Temple Israel
Fires in the Frontier

Fires caused by a variety of sources broke out in Leadville from the smallest of incidents to entire buildings or blocks burning to ashes! Here are a few stories found by our researchers in writing biographies.

Rooster Overcome By Smoke
Sam Jacobs, who was successful with cigar stands around Leadville, was a founding member and officer of the Tabor Hose Company with the Leadville volunteer fire department, Leadville’s first fully organized firefighting unit. On April 8 of 1881, Sam’s firehouse responded to the second large fire in Leadville over the course of a week. This fire claimed most of the Denver Lodging House on Chestnut Street. The following day, while inspecting the damage, Sam found a rooster on the third floor that had been overcome by smoke inhalation, but still survived. Sam took the bird back to the firehouse where it recovered and lived out his days in the company of the unit’s horses.
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Fire Hazard and Fire
In August of 1892, Abraham Sandusky was arrested for possessing an illegal amount of gasoline in the city limits. Fire was a constant concern in the mountain town. This “gasoline” was likely coal oil, an early version of modern gasoline. Coal oil is very explosive and the city government treated it as a serious fire hazard. Abraham was arrested for alleged possession of over 50 gallons of this coal oil in a tank behind his store; city ordinance allowed for no more than four gallons. The result or the criminal charges for the posession are unknown. The reason Abraham had such a large amount of the coal oil was unstated.
On January 7th, the family had a close call. A fire broke out in a neighboring structure owned by Pfannanschmidt. The first to notice was a young clerk of Sandusky’s store who according to an article in the Herald Democrat, “…adopted the effective feminine method of sounding an alarm by shrieking and screaming vigorously, and in about fifteen minutes somebody turned in an alarm.” The fire damaged a good portion of the block. The Sandusky store took the brunt of the fire with $5,000 of the fire’s total $6,000 damage done there. The residential unit in which the Sandusky family lived reportedly took the most damage.
Read more about Sandusky surname.
Blaze on Chestnut Street

Louis A. Braham was on the path to opening the Great Western Clothing House in early 1879 in setting up the store and stocking it with products shipped in by rail and cargo wagons. By April, he was set up enough to open while additional shipments came through the month. Things seemed good until an advertisement on June 18th made it seem like all was not well.

A Change in Business.
Owing to a business change in our firm, by August 15, we offer our elegant and large assortment of clothing, gents’ furnishing goods, hats, caps, trunks, valises, miners’ goods, etc., at a tremendous reduction in price. Don’t let anyone excite or scare you into buying before examining our stock and prices.
Goods must be sold

This notice suggested that the store that Louis Braham had just opened a few months earlier was now on a path to closing. However, the next week, disaster struck! Louis’s store was one victim of an increasing fire that started in a nearby building. An extensive series of three related articles in The Daily Chronicle documented the wild details of the fire and what happened. Here is the first of the three related sections:







Horrible Death of a Human Being.

The Recovery of His Charred Remains.

Another Narrow Escape From Suffocation.

Heroism of a Juvenile Fire Laddie.

Behavior of the Department and Police.

Pointed Pencilings from the Post-Prandial Pyrotechnics.

At forty-four minutes past one o’clock this afternoon little tongues of fire were seen lapping up through the roof to the Miners’ Arms building adjoining the Miners’ Exchange Bank, on Chestnut street. It was first noticed by a Chronicle reporter and a Mr. Roberts, who were coming up the street on horseback. They both spurred up their horses to give the alarm, and when near State street police officers attempted their arrest for fast riding. They spurred past and thirty seconds after the alarm was sounded, both the Tabor Hose and Harrison Hooks were on the street, and not over two minutes elapsed before water was turned on the burning building. The fire originated in a sleeping apartment on the second floor of the Miners’ Arms saloon. The place is known as Kelley’s lodging house. The flames made rapid headway and communicated to the Coliseum Theater on the west, and from thence to the Empire lodging house over Louis Braham & Co.’s Great Western clothing store. The fire was confined to these three buildings. The first, or the building where the fire originated, is owned by Alderman Kelley and Mr. Tully, his partner. The Coliseum is owned by Mr. Charles Search, and the third building is owned by C. Goode.

