplies, loss and insurance included in the office building estimate; Choctaw Coal and Railway Company not ascertained; Fonda @ Co., brokers, not ascertained; A. C. Silvia & Co., brokers, not ascertained. First floor Gaston & Gaston, bankers, fixtures and office furniture, etc., loss $5000, insurance $2500, in the North British and Mercantile; Texas Land & Mortgage Co., limited, not ascertained; Robertson & Coke, loss unknown, insured for $3000 in the Royal of Liverpool. Second floor: Board of Trade, loss $500, no insurance; Texas State Fair Association, actual loss $2000, pecuniary loss heavy and no insurance; Dallas clearinghouse, loss $250 in furniture, stationery and fixtures, no insurance; N. Toby, architect, not ascertained. Third floor: Texas School Supply Company, not ascertained; Davis & Hutchins, attorneys, loss not known, insurance $1200 in the London & Lankenshire Company.

The Texas & Pacific office building was the property of Maj. R. V. Tompkins, who is absent in Kansas City, but an approximate of his loss fixes it at $35,000, insured with the Royal for $5000, Sun, Globe & Liverpool, $5000; Home of New York $5000; total $15,000. This building was tenanted by the Texas & Pacific Railway Company for their general southwestern headquarters. The actual loss of the company is estimated at $25,000, the amount of insurance is uncertain, it being on a general line. Of course, the company sustained irreparable damage in the loss of papers, schedules, etc., which can never be replaced. A large supply of tickets were in a safe, and they are thought to be secure. General Manager Grant is absent. Auditor Fenby arrived over the Central last night, just about the time the fire broke out. Messrs. Fenby, Miller, Metcalf and others are hustling to-day for new quarters.

Mr. Henderson is not in town. His building was valued at $20,000; insured for $10,000. It was not completed. The second story was occupied by the 'Texas and Pacific Railway Company, and here the loss was complete. The basement occupants were damaged by water and smoke to a greater extent than the damage by fire.

The Dallas club building was slightly damaged, but fully insured.


Mr. Hunter says Major Tompkins will rebuild.

Mr. John Gaston says the Gaston building will be rebuilt, provided the walls can be used in reconstructing.

The Henderson building, while the second and third stores are wrecked, is not a total loss. The beautiful white stone front is as pretty as ever, while the walls of the building are in good shape, except, perhaps, at the rear. It was supposed Mr. Henderson will rebuild.

The management of the fair association requests that those who filed applications for race programmes and premium lists, renew them in order that they may receive attention. Applications for space should be renewed to insure them. The secretary's office will be located temporarily in the office of the president in Armstrong & Co.'s wholesale grocery store, on Commerce street. A transfer will soon be made to permanent headquarters at the fair grounds. The office force was doubled this morning and work will be pushed until every paper will be replaced as far as possible.

Mr. Leo Wolfson, secretary of the Board of Trade, and manager of the clearing house, will have temporary headquarters at the Fourth National bank.


Col. Henry Exall, like a great many other citizens, did not know of the fire until this morning. He says he is very grateful to the firemen and his friends who worked to save his new building from destruction.

No ones seems to know the origin of the fire. The watchman who was on duty in the Texas & Pacific building, states that he was making his usual midnight round, when he discovered a small blaze in the store room under the stairway on the ground floor. He tried to put it out, but he failed, and soon, the flames were leaping through the three floors and out the openings in the building.

The magnificent block of four-story buildings standing in front of the burning block were in great danger, but they were unscathed by the flame.

The firemen worked well. The work speaks for itself. The adjoining buildings, which stood within eight and ten feet of the doomed structures, speak volumes for the efficiency of the fire department. It has been suggested that the Gaston building could have been saved, and so, it might with the use of enlarged facilities and more men than the department numbers. But, with so much property endangered, and with the cry of fire coming from so many buildings, the force could not be concentrated.

Capt. Ben McCulloch, of the passenger department of the Texas & Pacific, has located quarters in the second story of the Leonard building on Elm street and business was running as smoothly this afternoon as though nothing had happened.

Daylight, this morning, found the Texas and Pacific office building, commonly known as the Gould building, the Henderson office building and the old Merchants' Exchange building, a mass of smoking ruins.

A large crowd lined the street in front of the debris, which marked the spot where, but a few hours before, stood three structures which ranked among the finest buildings in the city. Overworked firemen were throwing streams of water on the heap, which sent up a volume of smoke. It was a chaotic mass of tumbled walls and broken columns.

Dallas Daily Times Herald