COURT HOUSE BURNED
Great public loss was sustained in the destruction by fire of the Court House at Yorkville, on March 25, 1887, and the conflagration is remembered as one of the most destructive in the town's history. A few minutes before 4 o'clock in the morning of March 25, 1887, the Methodist Church bell, the paper mill whistle, and the train whistles gave the usual fire alarm. Some people thought the paper mill was on fire, some thought of the business street, but soon a light broke from the window on the west side of the south end of the Court House. Little could be done because of the limited supply of water, and there was no leader to the crowd which was willing to do but did not know where to begin. It seemed at first as if a hogshead of water could put the blaze out, but there was no water at hand and so all that could be done was to save the books and furniture. The fire started in a room north of the Treasurer's office, and between that and the vault on the west side of the building near a window. It burned slowly and those in the hall tried to stop the spread. A little water from the court house well was used as long as it held out, but that was not long. The iron cage about the jail windows were broken by Mr. Markel with a sledge hammer and a little water used but there was not enough. Next a light from the Grand Jury room was seen, and it was known the case was hopeless. "Save the records !"' was the cry. The circuit and county clerks kept their records in vaults adjoining their offices, which were made with stone floors, brick arched ceilings, thick walls and iron doors, and supposed to be fire proof, but it was feared that they would not hold, so Mr. Beebe's office windows were broken, and his books taken out and handed to men outside of the windows, who took them in wagons to places of safety. The same was done with those belonging to the county clerk's office on the east side of the Court House. Sheriff Ackerman's household goods were also taken out.
There were two prisoners In the jail in the basement, Archie Gilmore, held for murder, and Beck, of Millington, serving sentence under the dramshop act. These were taken out and put In charge of an officer in Beck's hotel. Gilmore was locked in the night cell, and the room was full of smoke when the sheriff went to get him, and he came near suffocating. Beck was In a larger room and had more air. The fire continued and a cold northeast wind blew through the building soon making it a fiery furnace. The heavy cornice took fire, and burning brands flew to the east and southeast, and it was feared that Nelson Hubbard's place would also go, but the wind was steady and blew the sparks between Mr. Hubbard's and Beck's hotel. At half-past five the cupola fell, then there was nothing but the bare walls left. The cause of the fire was not certainly known. No stove was In the room where it began, but a hard coal stove was in the jail room below, and the pipe ran through the floor and wont into the chimney at the top of a vacant room. The pipe ran through a tin safe through the floor, and it was supposed this safe was full of accumulated dust, lint, etc., from the years past, that it became ignited early in the evening when the fire was hot and smoldered till nearly morning, set the floor on fire, and crept along joists to window and side walls. The first known was when smoke filled the sheriff's sleeping room on the basement floor and the suffocating fumes awakened the sleepers.
The estimated value of the property was $30,000. The building cost about $25,000.00.
It was erected in 1803 and '04 (NOTE: this is probably supposed to be 1863 and '64), and was occupied by the county officers in June of 1864. The Insurance held was $12,000.00, in Cornell's Agency, in Etna, Home, Phoenix of Hartford and Phoenix of Brooklyn, for $3.000.00 in each. The books were taken to Union Hall for further orders, and the same hall was used for the Court during the May term. The money in the Treasurer's vault in a fire proof safe was not injured. Judge Hudson's library was burned and also the library in the Circuit Clerk's room. Mr. Fitzgerald, States Attorney, estimated the loss to be between seven hundred and eight hundred dollars. [March 25, 1887 - Submitted by Janice Rice]
Court House Destroyed
Aurora, Ill., March 26 - A telegram to the Mayor of this city and superintendent Alexander, of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, from Yorkville, 12 or 14 miles south of here on the Fox River road, announced that the Kendall County court house was on fire, and asked for assistance. The fire department was turned out and a couple of steamers loaded on flat cars, but before they were ready to leave, another dispatch at 5:15 stated that the building was entirely consumed and it would be useless to send them. It is since learned that the fire started in the roof from a defective flue, that all the records were saved, the prisoners removed from the jail in safety, and that no person was injured in the operation. Only the bare stone walls of the fine structure remain. [Saturday, March 26, 1887; Daily Gazette (Rockford, IL) Pg: 3]
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