… the conflagration at one time threatened, and, but for the prompt and efficient action of the fire department, a considerable portion of the business part of the city would have been destroyed.

… At one o’clock this afternoon a man named John Doyle went to bed in room No. 3, in Kelley’s lodging house, in the Miners’ Arms building. He had been drunk for two hours, as per statement of fellow lodgers, and was very drunk on going to bed. About half an hour later a man sleeping in the room adjoining was awakened by smoke and the crackling of flames. He leaped from his bed and bursting open the door to John Doyle's room found the flames leaping up the paper sides and crackling through the dry board floor above. Doyle was dead asleep. The lodger grabbed him by the arms and by main force dragged him from the room and thrust him through a rear window to the roof of an adjoining shed. About this time the firemen had a stream of water pouring over the building, the full force of which struck the drunken Doyle as he emerged from the window. This had the effect of sobering him sufficiently to allow him to walk. Instead of going away from the fire he re-entered the building and would have perished but for the timely rescue of a fireman. Once away he went among the crowd with no covering but his night shirt, and that drenched to the skin. Mounting an old shed he began cursing the firemen for preventing him from saving the building his clothing and the lives of many unconscious sleepers…




The second of the three related sections. Most of this section (omitted) is a long list of losses sorted by building then by business:

The Losses.

… The building next below the Coliseum is the property of Mr. Christian Goode. The upper portion was leased by Bank & De Manville and used as a lodging house. The loss here, being entirely by water, probably amounting to $500. Braham & Co. used the lower floor as a clothing and gent’s furnishing house, their loss being estimated at $5,000, entirely by water. A part of this floor was used by Happy Mose, as a cigar store, and his loss, also by water, is considerable.




The third section of the three related articles:

Fire Notes.

“Too many bosses” was the universal verdict.

Such a “waste of water” was never before seen.

The police made it hot for the merchandise thieves.

Reporters were given full swing inside the ropes.

There were lots of bare-headed women there, helping all they could—to make a noise.

…In the alley north of Chestnut street, from Harrison avenue to Pine, the wildest scene of disorder was enacted. Hundreds of curious people filed into the narrow opening, every inch of space being occupied. From the rear entrances of the several endangered buildings on Chestnut street, as well as from the front openings of those facing on the alley, scores of men, women and children, were rushing forth, loaded down with merchandise, household effects of every description, clothing, etc., each seemingly frenzied with the idea that there could be no safety in any of the structures within a square away. Express wagons were pushed through the excited crowd, loaded with miscellaneous truck, and driven away to no one seemed to know where, giving place to others with great rapidity. A large portion of the extensive stock of clothing of Louis Braham & Co. was, in this manner, saved from danger. There were many ludicrous incidents observed by a Chronicle reporter, not the least noticeable of which was the throwing of a valuable mirror from the second story of a house in the alley in rear of the Tontine. Other and less perishable articles were carefully brought down stairs in the arms of the excited female inmates. The thieves here first commenced their operations, taking advantage of the absence of the police, who were doing duty on Chestnut street. They were soon checked by the citizens, several of whom volunteered to see that the goods brought from the stores by suspicious looking characters were not carried too far away. Several pilfering rascals were severely handled by the crowd, and compelled to let go their plunder.

The wild explanations of what happened with the fire, putting out the fire, and the ordeals following certainly made for an exciting day, but one with a loss for Braham in addition to being in process of apparently closing the store, despite his extensive effort just months prior to establish the new Great Western Clothing House in Leadville.




