Just after midnight on June 19, 1900, a great fire began sweeping through much of the city's downtown. By 8 a.m. the next morning, stunned residents struggled with the enormity of the devastation - 45 buildings and 5 1/2 blocks reduced to little more than smoking rubble.
It all began at 12:20 a.m., when Bloomington patrolman John Brennan spotted flames in a second-story window of Model Laundry in the 100 block of East Monroe Street between Main and East streets.
Flames quickly spread to Benoni S. Green's harness and saddlery business immediately to the east. From the beginning, antiquated equipment combined with low water pressure hampered Bloomington firefighters.
Steady winds pushed the fire in a southwesterly direction, and within an hour flames had engulfed most of the block running from Main to East and Monroe to Jefferson streets.
The fire spread to the east and north sides of the Courthouse Square. Even the largest, most substantial brick structures, such as the five-story Griesheim Building, proved no match for the flames and blast-furnace-like heat. This high rise, at the southeast corner of Main and Jefferson, was home to Wolf Griesheim's street-level men's clothing store and more than 30 doctor, dentist and law offices.
At 2:30 a.m., Bloomington Mayor Lewis B. Thomas requested assistance from the Peoria and Springfield fire departments. Both arrived around 5 a.m., coming by express train with their equipment lashed to railcars.
Burning embers and sparks filled the air. Sparrow nests on the courthouse roof caught fire, and the flames spread to the wooden rafters. Thus, the supposedly fireproof building burned from within. By morning, according to one account, the courthouse resembled "a skull, sightless and cavernous."
On the north side of the square, the fire jumped across Center Street, bringing down the Windsor Hotel (today the site of the Illinois House) and an old Baptist church, then serving as a livery stable (today Pantagraph Printing & Stationery Co.).
Thankfully, the flames spread no farther, due in part to the efforts of local residents manning rooftop "bucket brigades." The last blaze was extinguished a little before 8 a.m. Later on, paper and letters were found in farm fields three to four miles southwest of downtown, carried by the maelstrom's updraft and the strong winds.
Estimates placed the losses at more than $2 million (or more than $50 million today, adjusted for inflation)
Remnants from the courthouse:
Surviving capitals (the architectural term for the tops of columns): Dimmitt's Grove neighborhood east of downtown: the southeast corner of Grove and McLean streets and the southwest corner of Washington and Evans. A third capital can be found at the Emerson Street entrance to White Place.
The Summit Street Bridge: Four pilasters, (the architectural term for a flat column attached to a wall), are part of the Summit Street Bridge on Miller Park's eastern edge. The bridge's infilling stonework, contrary to stubborn local tradition, did not come from the courthouse.
The Dome: The most distinctive remnant at Miller Park is the dome's framework. Two months after the fire, the iron "ribs" of the dome were brought to Miller Park and reassembled. It was then covered with a wire screen to serve as a "cage" for zoo animals. At one point, city workers moved the dome to a small island on the park's manmade lake, where it became a habitat for monkeys. Though the island is gone, the dome remains a feature of Miller Park, and now stands east of the pavilion, minus the chattering monkeys, of course.
The Bell: During the fire the 2,900-pound bronze bell crashed through the building's rotunda, embedding itself into the basement floor. Happily, the county salvaged the bell, and it was eventually reinstalled in the successor courthouse.
Postcard showing the aftermath of the fire which swept through Downtown Bloomington on June 19, 1900.
The Model Laundry, in the 100 block of East Monroe Street. Written on a column in white, "fire started here."
Courthouse during conflagration.
View west on Jefferson St. from East St. Fire was controlled shortly after this photograph was taken. Smoke in distance is from the last building destroyed.
Courthouse interior post-fire
Courthouse interior post-fire
View south on Main St. from corner of Main and Monroe streets.
East side of N. Main St. from Washington to Monroe.
Ruins of the Windsor Hotel building.
View southwest from Main and Monroe streets.
Looking east on Monroe St.
Rebuilding after the fire.
City of Bloomington, Illinois, Before and After the Great Fire of June 19, 1900
This map indicates the area of damage caused by the Great Fire of Bloomington in June 1900. The blocks outlined in red were completely destroyed in the fire. The icons indicate buildings of interest.
Also available as downloadable PDF.
