ANOKA ANNIHILATED! A Sweeping Sea of Devouring Flame. Wipes Out of Existence the Unfortunate City. Not a Business Block Left in the Place. Six Blocks Burned Over and 69 Buildings Destroyed. The Great Lincoln Mill Goes Down in the Ruin. Washburn’s Loss $250,000 and Insurance $144,000. The Total Loss Approximating a Million, With Only One Quarter Insurance. Details of the Disaster and Lists of Insurance as Far as Attainable.
Never before in the history of this state has such a dire calamity fallen upon any city or town as the one that on Saturday morning (August 16, 1884) spread ruin and desolation over the once flourishing city of Anoka. Friday its business men retired for the night prosperous and happy, and on Saturday awoke to find every vestige of the business portion of their city in ashes, and many of themselves beggars. Never has such a sudden transition from comfort and prosperity to dire distress and ruin been witnessed within the borders of our commonwealth and it is no wonder that her business men were found paralyzed amid the ashes of their former business blocks unable to rally at the moment from the overwhelming calamity that had fallen upon them. Not one store, not one place of business remains upon the site of this late flourishing city. Its stores, banks, newspaper offices, the great Lincoln mill, the Anoka flouring mill, the large planing mills, dry kilns, lumber sheds, machine shops and other buildings of the W. D. Washburn company are all gone entirely, utterly obliterated, and not so much as one brick left standing upon another that will ever be fit for use as a part of a new structure.
No wonder that the stoutest hearts quailed, and when in addition to this wholesale destruction of property we come to understand that outside of the W. D. Washburn company, but a small percentage of the property destroyed was insured, the feelings of the sufferers can well be imagined.
Anoka was one of the oldest cities in the state, and contains to-day about six thousand people. It is located upon both banks of the Rum river, about one half mile from its junction with the Mississippi, and 27 miles by rail from St. Paul on the Northern Pacific R. R. and Fergus Falls division of the Manitoba rail road. The eastern side of the river contained nearly all the business of the city, and few cities of Minnesota contained more fine or substantial buildings than did Anoka prior to the fire. The fine new Opera House block of W. D. Washburn upon Main and Second avenue of St. Louis pressed brick, the fine double store three story brick upon the opposite diagonal corner recently built by H. L. Ticknor, and more than the usual proportion of fine two story brick stores gave the city an air of solidity that was sadly at variance with the havoc which one sudden breath of the fire king wrought. Years were required to build it, but three short hours worked its utter ruin.
The story of its ruins is soon told. At about 2:20 Saturday morning fire was discovered under the floor of the skating rink, located in the rear of the postoffice, on Second avenue, and also in the wood house adjacent, belonging to the school building, on the corner of Second avenue and Monroe street. The alarm was promptly given and the steamer, hose carts and entire fire department of the city were soon upon the ground.
From the very first, however, they were powerless to suppress the flames or even to hold them in check. The rink, a mammoth wooden structure, seemed to be a mass of flame in a moment, and the adjacent buildings caught like gunpowder. Soon the entire portion of the business blocks on both Main and Second avenue were on fire and rising like a monster the remorseless, relentless fire fiend towering high in air leaped over intervening streets and threw down all opposing barriers in his determined effort to get at his prey. Second avenue and Main street were crossed in this way at about the same moment, and in an incredibly short space of time Center block, containing the fine Opera house building, First National bank and other fine buildings were a mass of seething flame. With Center block bathed in flame the doom of the mammoth Lincoln roller mill, a vast wooden structure just across the street from the northwest corner of the block, was scaled and soon that too was in the tolls of the ravenous monster.
The scene at this time was full of an awful sublimity and grandeur that filled the stoutest hearts with awe and terror. The horrible roar of the flames, the crash of falling buildings, the hoarse shouts of frantic men and the lurid sheets of fire that filled the air and towered mountain high, lighting up the scene for miles around, all formed a scene never to be forgotten if once witnessed.
The department, utterly paralyzed, turned their attention to checking the spread of the flames toward the south – that were creeping along the river bank – and were finally successful, aided by a southerly wind. The school house on the corner of Second avenue and Monroe street, being isolated a little from other buildings, was saved though badly scorched. Across the street the Merchants hotel and a small dwelling with it, were with almost Herculean effort also saved. The north side of the block bounded by River street and the square was swept, but here the limit was also reached and by the time the department turned its attention to the yards of the Washburn Mill company’s saw mill, the wind, which was mainly from the southeast, aided in the matter and the northern limit was made about ninety feet from the saw mill.
Exhausted and overpowered with their heroic though almost futile struggle the Anoka department hailed with joy the arrival of Chief Engineer F. L. Stetson with steamer and company No. 1, of the Minneapolis department, who answered the call promptly, leaving Minneapolis at 4:25 and arriving at the scene of conflagration at 5 a. m. At 5:52 Assistant E. W. Hildebrand, of the St. Paul with steamer No. 4 and hose cart with 1,150 feet of hose arrived on a special having made run in just 32 minutes. He brought with him company No. 4, ten more strong, and right nobly did they aid in suppressing the flames that were eating into the woodwork of the dam and the piles of edgings which form the artificial banks of the river. But when at last the ravages of the fatal element that had held high carnival in this quiet city through three hours of waning night had been set in metes and bounds, and the tired firemen and exhausted citizens had time to look their loss squarely in the face what a sight it was that met their gaze. Nearly six blocks of the heart of their city gone, utterly obliterated, with nothing but falling walls and fiercely burning debris to mark the spot where late their city stood. Sixty-nine buildings in all, the best and most valuable in the city had fallen, and of all the large stocks of goods that their stores and shops contained, scarcely a handful remained. Great piles of ashes marked the spot where within the public square goods that had been removed were devoured by the ruthless destroyer, who determined not to be cheated out of his prey swept over them where they lay.
To attempt to give an exact estimate at the present time when everything that is left of what once represented the business of this thriving city, lies in ashes or is still of that uncertain quantity the contents of unopened safes and vaults, would be preposterous. The names of losers and the amount of their losses is, however, offered in as perfect a form and as nearly correct as possible: (The Saint Paul Sunday Globe, Sunday Morning, August 17, 1884, Volume VII, Number 230, Page 5)
The recent fire has proved a bonanza to the brickyards near Anoka. (Winona Daily Republican, Monday, September 29, 1884, Page 3)