The largest fire that ever broke out in Starkville occurred on April 25, 1875 and is known as the Great Fire. It started about 10 PM on Lafayette Street about 100 feet from Main Street. Starkville’s Main Street was nothing more than an alley way and all buildings in the business of the town were frame buildings. Starkville had no fire equipment and the wind was blowing to the northwest and the people were unable to stop the fire so it burned itself out. The flames crossed the streets, back and forth, until there was nothing more to burn. Fifty-two buildings were destroyed.
There was no fire insurance collected; no Red Cross to come to their rescue, no neighboring towns or cities raised relief funds for them. Fortunately, there were no casualties. Three days after the fire, most of business owners had used all their food and cash, but they did not suffer because credit became available to them. The records burned covered the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the First World War periods as well as all vital records.
As is often the case, what appeared to be a disaster, proved to be a blessing in disguise. Petty jealousies and greed were laid aside and the citizens teamed up and went to work to rebuilt. Their first move was to widen Main Street. Each property owner donated the necessary yardage (20 feet) to make it as wide as it is today. Many of the replaced buildings were of brick.
It was eight years later (1883) that two concerned ladies, Mrs. Scales and Mrs. Green, went before the Board of Aldermen asking that cisterns be built to provide water for fire protection of the town. One was built at the intersection of Main and Washington streets and one at the intersection of Main and Jackson streets. Each was to hold 600 barrels of water. The cisterns were fed from the spring behind the First United Methodist Church.
1900 First Fire Department Building
In the summer of 1900 the old town hall on the south side of Main Street was sold and proceeds used in the erection of a new town hall and a house for the fire company equipment.
Sunday, September 4th 1927 was “red letter day” for fires in Starkville, angry flames claiming a toll of more than $175,00 worth of property during the day—a cotton warehouse with 1,300 to 1,500 bales of cotton and one of the newest residences in the city were burned.
Citizens who retired Saturday night expecting to sleep late Sunday morning did not reckon with the fire god, for they were awakened about five o’clock by the fire siren, and soon located the fire by the great flames that leaped heavenward. Shortly after the alarm a great crowd collected at the Oktibbeha Warehouse and a stiff fight was waged to save the building and contents, but the fire had gained such headway before being discovered that it was not extinguished until the building was consumed and the thousand and more bales of cotton it contained almost entirely consumed.
The Oktibbeha Warehouse was located on Lafayette Street at the Illinois Central railroad, owned by a stock company composed of merchants and farmers, and constructed about 1909. This building had housed thousands upon thousands of bales of cotton, and a roof was placed upon it only during the last year or two. At the time of the fire 1,300 to 1,500 bales of cotton were stored.
All of the records of the warehouse company were destroyed and the exact number of bales in the warehouse at the time of the fire could only be estimated. It was impossible to gather an itemized list of the losers. All of the cotton burned was from 1925 to 1926 crops except about 250 bales of the new crop, according to the estimate made by the warehouseman.
S. P. Parrish, a farmer from the Sessums neighborhood had been holding five bales of cotton for two years and Saturday afternoon brought it to town and placed it in the warehouse, and expected to sell shortly. The five bales were destroyed.
How the fire originated is not known, although many probable causes advanced. When the fire was discovered the entire building was a mass of flames, but this did not deter the volunteer firefighters from trying to save as much of the cotton as possible. The warehouse was insured for $7,000, which was less than half the value of the building. As near as could be ascertained by a news reporter there was $91,000 insurance outstanding upon cotton stored. A large number of the smaller owners did not have insurance and the loss was heavy upon them. A very small portion of the new crop was insured. While the fire dealt a staggering blow to the business life of this community, our people are facing the situation cheerfully and going forward with renewed energy and hope for the future.
The Oktibbeha Warehouse Company on Monday morning began arrangements to take care of the new cotton coming in and secured a lot on Lafayette street where cotton begin to be weighed and sampled. Receipts for more than eighty bales have already been issued. The warehouse company has not as yet made a definite decision about the rebuilding of the warehouse on the burned site. The warehouse has been a great convenience to the farmers of the community being only a block from the business center of this city and it is to be hoped that the owners will decide to rebuild on the old site. SN 9/9/27
Abert Lodge No. 89 – A.F.& A.M. Member Remembers the fires that destroyed their buildings
The following information was found on 3x5 note cards, no name and no date given in the files at the museum. Someone reading this article may recognize the individual and inform the museum. I checked the cornerstone but could not identify the person.
Recently I have been thinking of the history and growth of Abert Lodge. I feel that I am in better position to tell you these things than any other member, for I have lived in Starkville longer than any of you, and as your treasurer, have been in close touch with the Lodge’s financial hurdles for nearly fifty years. Debt was one of its burdens from the time it was organized until about fifteen years ago. The interests of Starkville, Mississippi State University, and Abert Lodge are so closely woven together, that it would be hard to relate facts about the one without the other.
It was the custom at that time to have Masonic ceremonies at the laying of the cornerstones of public buildings. In April 1909, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Administration Building of what was A&M College, the Grand Master of Mississippi presided, and I was drafted to represent the Grand Percival. I didn’t know the duties of the Grand Percival then nor do I know them now! Give names of prominent people in cornerstone—mine is also in it. Oktibbeha Lodge #89, Starkville, Miss., Oktibbeha County, was issued a dispensation in 1847. The name was changed to Abert Lodge in 1848. Chartered February 21 1848. A man named Abert, from Columbus, MS served as Grand Master in 1836 and for ten years thereafter served as Grand Lecturer, and took a deep interest in organizing this lodge. The Lodge was destroyed by fire three times – in 1875, 1892 and in 1930. The charter was saved from the fire of 1875 but was destroyed in 1893 and 1930. All records were destroyed in these fires. This covers a period of 83 years out of a total of 112 years since organization.
