Sunday, December 14, 2014

Facebook delivers a family story detail that I didn't know!

The Zeller Barbershop,
Frostburg, Allegany County, Maryland.
Before 1917.
 
See that fine barbering emporium on Main Street in the Western Maryland mountain town of Frostburg, above? That was my great grandfather's shop. He was Gus Zeller (1884 - 1927). As best I know he had a business here first and then across the street. Why did he move across the street? Because the shop you see here burned to the ground in a large fire on 14 December, 1917, and that's 97 years ago today as I write this.
 
I was on Facebook this morning and happened to see a post about this fire that destroyed a big chunk of the downtown business area. Wow, I thought, it happened just three years short of 100 on this day! But then I went on to read all that had been posted and it was the full text of an article that ran in the Cumberland Times newspaper, a larger town that was close by Frostburg. I'm posting the full text of the article here, copied from that Facebook post, in the chance that someone whose ancestor was also the victim of the fire might search and stumble upon this. I learned a thing or two about the events of the day from this article so if it helps someone else, more the better.
 
A reprint from the Cumberland Times Friday, December 14, 1917
FROSTBURG BUSINESS BLOCK LAID WASTE BY STUBBORN BLAZE; CONEY AND CUMBERLAND FIREMEN CALLED

Seven Buildings Totaling Loss Of $150,000 Destroyed – Stiff Gale Balks Firemen Who Fought For Four Hours – Frostburg Department Handicapped, New Auto engine of Cumberland And Coney Firefighters Save Town From Devastation.

FROSTBURG, Dec. 14 – A fire, doing an estimated damage of $150,000, broke out this morning about 5 o’clock from the Shea building, this place, and before it was extinguished burned seven buildings to the ground. The destroyed buildings were: Shea building and a double block residence and average on same lot; the building occupied as store and residence by the Frostburg Furniture Co. and a warehouse and stable on the same lot; a building owned by Mrs. D. J. Betz and occupied on the ground floor by Jeffries Bros., jewelers; Zeller’s barber shop and C. F. Betz’s grocery store; a garage and storehouse on First street owned by the Frostburg Furniture and Undertaking Co.

Burns Four Hours
Fanned by a stiff gale the fire burned furiously for four hours and it was not until 9 a.m. that it was under complete control. For some time it looked as if the Lyric building would also burn, and all its occupants moved their furniture and fixtures to places of safety. The Lyric Theatre suffered considerable damage from the blazes which leaped across from the Betz building, all the east windows being broken and the sash and frames burned.

Lose Everything
The occupants of the Shea building lost everything, as the fire was so far advanced when discovered that nothing could be saved. The building was occupied on the first floor by the Shea’s drug store and McCrorey’s five and ten cent store, on the second floor by offices of Clayton Purnell, attorney; Frostburg Building and Loan Association; Thomas Elias’ tailor shop and offices of Parker-George’s Creek Coal Co., the Gleason Coal and Coke Co. and Sullivan Bros. Coal Co; the third floor of the building was occupied by the local aerie Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Furniture Stock Ruined
The Frostburg Furniture and Undertaking Co. lost their entire stock and almost all the household furniture of Jonas J. Durst, president of the company, who with his family, resided on the second floor. All that this concern was able to save out of an estate valued at $30,000 was two horses, a motor ambulance, a National touring car, two hearses and some embalming instruments.

Groceries Burned Up
C. F. Betz, grocer, lost almost his entire stock, while the entire stock of the Jeffries Bros., jeweler’s was saved. G. W. M. Zeller lost heavily although some of his barber chairs and fixtures were saved. Nearly all the household furniture of Robert Cook and James Durst, who occupied apartments on the second floor of the Betz building was saved. The second floor of the Beatz building was occupied by the offices of the City Clerk J. S. Metzger, Attorney Charles G. Watson and City Engineer William Harvey. City Clerk Metzger saved all the town’s records and the most valuable of his own papers. William Harvey saved most of his equipment and papers. Attorney Watson lost practically everything. Some damage by water was done to the Lyric café and the Hosken and Gunter’s pool room. These two concessions moved all their stock and some of their furnishings when the fire appeared most threatening. The second floor of the Lyric building, which is occupied as a residence by Mrs. L.R. Ash and J. C. Youngerman, was emptied, the goods being carried to the houses of friends and stores on the opposite side of the street.

