The Burning of Lawrenceburg

Court House fire in 1915

Court House fire in 1915

As Lawrenceburg grew into a community, it suffered from many set backs although at the time many considered these set backs as opportunities. Of all the set backs, fires were the most common in our small community and many destroyed a large portion of the buildings downtown. People of the time would say that fires in Lawrenceburg were as regular as the seasons. Within short amount of time, newly constructed buildings would be burnt to the ground just to have them rebuilt and burned again. It was said the every fire improved the town for the better because larger buildings replaced the smaller ones that had burned.

One of the most famous fires to hit Lawrenceburg happened in the afternoon on March 15, 1873. Started at the location where the Farmers Bank is now located, the fire soon spread through downtown leaving destruction from the Court House down to the Pierian Woman’s Club house which is now the Anderson Library. Unfortunately this fire, like so many of the fires at the time were uncontrollable because the town did not have a fire department. The only means of fighting this huge fire came from a single man named J. E. Collins who had a small fire extinguisher. He had strapped it to his back and tried his best to put out the fire but unfortunately his efforts ended when he was overcome by the heat and smoke. In the end, most of Lawrenceburg had burned to the ground, leaving only a few houses and the court house untouched.

Along with massive fire of 1873, there were many other fires leaving parts of Lawrenceburg destroyed in its path. Two of the first churches built in Lawrenceburg, the Presbyterian and the first Baptist churches burned in the early 1800’s. The courthouse was destroyed twice by fire; once in 1859 and then again in 1915. In 1892 another fire consumed over a dozen downtown buildings and killed a man. Six years later, the Warbott Hotel and the Christian Church which was located where Cinnamon’s Flower Shop is now also burnt to the ground.

As more fires happened, the need for a fire department or even fire equipment was avoided by the city. The town council at the time found that the fires were giving the town a better opportunity to improve but not everyone agreed. Back in 1886, the Anderson News had denounced these town authorities to refuse to take precautions for the safety of the town. By 1886, the town had finally agree and purchased it’s first fire equipment, hook and ladder, but unfortunately they found the equipment to be useless because the township did not have enough water in the wells and pumps to fight the fires. Eight years later and after more deviating fires, the first fire department was organized and in 1905, a hose and ladder wagon with a hand pump was purchased.


Source: The History of Anderson County by McKee & Bond

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