THE GREAT DUBOIS FIRE, JUNE 18, 1888
June 18, 1888. The alarm sounded at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Smoke was seen coming from the Baker House, a three story building on North Franklin Street, and no more than 200 feet from the corner of West Long Avenue. At the time, the main part of town from Sugar Alley to Stockdale Street was almost all wooden buildings.
Roofs were hot from the sun and the wind was picking up and changing directions, spreading the fire in all directions. Flames leapt from building to building. The fire department was limited by lack of water. The water at Baker House was turned off and the initial flame dousing was done with buckets of water from nearby buildings. A water line was broken.
Residents hauled outside their possessions in attempts to save them. Some thought that the brick buildings would be safe but the intense heat melted off iron shutters and ignited the buildingÕs insides. When the fire reached Pentz Run, two buildings were dynamited to clear a stop the fire. By the time of the explosion, the buildings had already caught fire. The explosion blew the burning pieces out, spreading the fire.
The church in the background is now St. Peter's United Church of Christ on High Street. To the right is the Presbyterian Church and the Central (Scribner) School. The remains of th Commerical Hotel is to the right of the chimney.
John E. DuBois was seen with an axe, knocking barrels of whiskey rolled out to the streets from nearby saloons that were in the fire's path. He realized the problems that would result if the men began drinking. DuBois told the proprietor to bill him for the whiskey. Further down the street, some local men were spotted lying on the ground, drinking the spilling whiskey from the gutter.
Fire neared the First National Bank building. Bags of money and securities, boxes and baskets of legal papers were carried to the vault of the Deposit Bank to its fireproof vault.
John E. DuBois telegraphed to Renova for a fire engine. When the fire started, there were 166 businesses in the city. At 6 p.m. that evening, only six were left. Nearly 500 people were homeless.
A closer view of the downtown destruction.
The state sent military tents. Nearby towns sent food, cash and supplies. John E. DuBois opened his store for the victims and advanced credit at the Company store. A committee from Philadelphia visited to see if assistance should be given for rebuilding. They reported that DuBois was nothing more than a fairly recent lumber town.
The banks found temporary locations to reopen. Insurance money arrived. With that, the town began to revive. Land owners found their property lines and began clearing and rebuilding. New building codes were enacted, requiring brick and stone construction rather than wood.
A new water system was discussed, along with sewers. In 1889, the city contracted with the United States Water Company, later forming DuBois City Water Works Company. Water was supplied from a reservoir located within 6 miles of Treasure Lake. Work began on the Anderson Creek Reservoir with a tunnel through the continental divide.
A map from the DuBois Express newspaper showing the location of the fire. The shaded area was burned. The cross marks the Baker House.
Within days after the fire, the Volunteer Hose Company No. 1 was formed. Others followed in other parts of the town. With fire companies spread out, buildings built with stone rather than wood, and the water supply being increased, DuBois made sure another Ôgreat fireÕ would not happen.
-Gene M. Aravich
The annual Firemen’s Parade is now in its third century, celebrating the volunteer firemen who keep the residents safe from the type of fires that devastated the city back in 1888.
In June of 1890, firemen lined up for a parade in downtown DuBois. Shortly after seven p.m., the whistle blew, signaling the start of the parade.
Every year since, the firemen’s parade tradition continues. Firemen from all over the area proceed through the town as the rest of the community applauds their service.
High school bands march along to entertain the crowds with their music. Main roads of the city are blocked off to allow the parade to pass by without pause.
Dads, husbands and big brothers wave to their families from the back of their fire and rescue trucks which shine from days of polishing and waxing.
The City of DuBois realizes the important role that fire fighters play in the safety of their homes and businesses. The firemen’s parade is a chance for the entire community to show its appreciation to these courageous men.
Gene M. Aravich