At the time of the 1875 fire, the Lodge was occupying quarters on the third floor of a frame building, located on what is now the Ike Katz property. Fifty-two buildings were destroyed. My mother and father told me that three days after the fire, they had used all their food and cash. Today, there are forty-three buildings facing Main Street between Washington and Jackson Streets. The second fire, which destroyed our records, was in 1893. Our Lodge owned the building located on what is now the Tom Katz property. I understand the fire started in our lodge, the alarm sounding about 2 am. It woke me up a small boy, and I remember it well. I was not permitted to go to it until after daylight. Four buildings were destroyed.
The Odd Fellows and the Masons rebuilt on the same site. Using red pressed brick and decorated tin over windows, doors and eaves of buildings with a second floor gallery leading into offices to be rented and into lodge rooms.
This gallery was protected by a roof. Carroll and Magruder, prominent lawyers, leased the Masonic front offices and Dr. B. L. Magruder leased the Odd Fellows offices. It was a very imposing building but with most impractical modes of entrance. I wish I could adequately describe for you the very unique steel stairway which led to each lodge. The foundation was in the street four or five feet from the curb—one could enter this from the curb – on one side – or directly from his carriage in the street. I have never seen another like it and I doubt that you have. The women boycotted it, the old men refused to climb it, so it was finally removed.
Soon both lodges were discussing new locations, but it was not until 1906 that the Masonic Lodge purchased its present lot. A building was erected on this lot which was not altogether satisfactory and it tended to lessen the interest in the lodge.
A good-sized mortgage was carried on this building at the time it was destroyed by fire in 1930. But the mortgage had nothing to do with the Fire!! A new building was soon erected, but as you know, the Lodge rooms are too small. We are in good sound financial position; owning a block and lot worth $75,000; have no debts and have cash on hand for an emergency.
Bubba Slaughter Remembers and shares information from his father’s journal.
The following form was required to be submitted to be a volunteer fireman.
To the Mayor and Board of Aldermen:
My son____________________________________has my permission to be a member of the Starkville Volunteer Fire Department and by so giving my consent I relinquish all claims against The City of Starkville in case of accident if happening while he is in any way working with said department.
1929 - A total of 25 fires were recorded during the year of 1929 with 4 complete losses and the loss of one life. A baby was burned to death in a house located on Long ST. The house was a total loss before the fire department could be of help. There was no organized fire department during this year.
1930 - A total of 44 calls, 8 of these were neighboring towns and 3 were in the county. One was the tragic death of a man at 510 College Drive due to the explosion of water heater in house that burned in 1930.
The Starkville Volunteer Fire Department was organized this year with Dero Saunders as the First Fire Chief and S. W. Slaughter as the Assistant Chief. Later, S. W. Slaughter became chief and H. H. Teasley, assistant chief. In 1933 Slaughter continued as chief with Jim Pruitt as assistant chief. The mayor at this time was E. R. Lloyd and the board of aldermen were J. L. Martin, W. W. Scales, George Bryan, H. E. Benton, and J. M. Arnold. Volunteer firemen were Edwin Brooks, T. J. Ferguson, Marvin Fulgham, J. A. Lamb, Jr., Ernest Hartness, Frank Josey, Billy Maddox, H. A. Martin, Herris Maxwell James McKell, Joe Phillips, Charlie Phillips, Dero Saunders, Walter Scales, S. W. Slaughter, Robert Stillman, H. H. Teasley, J. R. Thompson, Sr., J. L. Williams, Eustage Williams, R. E. Williams, J. W. Winfield, T. W. Winfield, and W. C. Winfield
1931 - A total of 36 calls this year, which included 5 complete losses. Two of the fire losses were due entirely to late alarm.
According to the Sanborn Map of 1925, Starkville’s population was about 7,000. There were 30 streets being protected using 24 volunteer firemen, a Ford truck and 600’ of 2 1/2” hose (1,200 of 2 1/2” hose in reserve) with a fire alarm by wilcat whistle at Power Plant. Starkville’s fire protection has come a long way from cisterns, one-horse pulled wagons, Ford truck, to the first Studebaker fire truck, to ladder trucks.
The Starkville Fire Department Today
The Starkville Fire Department website states that the first fire chief, Dero Saunders, was elected in 1930 and began the long journey of providing fire service for the citizens of Starkville. The Starkville Fire department began with a group of concerned citizens to serve in those times of fire. From that point the department has prided itself on continued growth and service to the citizens of Starkville and to all those who enter our city. As needs arose and services became greater in both number and quality the Mayor and Board of Aldermen decided in 1973 to hire E. W.”Punk” Turner as its first full time paid Fire chief. In the year of 1975 with continued growth the city of Starkville hired six new firefighters to go to a 24 hours on and 48 hours off sift rotation, which gave the city two fully staffed fire stations. As the fire service grew and fire prevention and building codes were enforced the number of fire calls dropped and the city took on medical services in the year of 1983. The current status of the Starkville Fire Department is a full paid career department, four stations, a class five insurance rating, that provides a full compliment of services such as CPR classes, fire suppression, fire prevention, hazardous materials response, high angle rescue, confined space rescue, medical response, high angle rescue, confined space rescue, medical response with paramedic capabilities.
Museum Fire Exhibit
The Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum has an exhibit featuring artifacts from our fire department and even a model firetruck for children to climb aboard and experience being a fireman. The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.