Archive for Friday, February 18, 2011

100 years ago: Huge downtown fire destroys Bowersock opera house, Journal newspaper offices

February 18, 2011


From the Lawrence Daily World for Feb. 18, 1911:

“A DISASTROUS FIRE THIS AFTERNOON. -- The Bowersock opera house, erected in 1876, was destroyed by a fire which originated on the second floor at 2 o’clock this afternoon. The building was valued at $40,000 and is a total loss. It is almost fully covered by insurance. With the destruction of the theatre, the plant of the Lawrence Journal valued at $25,000, the F. W. Morris second hand store valued at $2,500, and the fine law library of G. J. Barker, valued at $3,000, were burned.

“The fire evidently originated in a small room off the stage and over the second hand store. When discovered only a small blaze was visible. Simultaneously fire was discovered by the Journal force in the ceiling of their bindery at the extreme southeast corner of the building. Before the arrival of the fire department, the entire top of the theatre was found to be a mass of flames. The fire had apparently been working its way undiscovered through the interior walls of the building for some time.

“The fire burned furiously and within 30 minutes it was apparent that the building was doomed to destruction. The floors crashed through at 2:25, and at 2:45 the south wall began falling. The Journal managed to save some of its files and records. Other books are locked in the vault and may escape serious injury. The fine law library of Judge Barker, the best in town, is a total loss. The fire tied up street car service and every electric motor in town. ‘Blondy’ Jennings, who was assisting the firemen, fell from the third story of the theatre shortly before the south wall crumbled. Jennings was on the third floor trying to run a line of hose to a stubborn bit of fire. He crashed into a beam on the second floor and managed to retain a hold on its charred edges. The second accident occurred about 3:30, crushing the shoulder and leg of Frank Shugrue. It is not believed the bones are fractured. Shugrue was working a hose to the lower floor of the Journal office when the cornice fell from the fourth story pinning him to the ground.”


kansasplains 7 years, 1 month ago

A wonderful - and in this case a sad look at Lawrence many years ago. Thanks for this article!

Sarah St. John 7 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for your comment, kansasplains. It was a very huge news item in 1911 and covered several days' worth of front pages with its consequences. I'll be doing follow-ups for the next couple days, so stay tuned!

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