Mendon Fire of 1916
written by Joe Ganger, 20 Nov 2000

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The history of Fire Prevention Week has it's roots in the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred on October 9, 1891. This tragedy killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2000 acres in 27 hours. While the origin of the fire has never been determined, there has been much speculation over how it began.

One popular legend, which was recently disproved by a Chicago historian, is that Mrs. Catherine O'Leary was milking her cow when the animal kicked over a lamp, setting the O'Leary's barn on fire and starting the destructive blaze.

On October 4, 1916, while many of its citizens were attending the Kalamazoo County Fair to see the Human Fly, the Mendon business district burned down.

A fire started in Roger's Butcher Shop, where a clerk was rendering lard in a large kettle. The big red fire pumper (hand operated) was lost for the battle as excited firemen backed it up to the river bank to run hoses and watched helplessly as it broke loose and plunged into the St. Joseph River.

The call went out for help from other fire departments. Kalamazoo and Sturgis fire departments sent equipment on railcars, and the trains sped to Mendon in record time. It took Kalamazoo only two hours to get its equipment loaded on trains and down to the catastrophe. By evening 41 businesses and three dwellings were burned.

The Kalamazoo Gazette story states that the greatest human casualties were the firemen who drank liberally from the drug stores' supplies of liquor and were in such bad shape that many were not able to get home until the next day.

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Special 'thanks' to Joe Ganger who generously submitted this historical review for inclusion on the St Joseph Co., MI USGenWeb website