Fire Sale
In March of 1883, an especially eye catching advertisement in the Leadville Daily Herald confidently declares
“Like an Avalanche They Come! And the Rush Still Continues! The Crowd Increases Daily! Plenty of Bargains Still to be Had!”.
This was in reference to a “fire sale” following a fire [in the store]. Smoke damaged goods were often sold at discount prices after a being cleaned. This is something May seemingly specialized in as fires were a common occurrence in frontier towns like Leadville.
A large fire early in the morning of May 19, 1882, burned nearly the entire south side of the block of East Chestnut between Harrison and Plum Street. The conflagration killed one man and resulted in an estimated $500,000 in damage. Men seen moving between May & Shoenberg’s store the morning of the fire rose suspicion from a livery stable veterinarian. The court would later find that these men were in the employ of May & Shoenberg and were moving mis-delivered stock to the Palace of Fashion early that morning. From the beginning, the fire was presumed to have been set on purpose. It was suspected that due to the precarious financial situation of the Palace of Fashion, and the activity between May’s store and East Chestnut before the fire, that there was some connection between the fire and the clothing merchants of south Harrison. May was called to testify a year later on behalf of clothing store colleagues and fellow Jews at the Palace of Fashion who had been falsely accused of the arson. [37] Fire also came dangerously close to May & Shoenberg’s in February of 1883, which resulted in a loss of $5000 in clothing and furniture and a month long “fire and water sale” [38] The fire originated in a gambling house behind the Hyman Saloon which several years later became famous for a Doc Holiday shooting. While the fire damaged little in the buildings, smoke and water damage would prove to be the most costly result in terms of the clothing in May's store.
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Chaos and Scrambling During A Fire
The Harwitz store continued to operate much in the same way as it had since the late 1890s, but disaster visited the family in October of 1907 in the form of a large fire. A blaze broke out on the 200 block of Harrison Avenue at 4 am on the morning of October 1. Among the first businesses and individuals listed to have lost property were the personal residence, store, and buildings of Joseph Harwitz, listed as a total loss of $20,000. The original of the fire was a mystery, but it was reported that the first flames were wreathing a shooting gallery next to the Harwitz store at 3:55am. A total of 5 heavy streams of water were on the blaze by 4:30am with the help of Leadville firefighters and volunteers alike. Several people were injured while jumping from second story windows during the fire, including two roomers at the Harwitz residence, Frank Speiglman and Harry White. In panic, Speiglman and White unnecessarily jumped from the second story of the Harwitz residence although an escape was possible through the store, according to a reporter. Chief of Police Kern was injured from an erratic firehose has he attempted to carry it into the upstairs of the Harwitz residence. One woman, May Brown, jumped from a second story window and, while two bystanders tired to catch her, they were pushed by a drunken man and failed to form a “bucket” with their arms. May struck an awning and hit her head on the sidewalk; from which she received deep wounds to her scalp and arm. Grace gathered a box of jewels and watches as she escaped, but in great alarm, she dropped them as she ran down an interior staircase. After the fire was extinguished, Sam recovered the box, and it was considered something of a miracle to have survived the torrents of water which later cascaded from the upper story. Sam was credited with saving the house and surrounding buildings by immediately running from his bed though the burning shop to turn off a gasoline tank located at the rear of the store. After the fire was out, Grace re-entered the second story of the building to recover a set of silver dinnerware; only to find it a completely melted mass. It was reported that Joseph held $1000 in insurance for his structure- and was one of the only individuals to carry any insurance out of the $40,000 in total damage. Joseph’s insurance was unusual due to the fact that rates were so high, many business and property owners simply carried no insurance. A distraught barber of 25 years at 215 Harrison rifled through the ruins of his store for several valuable razor strops and chess pieces. During the fire, a shoe looter was caught by Harry Isaacs in front of Joseph’s store and a fight ensued. Overall, the fire was a destructive one, and clearly a pivotal point in the story of the Harwitz family. Indeed, newspapers throughout the state reported on the fire, including one in Fort Collins, Yuma, and Breckinridge.
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Vague Fire In A Bakery By Swedish Translation
A vague and intriguing article appeared in the Denver Swedish language newspaper Svensk-Amerikanska Western in September 1893. The article, translated with the help of Google translate, explains that Samuel Pelton was suspected of intentionally setting a fire in a bakery, which the article claimed he owned. The Denver city directory confirms that Samuel indeed lived at the location of The Denver Baking Company on 24th Street in 1893. The proprietor was an unidentified individual listed in the directory as “M. Pelton”. Further information about this event, the identity of M. Pelton, or any repercussions of the fire are unknown. In 1895, a fire was set with coal oil on a mattress in the basement of a Famous branch store in Colorado Springs.
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