|1.1||"Big Fire At Bloomington: Illinois Town Loses Over $1,500,000 in Flames," New York Times, June 20, 1900.|
|1.2||"Incidents of the Fire. Annette Tells What She Saw and Heard," Daily Bulletin, June 22, 1900, p. 2.|
|1.3||"In Perfect Condition," Daily Bulletin, June 22, 1900, p. 1.|
|1.4||"Visits Court House: Annette Tells of the Conditions Since the Fire," Sunday Bulletin, June 24, 1900, p. 1.|
|1.5||"Building the New," transcription of June 19, 1901.|
|1.6||"Over $1,300,000 for New Buildings," June 19, 1901, p. 9|
|1.7||"The Town Clock" (poem), June 19, 1901, p. 10.|
|1.8||"1900 Blaze Stays 'Hot' in Memories," June 18, 1950, p. 22.|
|1.9||"He Was There: Ralph Green Gives Boy"s Picture of City"s Big Fire," June 17, 1958, p. 12.|
|1.10||"When Fire Struck," June 19, 1960 (original and photocopy).|
|1.11||"The Day the Town Burned Down: Disaster Lurked Unseen," June 19, 1960 (original and photocopy).|
|1.12||"Witness Describes Day Bloomington Burned," July 8, 1968, p. A12.|
|1.13||"Great fire of 1900: 'It was awful,' June 15, 1980, p. A-8 & A-9.|
|1.14||"Ring of destruction" (aerial photo of area), June 15, 1980, p. A-8.|
|1.15||"Remembering the Great Fire of 1900," Twin City Community News, June 14, 2000, p. 1 (original and photocopy).|
|1.16||"Major fires downtown," June 18, 2000.|
|1.17||"Desperate hours. Firefighters lost battle to save much of downtown," no date.|
|1.18||"Bloomington"s 'Great Fire" of 1900 quickly swept through 45 buildings" ("Page from Our Past" column), June 15, 2008, p. B3.|
|2.1||Phoenix Sale 1900, Griesheim & Son, June 15, 1901, p. 8.|
|3.1||"Bloomington Will Build Again," Pantagraph flier for National Newspaper Week, June 20, 1900.|
|1.1||"Bloomington Illinois Before and After the Great Fire of June 19, 1900," Bloomington, IL (Corn Belt Printing and Stationery Co.,) no date, 16 pgs, includes photographs of before, during, and after the fire, list of businesses (1 full booklet, 1 partial booklet)|
|1.2||"City of Bloomington, Illinois, Before and After the Great Fire of June 19, 1900," Bloomington, IL (Pantagraph Printing and Stationery Co.,) no date, 16 pgs, includes historical sketch of Bloomington, enumerated list of insurance losses, before and after photographs (four copies)|
|1.3||"Bloomington Illinois, U.S.A. 1901 Souvenir," printed for the Bloomington Business Men"s Association by the Pantagraph Printing and Stationery Co., no date, 2 pgs (two copies, one with pink cover)|
|1.4||"Business Men"s Proclamation," Bloomington, 1901, proclaims the resuscitation from the fire, an explanation of the proclamation, photographs, advertisements, 6 pgs (2 complete copies (?), 2 partial copies)|
|1.5||Miscellaneous photographs of after the fire, 8 photographs|
|1.1||List of department fatalities.|
|1.2||Booklet, "Grand Opening Airport Fire Station and Headquarters Fire Station" c. 1973.|
|1.3||"History of the Bloomington Fire Service," article in Illinois Firefighter (Spring 1976) (photocopy)|
|1.4||"The Bloomington Fire Department Celebrates 125 years of Service," June 1993, 8 p. booklet, written and complied by Bob Williams (3 copies)|
|1.5||Invitation, 125th anniversary open house, headquarters fire station, 310 N. Lee Street, June 19, 1993|
|1.6||Bloomington Fire Department brochure (undated).|
|1.7||Views of engine house No. 1 and No. 2, from Souvenir Program of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the City of Bloomington, May 10, 1900|
|1.8||2 tickets: Eighth Anniversary Ball , 1866 and Fourteenth Annual Ball, 1929.|
|1.9||National State Bank check, April 21, 1884, paid to the Bloomington Fire Department, $50.00.|
|1.10||Fire Alarm Boxes, c. June 1898 (photocopy, source unknown)|
|1.11||Firemen"s Pension Fund, 5th annual entertainment program, Chatterton Opera House, March 12, 1914 (photocopy|
|1.12||Bumper sticker, "BFD 388 . . ." (no date)|
|1.13||Tenth annual Prairie Birds ball, advertisement and article, December 23 and 24, 1864.|
|1.14||"The New Steamer," Daily Leader, September 21, 1871, p. 3|
|1.15||"Fire Alarm," May 22, 1879, p. 4|
|1.16||List of fire alarms boxes, Daily Bulletin, November 12, 1885, p. 4.|
|1.17||"Brave Boys Are They,"" August 3, 1889|
|1.18||"Moving Into New Central Fire Station," November 13, 1902, p. 3|
|1.19||"Glimpses of Bloomington"s Fire Department History," June 19, 1907, p. 3|
|1.20||"Two Pictures of the Old-Time Fire Department," July 13, 1907|
|1.21||"May Establish Fireman"s Pension," September 3, 1907, p. 3|
|2.22||"Fireman Colton Is Dead," September 19, 1912, p. 9|
|1.23||"Fireman Corman Gets First Vacation" (includes seniority list), June 4, 1913|
|1.24||"The City"s Oldest Fireman Dead" (Thomas B. Corman), January 12, 1917, p. 12|
|1.25||"Henry Mayer is Chief 26 Years," July 30, 1921, p. 12|
|1.26||"Death Summons John Radbourn," April 6, 1920, p. 6 (longtime fireman, brother of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher|
|1.27||Three newspaper articles (January 16 through January 21, 1922) on death of fireman Larry Burns (one of five in-the-line- of-duty BFD fatalities). Daily Bulletin and Pantagraph|
|1.28||"Assistant Fire Chief Summoned" (Charles Abrams), July 7, 1922, p. 5.|
|1.29||"Henry Mayer Is Taken By Death," October 10, 1928, p. 5|
|1.30||"Chief Neal Lists Big Fires," August 26, 1930|
|1.31||"City"s Fire Chiefs Few," August 26, 1930, p. 12-D|
|1.32||"Jesse Minton, 67, Veteran Fireman Dies in Champaign," July 5, 1932, p. 3|
|1.33||"Sees Fire Department Grow Up With the City," June 5, 1938, p. 3 (profile of retired foreman James "Cap" Morrissey)|
|1.34||"Behrend Starts 30th Year," May 4, 1949, p. 3|
|1.35||"Firemen made ultimate sacrifice in "28 fire" ("A Page from Our Past" column), September 23, 2007, p. B3|