1900 fire destroyed 15 structures in downtown Lafayette

Lafayette’s first decade after its 1889 incorporation was fairly uneventful, at least according to town board meeting minutes. The board concentrated on acquiring a reliable water supply for the town, first sinking an artesian well in the northeast corner of town, then securing water rights from the Davidson Ditch Company, founded in 1872. Two reservoirs were built to retain the ditch water and were located at the intersection of today’s Baseline Road and U.S. 287. One lake acted as a settling lake and (cleaner) water was directed into that second lake. Water from that lake flowed through a primitive filter connected to wood pipes and was used primarily for irrigation and to charge Old Town fire hydrants rather than for drinking.

The Jan. 24, 1900, fire that destroyed 13 commercial buildings and two homes along two sides of the 300 and 400 block of E. Simpson Street didn’t garner much mention in Lafayette Town Board minutes. Town board members were more concerned about a repayment demand from the Louisville Hook & Ladder Company, who helped battle the Simpson Street fire. The Louisville crew wanted $100 for a hose burned in the fire, but eventually accepted a $60 settlement.

Three significant structures built in the 1890s and in the 300 and 400 blocks of East Simpson were not consumed by the fire: the Goodhue building at E. Simpson and Iowa, and the Congregational Church at E. Simpson and Gough, and the Mayhoffer Hotel at E. Simpson and Michigan.

The Lafayette newspaper did not report about the fire, its aftermath, or efforts to rebuild the commercial district. Two Boulder County newspapers, the Daily Camera and the Longmont Ledger, wrote about the fire in their Jan. 24 and 26 editions respectively. The Ledger reported that families left homeless numbered 50, but that “the latter number was probably an exaggeration.”

Elsewhere across the state, news of the fire, which included the reporting of two families having lost homes, was published in several newspapers, including the Jan. 26, 1900 Las Animas Leader:

“Two of the main business blocks of Lafayette were destroyed by fire yesterday morning.

An overheated stove in the lodge room of the Noble Mercantile Company building was the cause of the conflagration. The blaze started about 4 o’clock in the morning. The wind at the time was blowing a perfect gale.

The lower floor of the building was occupied Western Trading & Supply Company. The hall upstairs was occupied by the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Rebekahs and Rathbone Sisters. The buildings was a complete loss, as was all of the paraphernalia of the lodges.

The post office, Hyman’s General Merchandise store, E.E. Beckett’s stationery and cigar store, John Van Deren Bros. general merchandise store, Oates’ Bros. pool room, A. Kullgren’s shop, the opera house, Barrett & Barisford’s Bakery, C.A. Carlson’s tailor shop, Auert’s jewelry store, George Bauer’s residence and a barber shop followed in quick succession. H.T. Bocker’s drug store was also destroyed. Coroner Trezise of Boulder lost $600 worth of goods. Gus Runge’s house and livery barn were destroyed. The horses were taken out of the stable before the fire reached it.

The fire burned both sides of the street, and was so hot that the firemen had to lay flat in the street to be able to turn water on the flames. The pressure on the water mains, however, was too light to enable the firemen to fight the fire with any success.”

The Jan. 24 Daily Camera had estimates of damages as follows:

“Western Trading and Supply company, $15,000, $9,000 insurance.
H.T. Bocker, drugs, $3,000, insurance $1,200.
Hyman, merchandise, $1,500, insurance $600.
E.E. Beckett, $300.
Oates Bros., $800. No insurance.
Van Deren Bros. $4,000, insurance $3,000.
George Bauer, owner of opera house, $12,000, insured for $1,000.
Barnett & Barisford, $500.
C.A. Carlson, $600.
Mrs. Jenkins owned the building occupied by Hyman. The loss to the lodges was very serious, their paraphernalia becoming equal to that of the lodges anywhere and not an article being saved.
The loss to the Noble Mercantile company is not stated, but must have been heavy. They carry $4,000 insurance.
Gus Runge’s house and livery barn were a total loss of more than $3,000, insured for $1,000. The furniture of the barber and show shops were saved.”

Several months after the fire, the town board reminded shopkeepers to store black powder used by coal miners out of retail spaces and instead confine the powder kegs to sheds not attached to the building. On more than one occasion, the town marshal was dispatched by the board to remind residents to cover hay stored outside so that it wouldn’t spontaneously combust.