It would appear the institutional memories of many local readers far exceed those of the current Jacksonville Daily Progress editorial staff.
An April story documented the most recent downtown fire — a devastating, early April 28 blaze at 215 Main Street that burned down a building but didn't cause any injuries.
City Manager Mo Raissi said Tuesday that the owner of the building is still evaluating ways to tear it down as it lays in shambles sandwiched between other buildings protected by firewalls.
This damage, incidentally, inspired the creation of a newspaper list specifying the most memorable downtown fires.
But even though a reporter spent some time going through available archive stories, the list lacked a few key fires, Jeff Austin Jr., vice chairman of the board at Austin Bank, explained in an email.
That list, which included the January 1989 “Big Downtown Fire” did not include game-changing blazes such as the mid-1970s Liberty Hotel fire, Austin wrote.
Austin submitted his own additions to the list, which we added to the compilation we now present to readers.
Given that the sands of time have eroded many of the available records, some of the dates and other information Austin submitted falls within the general ballpark, rather than any exact, specified date. A reporter was unable to reference several of the cited incidents, so many details regarding cause and effect are missing.
Incidentally, we consider this to be a work in progress and invite readers to submit their own additions.
Here is that most recent version:
Jacksonville’s memorable fires
There have only been a handful of major fires in Jacksonville in recent years, and the following list is our attempt to keep track of them:
• The “Williamson-Odom Furniture or Murphey Brothers Fire” — which took place between the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This cause and scope of damage of this fire was not immediately available. It created the vacant lot on Main Street across from the downtown fire station because the building was not rebuilt. (From Austin)
• The "Old A&P store or one location of Marja Brassiere Company fire" — During the late 1960s to mid 1970s.
This property, cause and list of damage unavailable, is now the lot of the north entrance of Austin Bank. (Austin)
• Liberty Hotel Fire — Mid 1970s.
Located across railroad tracks on the corner of North Main and Woodrow street, this location is now warehouse for Larry Durrett’s Taco Bell franchise.
The cause and list of damage was not immediately available. (Austin)
• Abell Pharmacy fire –January 1980
The Abell Pharmacy burned and was destroyed in January 1980, after years of its owner, pharmacist James Edward Abell, doing renovations in the evenings and on weekends. Abell chose not to rebuild.
• “The Big Downtown Fire” – January 1989
A January 1989 fire that spread from building to building left four buildings at a total loss and burned so hot – and radiated heat so far – that it was impossible to touch a glass front door at the former police department, remembers Mariann Lindsey, Jacksonville dispatch supervisor.
Starting at Elaine's on the corner of Commerce and Bolton, it continued burning until it consumed the other structures, including a jewelry store and a bakery, she said.
At the time the city didn't have a ladder truck and one had to be ferried from Tyler.
“It burned for a couple of days and was a total loss,” Lindsey said. “Someone was arrested for arson and went to jail over that one.”
The fire in the 100 block of East Commerce destroyed about half of a block. The only rebuild was Elaine's, according to Austin.
Additionally: After the Commerce Street fire in 1989 or 90 the merchants and chamber formed a committee and produced the “Jacksonville 2000” — of which the half- cent sales tax as well as other ideas were presented, accepted, and implemented, according to Austin. The projects were received from community input. (Austin)
Austin led the group of 100 residents who formed Jacksonville 2000 in 1992. This group collaborated to establish 15 goals for the community to accomplish by the year 2000 and ultimately achieved about half of the group’s goals, resulting in marked improvements to the infrastructure and overall appeal of Jacksonville, according to JDP archives.
• Trinity Church Furniture Warehouse – November 2009. The vacant Trinity Church Furniture manufacturing warehouse, across from Twin Oaks Nursing Home, was completely destroyed during a morning fire on Nov. 11, 2009.
Jacksonville Fire Department was alerted at 10:05 a.m. and crews from Jacksonville, New Summerfield, North Cherokee, Bullard and Earle's Chapel fire departments were on scene shortly.
Oncor trucks were summoned to the scene to turn off the gas supply. Fire department officials said a 2-inch gas line ran behind the building.
The fire spread beyond the main structure.
Fire department officials reported several vacant structures in the area were a total loss.
They also reported the fire continued to spread at 10:42 a.m., when a small structure on the south side of the main fire was reportedly beginning to burn.
Also, the fire was spreading into the surrounding wooded area toward nearby residences.
Grass fire trucks and an air trailer were also called to the scene.
Crews were still on scene battling the fire at 2:18 p.m. that day.