Most costly fires in Springfield, 1904-48

Smoke billows above the Schuck & Sons Lumber Yard, destroyed by fire on Aug. 26, 1937 (SJR)

Smoke billows above the Schuck & Sons lumber yard at Ninth and Jefferson streets, which was destroyed by fire on Aug. 26, 1937 (SJR)

The following list of the most destructive fires in Springfield history was published in the May 3, 1948, Illinois State Journal.

The list is based solely on the amount of property damage. Damage estimates are not adjusted for inflation. Preliminary damage estimates (as in The Boston Store fire below) were often much higher than the figures compiled after further investigation.

Although the fires that accompanied the race riot of August 1908 were widespread, they were not included in the 1948 list. People who lost property (not all due to fire) in the riot filed claims with the city amounting to $132,103, but final payouts were negotiated down to a total of $36,528. Of the 118 people who received compensation, restaurateur Harry Loper was awarded the largest amount, $7,750 (he had sought $20,000).

Here is the Journal’s list, with additional information by SangamonLink:

  • Jan. 17, 1904: Vredenburgh Lumber Co. and yards, Third and Jefferson streets, $120,000 damage
  • Dec. 21, 1907: Johnston & Hatcher home furnishings store, Seventh and Adams streets, $137,612
  • Oct. 11, 1913: Johnston & Hatcher store, $182,970
  • Dec. 7, 1915: The Boston Store, 108-110 S, Sixth St., $156,806 (note: damage estimate at the time was $320,000)
  • Aug. 17, 1917: Dome building, Illinois State Fairgrounds, $300,000
  • Jan. 17, 1918: Springfield Paper Co., 420-422 E. Madison St., $100,622
  • Dec. 19, 1921: Hatcher Auto/Springfield Battery, 703-707 E. Adams St., $124,139
  • March 18, 1923: Van Horn and Link Fancy Bazaar, 122 S. Sixth St., $137,542
  • March 24, 1924: Myers Brothers building, Fifth and Washington, $392,176
  • May 23, 1926: McPherson & Edward dry goods, 108 S. Sixth St. $131,075
  • Jan. 22,1927: C.B. Smith Chemical Co., 109 S. Ninth St., $105,500
  • Jan. 29, 1927: Armour Packing Company, 303 E. Monroe St., $117,343
  • April 8, 1927: Elevator Milling Co., 229 E. Washington St., $226,351
  • Jan. 12, 1931: John Bressmer Department Store, 612 E. Adams St., $113,364
  • March 8, 1933: Vredenburgh Lumber planing mills, Second and Madison streets, $175,000
  • Feb, 18, 1934: Illinois State Arsenal, $500,000
  • Aug. 26, 1937: Schuck & Sons Lumber Co., Ninth and Jefferson streets, over $100,000
  • Jan. 1942: JC Penney store, south side of square, $250,000
  • Dec, 30, 1945: Wiedlocher Flour Mill, Second and Reynolds streets, $250,000 to $275,000
  • July 2, 1946: Davis Cleaning Co., 2222 S. Sixth St., $75,000
  • Nov. 24, 1946: Katsinas Cafe and State Hotel, 523 E. Monroe St., $200,000
  • May 2, 1948: Bressmer store, loss originally estimated at $2 million, later revised to $1.275 million

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6 Responses to Most costly fires in Springfield, 1904-48

  1. John Rodenburg says:

    How about church at 5th and Edwards about 1957?

    • editor says:

      John: Good call. That was the First Congregational Church, which was destroyed by a fire on Nov. 12, 1956. It had been built in 1868 and rebuilt, with stone facing on the walls, in 1901. First Congregational built its new church at Bates & Cherry Road after the fire. I’m still working up to the 1950s in my fire compilation (there were a heck of a lot of fires in the first half of the 20th century), but First Congregational will be on the list when I do. Thanks for the note.

  2. Just wondering if there is any existing documentation regarding a fire that occurred in the early 1900’s at the Oliver Whitmore Dry Cleaning Plant which claimed the life of one of the employees? I think the business may have been located near or past the end of East Monroe Street…
    Any information you might gather on this would be most appreciated!
    Thank you,
    Vicki K Lopez Whitmore
    PS The owner was my paternal great-grandfather

    • editor says:

      Ms. Whitmore: An explosion of unknown origin, presumably involving cleaning chemicals, destroyed the Whitmore Cleaning Co. plant at Monroe and Eastdale (near Bergen Park) on May 22, 1925. Garland Brust, 22, an employee, was killed. I’m sending you a copy of the Illinois State Journal’s story about the blast via email.
      Thanks for reading SangamonLink.

  3. Glasgow says:

    Greetings editor, I am researching family roots from Sangamon and Springfield. Seeking any information about the Withey family. Your help would be appreciated. Thank you, Stephen Glasgow. ps: I found this: Illinois State Journal, April 22, 1861). Among the buildings destroyed by that fire was Withey’s new carriage factory; By the early 1870s, this “near east” neighborhood had a mixed residential and industrial character. Located at the southeast corner of Seventh and Jefferson Streets was a large grist mill complex (the Exchange Mill). The Withey Brothers carriage manufactory, which had burned in 1861, was rebuilt near the southeast corner of Eighth and Washington Streets

    • editor says:

      Mr. Glasgow: I just checked the Springfield newspapers (via using the search term “Withey” and came up with 10,500 entries. I’m willing to do limited searches (I’d need some first names and/or dates), but I’m not able to do searches involving that many articles.
      Your best bet is (a) to subscribe to genealogybank (it’s cheap) or (b) see if your local public library subscribes to its sister site,, which usually is free to library cardholders. Either of those will give you access to Springfield newspapers back to 1831. They’re great resources.
      I don’t know where else you’ve searched, but in case you weren’t aware: (it lists 40 Witheys buried in Sangamon County) and also are valuable sites.
      Good luck.

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