Sunday Stories: The Big Fire

Compiled by Nora Hall Mills

Saturday, December 10, 1927, was a memorable day in Arnold – the day of the big fire. This is the Sentinel’s account:

Fire broke out in the Farmers Union Store at an early hour Saturday morning, destroying the Farmers Store and Thelan’s Pharmacy, and gutting the Houghton-Perkins-Newman Real Estate Office, causing a $50,000 loss, only partly covered by insurance.

Looking north along the east side of Arnold’s 
main street about 1918. 
The first warning of disaster was the crashing of plate glass windows, which aroused Andy Comer, sleeping in the family’s apartment above the barbershop. From his upstairs window Comer saw the flames and rushed to ring the fire bell.

Fanned by icy winds, the fire gained rapid headway, and there was no chance to save a thing from the enormous stock of Christmas goods in both stores. A few chairs, a desk and most of the furnishings of the real estate office were saved, but the building itself was ravaged. Roy Fraker, who occupied a sleeping room in the rear, woke to find the roof and wall beside his bed in flames.

Hundreds of dollars worth of damage was done by the intense heat to plate glass windows across the street in the Arnold State Bank, Wehrley theater, T.L. Jones store, Dale Shaw’s barber shop and the Green Parrot cafĂ©.

The local American Legion’s Wm. A. Layton Post, whose meeting place was on the second floor, suffered an irreparable loss when all the Post records, guns and equipment were burned. The loss of these records cannot be estimated.

Cold weather hampered work for the firemen, who kept on the job for almost nine hours. Water from the hose flooded the gutters and sidewalks, making precarious footing for workers and onlookers, and covering the debris with a mantle of ice.

Not daunted for long, rebuilding soon commenced.

John Jameson bought the lots on the burned out corner from the Maddox estate and began putting up a two-story building with the second floor for a hotel. As soon as it was ready, he moved his Jameson & Co. General Store up from its location in the Vogel building. G.H. Johnson, who had beena minister in the Arnold Methodist church about 1919, and now had a financial interest in the new structure, came back from carrel, Nebraska, to operate the hotel.

The Farmers Store scraped together a small stock of goods and opened a temporary store right after the fire in the old Parsons harness shop, but moved down to the Vogel building as soon as it was vacated by Jameson.

John Jamesons Economy Department Store and Hotel Custer
Both stores had opening celebrations. Willa Phifer (Brummett) won $10 for her entry of “Hotel Custer” as best name for the hotel and Mrs. Lawrence Christensen won a like amount for the winning store name, “Economy Department.”

Down at the Farmers Union opening, Lee Bailey guessed correctly how many times the cash register would ring the first day – 171. The workforce there consisted of John Lehmkuhler, manager; Norma Holt, bookkeeper; Mrs. Lehmkuhler and daughter, Thelma (Votel) and Edward Brummett, clerks.
After the fires, only one frame building remained on the east side of the main business street, the old Black shoe store, occupied by Comer’s Barber and Beauty shop and living quarters.


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