The Fire That Nearly Destroyed Lawrenceburg

Pre 1900s Lawrenceburg

Pre 1900s Lawrenceburg

Early Lawrenceburg was plagued with devastating fires, oftentimes consuming large parts of the city and historic landmarks like the courthouse which burnt twice in its history.  But there was one fire that nearly completely destroyed the city, causing almost $3.7 million worth of damage in today’s dollars.

In the morning hours of a very windy day on March 15th, 1873, the nearly 400 residents of Lawrenceburg were going about their morning business.  At the corner where United Bank (formerly Farmers Bank) now stands on Main Street, stood a building that was used as a residence and a store.

A small fire broke out in the building under the roof of the structure.  A fire alarm was called, but the city didn’t have any equipment to fight the fire, not even a bucket brigade.  One lone and brave man, JE Collins, took it upon himself to be the only firefighter in town as he owned a fire extinguisher.

Running to the building with the six gallon extinguisher strapped to his back, Collins rushed to the attic where he quickly used up the water in his extinguisher.  During his efforts, he was overcome by the heat and smoke and had to be helped out.

Those helping then focused on saving the items in the house but doing so would cause the loss of much of the town.  Strong winds from the southwest fanned the inferno, making it quickly jump from building to building and across Main Street.

Store after store started burning.  Much of Main Street was engulfed in flames as residents tried to save what they could, but almost all was burned anyway.  All houses from what is now the Anderson Public Library to Court Street on the east side of Main Street were consumed.  Houses on Woodford Street were also burned.

Although remarkably the Anderson County Court House survived this fire storm, 66 residences and stores were destroyed, along with numerous outbuildings.  Only 15 houses were left in Lawrenceburg.

The cost of the fire at the time was staggering.  According to records of those listing what they lost, it was calculated to cost $191,100 which would equate to $3,699,452.84 in 2017.  Very few had any insurance, covering only $36,250 worth of the cost.

Families with houses still standing opened their doors to the hundreds that were made homeless that day.  Whole families were living in single rooms without any of their personal possessions.

Recovery from the fire was long and hard.  The Kentucky Legislature attempted to pass a bill to give sufferers of the fire $5,000, but it never passed.  They did allow the Anderson County Fiscal Court to fund $20,000 to the rebuilding effort, paid through local taxes.  Aid also came in from Frankfort and Louisville as well as Anderson County residents.

But many older residents and those who couldn’t rebuild left the city.  Although merchants setup temporary shacks within a week of the fire, it would take years before a full recovery would occur.

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