Save Draft Records
The furnishings of the third floor of the Lyric building, occupied by the local draft board, were also carried to places of safety, and scores of men worked untiringly carrying out the immense stock of goods Stanton’s hardware store. Most of these goods were packed in the Catholic church yard. Mrs. Truman Thorpe and Mrs. Isabel Campbell occupied the burned double block house in the rear of the Shea building. The Thorpe family saved much of their household goods; Mrs. Campbell saved nothing but a watch, which belonged to her deceased husband.

Save Hotel
The Gladstone Hotel was in great danger for a long while, but owing to the direction of the wind and persistent efforts of the firemen the damage to this building was slight. The residence of Wm. J. Daily and a house owned by Mrs. John Brady were in great danger for a while and so much fear was entertained for their safety that all the contents were removed to neighboring houses.

Nearby Cities Aid
This was the most extensive and damaging fire experienced in Frostburg since 1874 and had it not been for help from Cumberland, Lonaconing and Midland the disaster would have been probably the worst in the history of the town. Between 75 and 100 men of Good Will Fire Company, Lonaconing, arrived at 7 o’clock with much needed equipment and they worked heroically with the Frostburg Fire Department until the blaze was under control. The new motor truck of the Cumberland Fire Department arrived on scene at 8 o’clock and the strong stream this engine produced, after being attached to the fire plug in front of St. Michael’s Church, was all that prevented the fire from eating its way down Welsh street and First street. The Midland firemen were also on the scene and worked hard until all anger had passed.

New Truck Broken Down
Had it not been for a combination of adverse circumstances the Frostburg Fire Department could undoubtedly have kept the fire confined to the Shea building. The men never worked harder, but they had to work without the new motor truck – their best piece of equipment, which was in Cumberland undergoing repairs. Another handicap resulted from the recent gas failure, which caused a freezing temperature in the hose house and the hose, used only a few days ago at another fire, were found to be frozen when put in use this morning.

Hose Burst
It was not long this morning after the fire bell rang until four of the hoses were connected to as many water plugs, but when the pressure was turned in, three of the lines burst, causing a loss of time for repairs. Add to this, annoyance of a high wind and for some reason an unusually low water pressure and one can easily understand that it required almost superhuman effort on the part of the men of the fire departments to save from destruction a larger area than is now laid in waste.

Stocks were Heavy
Owing to the holiday season, all stores were heavily stocked and consequently the loss is greater than it would have been at any other season of the year. Mr. Shea alone places loss at $60,000, while that of the Frostburg Furniture Co. is estimated at between $30,000 and $35,000. These two are the heaviest losers. A conservative estimate places the loss of the others at $60,00, making the entire value of the property destroyed $150,000. The blaze occurred in the heart of the town and the destructive work of the four hours’ fire this morning has changed that section from a block of brilliant stores attired in holiday dress to a blackened area of ruins, which will make the town poorer in many ways until this section is rebuilt.

To Resume Business
Several stores have arranged to resume business at once. Jeffries Bros., who saved all their stock will be open for business tomorrow morning in the vacant room next to the Palace Theatre. This firm had a huge iron safe in the fire, which was filled with valuable jewelry. It was forced opened after cooling off and everything was in perfect condition including the most delicate watches, which were keeping perfect time. The Frostburg Furniture Co. will probably occupy the Gladstone’s annex. The undertaking business portion of this firm will be carried on without interruption, their office being in the Gladstone Hotel until further notice.






My great grandfather went on to build out a bigger and better barbering establishment across Main Street. He stayed on there until he retired and turned the business over to one of his sons. Gus Zeller died in Frostburg, in his home on Main Street and just up the hill from the thriving business he built.

Gustav William Zeller
(1881 - 1927)


The URL for this post is: http://nutsfromthefamilytree.blogspot.com/2014/12/facebook-delivers-family-story-detail.html 

3 comments:

  1. Diane,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/12/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-december-19.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    ReplyDelete